My drive to Coromandel was of two halves. The first the endless straight empty roads of the North Island and then the narrow, winding coastal road of Coromandel. This was a little hair raising at times with steep hills, hairpin bends and sheer drops for about 40 kilometres. The scenery would have been stunning if I wasn’t concentrating so hard on the road! I arrived in Coromandel town and checked into the Tidewater Tourist Park where we had booked a two-bed room for two nights. I had several hours before I would go and meet Amy off the ferry from Auckland, so although I was feeling rather tired I decided to go for an explore anyway as I had spent so long sitting down driving.
I had seen on a review on hostelworld about a short hike from this location which takes you up to the lookout point. I turned left out of the tourist park and towards the town centre, left at the main junction and then keeping right as I crossed the bridge I found the signs for the PA Lookout path. It was about a twenty minute hike to the peak, through woodlands and up a very steep winding path. I was pretty exhausted by the top, but had been missing my usual gym visits so was glad of a good workout. The view at the top was definitely worth the struggle it took to get there. I rested for a while and took some photos before beginning my descent and heading back to town. I walked through the main road of Coromandel and was taken by its charm. Unfortunately as it was now after 5pm the shops were shut, but the restaurants and bars were still busy. This seems like a town very much designed for tourists with a large choice of eateries to choose from and a rather colonial style to it. I found the local park at the end of the street and sat for a while, enjoying the peace and sunshine before heading to the local Four Square supermarket to stock up in snacks and then back to the hostel.
Amy’s ferry was slightly delayed and it was nearly 9pm before she arrived. If you are meeting someone from the Auckland Ferry in Coromandel don’t follow the sat nav! The ferry stops at Hannafords Wharf which is slightly further along the coast road than where the sat nav suggests. These roads are slightly precarious, especially in the dark, so take extra care. I collected Amy and we headed back to Tidewater for a catch up on my week of adventures and then got an early night.
Day 11 – Coromandel
The next morning we had a well earned lie in as we had both had busy weeks and had a leisurely breakfast at the hostel. We decided not o explore too far today as I had done an awful lot of driving the previous day and Amy wasn’t insured in my hire car. We drove up the coast to Colevile, stopping at various look out points and beaches along the way. There a many beautiful bays along the winding coast road, as well as scenic lookouts from the mountains, so it is well worth the additional driving to see. The area was almost deserted as well, even more surprising considering it was a Saturday! The roads are winding and hilly so take it slowly, especially on the narrow bends where you can’t see what’s coming the other way. Eventually we ran out of road and turned back. We spent lunch time in Coromandel town where we walked out to the harbour and sat chatting for a long time. We then visited Umu Cafe for our lunch where we both enjoyed a very tasty chicken burger with apple chutney… I highly recommend it! The town was full of bikers that afternoon… I’m not sure if it is a usual thing or if there was a rally going on, but it was fun to look at the big bikes lined up as we walked through town.
In the afternoon we headed out in the car again, after a top up of petrol, to seek out Waiau Falls. We had spotted this waterfall on Google maps and it was only a 30 minute drive so we thought we’d investigate. We were concerned with it being a Saturday that it could be very busy, but thought it worth a loook anyway. The roads were again mountainous and winding and in many places were gravel rather than tarmac…. at one point I even had to dodge piglets running around in the road from a roadside farm! We parked up at the lookout point and walked down the the falls and were pleased to find it fairly quiet with only around ten more people visiting. The falls were stunning and came over the cliff and down into a deep blue pool beneath. Families were playing on the rocks and diving into the water and we sat and whiled away the time watching and chatting until we decided to head back to the hostel. We watched the sunset over the water at the back of Tidewater before calling it a night, ready for an early start the next day to investigate the more well-known west coast of the Coromandel Peninsula.
Day 12 – Coromandel Penisula
Our day started early as we checked out of the Tidewater Tourist Park around 8am ready for a lot of driving and beaches. Amy’s housemate had told us to check out Whitianga which was about an hours drive from Coromandel, through the winding mountain roads. This gave us ample opportunity for photo stops and to enjoy the scenery. After a couple of photo stops we arrived in Whitianga around 9:30am, which unfortunately with it being a Sunday meant everything was very much closed! We walked up the main street and back to the beach and thought it looked like a great town for holidaymakers and would be a lovely place to explore when open. Clearly this is more of a party town as for the first time in my life we were stopped at a police road stop and I was breathalysed, which I found very amusing as I’ve been teetotal since 1997! We decided not to hang about until the shops opened as our priority for the day was Cathedral Cove and we wanted as long there as possible.
