New Zealand's Coromandel: A Heart Of Gold

30 October 2014

The 15th largest kauri on the Coromandel Peninsula is estimated to be hundreds of years old. It’s a high and haughty tree that stands unusually square, ever watchful over the hump-backed Maumaupaki, on The Coromandel range. It’s the sort of tree that puts humans in their place, making us marvel at its magnificence.

The kauri stands guard at the top of Tapu-Coroglen Road on a stepped track that is one of many incredible walks that crisscross The Coromandel, located just an hour and a half’s drive from the major centres of Auckland, Hamilton, Rotorua and their international airports.

 The Pinnacles

A climb to The Pinnacles, the highest point on Coromandel Range, is aimed at the more intrepid. Although it can be easily done in one day, the historic trail is one of New Zealand’s most popular overnighters, with the 80-bed Department of Conservation back-country hut often booked out well in advance.

The walk follows a track through dense forest, made fidgety with wind-blown leaves, and up a steep section to the summit, which is a great place to watch the sun paint the sky over both sides of the peninsula.

History buffs will also find their happy place while winding through regenerating bush to gold mine ruins decorated with old relics that have been rusted into their twisted postures.

 Discover heritage mining relics

While the disused Waitawheta Tramway has become a walking track that slices through spectacular cliffs and bluffs of the Karangahake Gorge, history buffs can also get a rush of pleasure on a nostalgic rail journey through gold country from Waihi to Waikino. Waihi’s brand-new Gold Discovery Centre is also a treasure aimed at those searching for nuggets of history.

Ride the Rail Trail

The lycra-clad will also love the Hauraki Rail Trail, one of the easiest cycle trails in NZ. The 82-kilometre multi-day trail runs from Thames to Paeroa, and takes in the stunning Karangahake Gorge, which has waterfalls that thunder through the valley, one of the '14 Wonders of New Zealand'.

Apart from its craggy mountains and townships with prospecting history that spans three centuries, The Coromandel is also known for its squeaky-clean beaches and thermal pools.

Here, you can go from walks through the forest, where spots of sunlight bounce off the trees, to coastal walkways where the green fuses into blue and the air is scented with the sea. The area is also quilted with rural farmland, with fat sheep stuck like velcro to fields of green felt.

Located on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, the townships have names that you will want to roll around on your tongue and wrestle with, and pronounce purely for the pleasure: Whitianga, Whangamata, Paeroa, Onemana.

The Coromandel Coastal Walkway from Fletcher Bay to Stony Bay has been voted by Kiwis as a ‘must-do’, with the enjoyment of the trip enhanced by the knowledge of local guides.

 Cathedral Cove

The spectacular Cathedral Cove Marine Reserve, Te Whanganui-A-Hei, stretches nine square kilometres and, with rich marine life, limestone cliffs, underwater caves and arches, is an Instagram-addict’s dream.

Other popular coastal hot spots to explore include Hot Water Beach (which has hot springs); New Chum, which is well and truly off-the-well-tramped-track; and wondrous Whangamata, home to one of the most popular beach resorts in the country and the best lefthand surf break in the Southern Hemisphere.

While spending time in The Coromandel, base yourself in the tiny town of Tairua, which has some of the best waves New Zealand has to offer and is an excellent jumping point from which to explore the east coast.

Find your inner foodie

Lovers of good food and wine will also be satisfied with the many self-drive itineraries that celebrate everything from craft beer to incredible local oysters, cheese and macadamia nuts.

With most of the restaurants sourcing food from within a 100 kilometre radius, it makes sense to enjoy said food in situ. After all that clean living, you will deserve that detour to Salt Bar & Restaurant in Whitanga to enjoy Coromandel mussels while on the waterfront overlooking the marina.

While in Coromandel Town, you should also try The Pepper Tree and the Star and Garter (one of the town’s oldest buildings), which was once the general store where gold-diggers came to hit ‘pay dirt’. You should also knock on the cellar doors at Ohinemuri Winery, Mercury Bay Estate at Cooks Beach and the Coromandel Brewing Company in Hahei.

The Coromandel also turns on the charm year-round with a calendar of events that range from the Tairua Wine and Food festival in January to the Mercury Bay Arts Escape and Beach Hop in March, the Whitianga Scallop Festival and Whangamata Run Walk Festival in September.

Yes, this is a region that lives up to its ‘good for the soul’ tagline. That said, you will leave with a sinking heart.

Carla Grossetti

My 22-year career in journalism has been as rich and varied as the subjects I’ve focused on. My articles have appeared in Good Food, Luxury Travel, Australian Traveller, Escape, The Guardian Travel, delicious. magazine, SBS Feast, Voyeur,Escape, Spa Life, SMH’s Traveller, Out & About with Kids, Stamford Life magazine, CNN Traveler, Going Places, Cuisine and Tiger Tales and, ta-dah, on the Flight Centre blog.