Paradise found: What to do in Coromandel

Less than two hours. That’s how long it takes from Auckland to Coromandel, traffic permitting. The short distance from the biggest city in New Zealand to the peninsula with vast natural wonders not only attracts visitors from outside but New Zealanders alike.

You might wonder, what to do in Coromandel, is it worth visiting during your North Island Roadtrip?  

In our opinion, the Coromandel Peninsula is one of our favourite places in New Zealand and you’ll surely find an abundance of things to do in the Coromandel.

 
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Where is Coromandel?

The Coromandel Peninsula is situated on New Zealand’s North Island. It’s about on the same geographical height as Auckland. Looking at the map, it’s the peninsula on the Eastern side of Auckland.

Auckland to Coromandel is less than a two-hour drive (at least to the bottom of the Coromandel near Paeroa and Thames), which makes it popular for the first night of the New Zealand itinerary.

 
 

What to do in Coromandel

Hike the Pinnacles Walk

Hike on the path of Coromandel’s history. Deep in the Kauaeranga Valley, where no phone reception will find you, the Pinnacles track awaits. It was built in the 1920s by bushmen who were logging precious Kauri trees for building houses (something that’s unimaginable today as the Kauri are a national treasure now). 

The hike takes you through the native forest over steep stone steps to the Pinnacles Hut, the biggest DOC hut in New Zealand. This takes approximately 3 hours. From the hut, it’s another hour to the Pinnacles Coromandel, from where you get an extensive view over the Coromandel Peninsula.

The Pinnacles Walk can be done in one day which would take you about 8 hours return. Or you can stay at the Pinnacles Hut for the night (pre-booking advised).

 

The pinnacles walk is steep but worth the view

 

Dig your own hot pool at Hot Water Beach

Dig yourself a hot pool to relax in! Even though there are four hot water beaches in New Zealand, Hot Water Beach Coromandel on the East coast is the most famous.  

Arrive at the beach two hours either side of low tide. If you’re one of the first visitors on the beach, try to spot where steam rises from the sand. Otherwise, just follow the other visitors. 

Don’t worry if you forgot to bring a shovel. There are usually enough people who brought one and if you ask nicely, you can probably borrow theirs. The cafe nearby hires shovels out as well or just hop into an abandoned hot pool.

Coromandel Hot Water Beach is a unique New Zealand experience and one of the best things to do in the Coromandel. 

Tip: If you can arrange it, try to visit Hot Water Beach when low tide is during sunset and sunrise. Apart from having fewer people, it’s extra special to watch the light change while soaking in your hot pool.

 

Hot water beach Coromandel at sunset is a magical experience. look at the colours!

 

Cathedral Cove - the most popular beach

Cathedral Cove is probably the most famous Coromandel Beach, next to Hot Water Beach. It even featured as the portal to Narnia in the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. 

There are two ways to reach Cathedral Cove New Zealand: Either on the waterway by boat or kayak or on foot via the Cathedral Cove Walk. The walkway is 2.5km and takes about 1h30 return. 

Every year between 01 October and 30 April, it’s forbidden to park at the Cathedral Cove Lookout car park, due to traffic issues. Cathedral Cove Park and Ride is available from Hahei Visitor car park. For a small fee the shuttle bus brings you to the start of the walk.

If you’re short on time, travelling to Cathedral Cove by boat is the best option.

The best way to see Cathedral Cove is by kayak. It’s the least busy option as you get to paddle in a small-ish group.

 

the famous cathedral cove coromandel

 

Soak and sip in the Lost Spring Whitianga

If you know me, you know I’m always on the lookout for natural or natural-looking hot pools and beautiful day spas. 

Still a bit of a hidden gem, not many know that there’s a wellness haven hiding in the Coromandel Peninsula. The Lost Spring Whitianga is an artificial pool with geothermal hot water from below the spring. 

These Whitianga hot pools will have you think you were beamed to the tropics. Lush greenery surrounds the geothermal pools, the waterfall and cave will have you relaxed in no time. If you need more relaxation, book yourself (and your partner) a massage.

Something I personally love: The premises are licensed! They not only have a restaurant with delicious food but they also offer pool-side service so you can sip your vino while soaking in the hot water. Lost Springs is one of the very few New Zealand hot pools where this is possible. And believe me, it’s absolute bliss!

Visit New Chum Beach

Another Coromandel Beach that can only be accessed by walking. Unlike Cathedral Cove, it’s a lot less busy, more remote and more quiet. Maybe this is why New Chums Beach has been voted one of the 101 Must-do’s for Kiwis. 

It’s a short walk of about 30 minutes which takes you through a stream and has you climbing over rocky boulders. But once you’re up, the views are very insta-worthy.

Don’t turn around after enjoying the view, though. The beach itself is worth a walk and a swim too!