Another 30 minute drive and we arrived at Hahei, the access point for Cathedral Cove. The Cove itself is only accessible by a 45 minute walk and we needed to find somewhere to park. This was easier said than done. There is a car park high at the top of the cliffs which indicates the start of the pathway to Cathedral Cove, but it was already full by the time we arrived. We drove round a few times in the hope someone would be leaving, but they weren’t so we headed back down the road to Hahei Beach. We eventually found somewhere to park but it was going to be a 1 hour 30 minute walk up the mountain and back down to Cathedral Cove and the sun was already very bright. We had two other options apart from walking; to take the shuttle bus back up to the lookout point and walk from there, this service is available from the car park at Hahei Beach and costs $5 NZD return per adult. Our other option was to take the water taxi which sails round the coast in just ten minutes and cuts out all the walking. It costs $25 NZD per adult return or $15 for one way. Sure it’s cheating a bit, but we decided to treat ourselves and get the water taxi. Check out latest times and prices at http://www.cathedralcovewatertaxi.co.nz/ or http://www.cathedralcoveshuttles.co.nz/ for the shuttle bus.
The taxi runs every 30 minutes and we only had to wait about 10 minutes between the indicated flags and the taxi arrived to ferry us round. Brace yourself to get wet boarding, as you do have to wade out a bit in the waves, but there is a ramp and the guys running the boat give you a hand too. The scenery in this area is particularly stunning and is very reminiscent of Thailand with its pillars of rocks and craggy islands so the boat ride was made even more enjoyable. In just a few minutes we were stepping onto the warm sands of Cathedral Cove, one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places I have ever seen with my own eyes. Being a weekend it was very busy, with lots of families and couples eagerly snapping away with their cameras and soaking up the sun and atmosphere in the beach. We walked along the beach, through the famous archway, doing our best not to get in the way of people’s photos, and take our own at the same time. We found a nice spot on the sand the other side, (at which point I realised I had left my beach towel in the car!) and enjoyed an hour laying in the sun and people watching.
We knew we wanted to visit Hot Water Beach whilst in the area so we’re keeping an eye on the time. Hot Water Beach is best at low tide, when the thermal springs are exposed and we knew that would be around half two that day. Check the tides for your visit at https://www.thecoromandel.com/weather-and-tides/. We caught the 1:30pm water taxi back to Hahei and washed our feet off at the tap by the public toilers before heading to Hot Water Beach. This was just a ten minute drive from Hahei and well signposted. Again a lack of parking was a hindrance, but we found a spot and walked to the beach. Immediately you could see all the visitors huddled on one particular area of the beach, and as we approached it was easy to see why… it was already around 26C that day, but there was a visible steam rising out of the sand in this part of the beach. Natural thermal springs rise through the sands and you can create yourself your own hot water bath by digging a hole in the sand. Spades can be bought or rented from the nearby beach shop, but there were many cast offs lying around which you can make use of. We paddled around in various vacated holes, shocked at the temperature variation between absolutely adjacent pools. You would have to dig about to find the right temperature for you because some really were too hot to bear and I found myself hot footing it out of several. You must be careful as some of the springs are really very hot and can scald the feet, take particular care if visiting with children.
When we had seen enough we decided it was time to head back to the car and start the long drive back to Auckland with just one more stop in Tairua. Tairua has a large tidal plain in a huge bay. We were there at low tide and walked out as far as we could to the water, taking in the sights of the bay as we went. This was reminiscent of the Amalfi coast with its colourful houses clinging to the sides of the mountains and was very tranquil. We both decided this would be a lovely place to retire to in the future! After a good stretch of our legs we were back in the car and on our way to Auckland.
Waiau Falls and Cathedral Cove are not accessible to anyone with mobility issues, both have step slippery steps and uneven paths. Likewise catching the water taxi is unlikely to be an option for people who are unsteady on their feet.
Cathedral Cove was very busy during our visit but it was early afternoon on a glorious Sunday at low tide. Cathedral Cove both need to be enjoyed at low tide but try and find a week where low tide is early in the day and set out early to avoid the rush. I should imagine (but I don’t know!) that weekdays would be much quieter outside of school holidays. A group we were talking to in the queue for the water taxi were telling us they had been to Hot Water Beach at low tide at night the previous day and it was wonderfully quiet. They had laid in the hot pools during the cool evening, sipped on cocktails and had a wonderful time.
Visit Whitianga when it isn’t 9:30am on a Sunday! I can imagine it a fun bustling town to visit when open!