 

What a beach! New Chums Beach New Zealand (copyright Thecoromandel.com)

 

Donut Island

Fairytale, magical, how is this place even real…

Those were only a few of the thoughts that went through my head when we entered Donut Island (Whenuakura Island in Maori). A tiny island, just a few hundred meters off Whangamata Beach, Donut Island is an ancient volcano that collapsed, leaving behind a donut-shaped island that’s best visited during low tide. 

As you enter the cave on your kayak or SUP board you’ll feel like entering a forbidden world. On the other side of the cave, a paradise awaits. Crystal clear turquoise water, a small beach, steep walls with dense bush.

It used to be allowed to visit the island itself, but setting foot on Whenuakura Island is now tapu (Maori word for sacred, forbidden). This won’t stop you from taking a swim in the wonderful water of this enchanted island, though.

Donut Island Whangamata is by far my favourite island in all of New Zealand (my favourite place on the mainland will always be Rotorua)

 
 

Drive the 309 Road 

The gravel road that cuts right through the heart of the Coromandel Peninsula from south of Coromandel Town to Whitianga. It winds its way through the native bush for over 22 km. 

No one really knows how the 309 Road came to its name and even though it’s much better known nowadays, the road is still off the beaten track.

If you do take the adventure of passing the 309 Road, a break at The Waterworks is a Coromandel must-do, especially with kids. It’s a quirky little interactive theme park that’s all about water. 

Important: If your vehicle is a rental, please check with your rental company whether or not you’re allowed to drive this road.

Go by bike: Hauraki Rail Trail and Karangahake Gorge

Part of the New Zealand Great Trail biking network, Hauraki Rail Trail is the closest one to Auckland. Hauraki Rail Trail is a Grade 2 biking trail, which is very easy and very flat. If you want to ride the complete trail, it will be about 160 km and up to 4 days of cycling, mostly through farmland. 

But Hauraki Rail Trail can easily be chopped up in neat day rides. The prettiest section of the cycle trail starts in Paeroa and goes to Waihi. The most popular part of the trail leads through the stunning Karangahake Gorge along Ohinemuri River. On the easy 20 km trail (one way), you’ll ride through a pitch-dark railway tunnel and past enchanting fern trees. 

About half-way, the cute old train station of Waikino invites you to coffee and some hearty snacks. The station is also one of the stops for the vintage train that runs between Waihi and Waikino.

 

Cycling on Hauraki Rail trail in Karangahake Gorge

 

L&P bottle in Paeroa - world famous in NZ

Ever heard of the soft drink Lemon & Paeroa? If not, you probably haven’t been to New Zealand yet. L&P is literally world-famous in New Zealand. It’s a popular lemon soft drink which is manufactured in the teeny tiny town of Paeroa, Coromandel. 

There’s really not much else to see in Paeroa, but if you do pass by on your way to Coromandel or Tauranga, do a quick break and take a picture in front of the giant L&P bottle. And of course, don’t forget to taste L&P at least once during your New Zealand holiday!

 

a bit of a must-do when passing through paeroa

 

Coromandel Coastal Walkway

Base yourself in one of the DOC Campsites in the northern tip of the Coromandel for this walk. The Coromandel Coastal Walkway is a 20 km long walk along the coast, high above the water and will take you about 7 hours return. The walk itself is quite easy, though, and there’s only one steep section. 

There’s also an 8 km long mountain bike trail near the Coromandel Walkway. It’s a grade 5, though, which means it can only be tackled by advanced bikers as it’s often slippery and steep.

 
 

Marvel at classic cars and caravans at Beach Hop

Once a year in March, Whangamata turns into THE meeting place in New Zealand for lovers of classic cars and caravans. During the Beach Hop weekend, hundreds of classic cars parade through town, from noisy Hot Rods to old Chevrolets while shops sell petticoat dresses and retro gadgets. 

On the lawn of Whangamata school is my own favourite corner of Whangamata Beach Hop: The showcasing of the retro caravans. Having a classic caravan ourselves, a 1977 Sprite Alpine, we love to gather inspiration from all the beautifully renovated caravans and their owners who dress up in 50s outfits for the occasion.

In the evening, you can dance the night away at one of the many open-air stages all over town and the bars where bands play rockabilly, blues and rock.

 

I’m not usually a big car fan, but look at these handsome fellas!

 

Coromandel Accommodation

Where to stay in the Coromandel depends on what you want to do while visiting the peninsula. Most accommodation can be found along the main road that loops around the Coromandel and usually, the hotels are small and charming.

If you're looking for Hot Water Beach accommodation, we can really recommend staying at Hot Water Beach Top 10 Holiday Park. Hot Water Beach is only a 10 minutes' walk away.

Yes, it’s a campground, but it’s not just for travellers who arrive with a motorhome or a tent. Depending on your budget and number of people, they offer anything from a bed in a dorm room, cabins with shared showers and bathrooms, all the way up to fully self-contained Deluxe Cabins and 3-Bedroom Family Rooms.

 

HOt water beach top 10 Holiday park, coromandel

 

We loved how friendly the staff was and how clean the whole campground was. It’s also a dog-friendly campsite, so we made a lot of furry friends.

 
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