Located just 2.5 hours from Auckland, New Zealand, the Coromandel Peninsula is a little paradise. It’s a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and get some fresh air. The peninsula, 85km long but only 40 km wide, is known for its crystal clear waters and white sandy beaches. But not only that! You can also discover beautiful waterfalls, unspoilt forests and gorges, as well as small villages, each more welcoming than the last. Here are the Top 10 must-sees for your stay on the Coromandel Peninsula.
TOP 10 must-sees on the Coromandel Peninsula
New Chums Beach, best kept secret of Coromandel Peninsula
Let’s start with the must-see in the north of the Coromandel Peninsula, New Chums Beach located in Whangapoua. Certainly one of the best kept secrets of the region.
Indeed, to reach this secret beach, inaccessible from the road, you will have to take a small path along the main beach of Whangapoua. Before arriving at New Chums beach, climb to the viewpoint to admire it from above. The view is breathtaking. It’s like being at the end of the world with this white sandy beach as far as the eye can see. Then go down to enjoy a day on the beach, lazing around and relaxing!
Access and tips: before reaching the small path leading to New Chums beach, you will have to cross the river joining the sea on Whangapoua beach. It is therefore more practical to venture there at low tide if you do not wish to get wet.
Take a trip down the legendary Road 309, a small gravel road linking the west coast town of Coromandel to the east coast town of Whitianga. At 22km long, this road can be a shorter alternative to the main road, as it cuts through the Coromandel Peninsula from east to west through the forest. This road runs along the Mahakirau River and offers a beautiful landscape with dense and wild vegetation. There are many points of interest on this route including the famous Waiau Falls.
Access and tips: the road can be quite narrow in some places so extra caution is advised for larger vehicles. We passed without problem with our Toyota Hiace though.
The famous Road 309 ends in Whitianga on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula. This small seaside town, located in Mercury Bay, is known for its proximity to some of the most popular beaches on the Coromandel Peninsula: Cathedral Cove and Hot Water beach, which we will mention later.
But this town is also the perfect place to relax. And for good reason, it is here that New Zealand’s first geothermal spa resort is located: The Lost Spring. I recommend adding a relaxing half-day in this little paradise to your itinerary. For a moment, you will feel transported to the Fiji Islands with their music and cocktails that you can enjoy right from the pools. There are different pools available, from the coldest to the hottest, which can reach up to 40ºc.
The setting is truly heavenly! Relaxation guaranteed.
Cook Beach – Shakespeare Cliff
A few kilometres from Whitianga, take a short detour to Cook Beach and see the stunning 180º view of the sea from the Shakespeare Cliff viewpoint. From here you can also discover the small secret beach of Lonely Bay.
Cathedral Cove, THE beach on the Coromandel Peninsula
One of the most photographed beaches in New Zealand! Discover the magnificent beach of Cathedral Cove, the most famous beach of the Coromandel Peninsula and a must-do on the north island of New Zealand. A short 30-minute walk along the shoreline will take you to this idyllic cove. It really looks like a movie set: white sands and turquoise water guaranteed. It is here that a scene from Narnia was filmed. I advise you to go there for the sunrise, it is splendid!
Access and tips: during the summer, the car park of Cathedral Cove is closed, you will have to depart from the small town of Hahei. Count on extra 15 minutes then. Don’t forget to stop in this charming little town and enjoy its large white sandy beach.
Hot water beach
Located less than 10 minutes from Hahei (and thus Cathedral Cove), the beach named Hot Water Beach is a somewhat special beach. Indeed, you can enjoy hot springs by digging your own natural spa in the sand of this beach. Incredible, isn’t it?
Access and tips: the exact spot on the beach where the hot springs are located is only accessible during a 4-hour window (2 hours before and after low tide) so check the tide times upstream. Also, as this spot is very well-known by tourists and locals alike, expect to see many people.
And above all, don’t forget your shovel!
Going down to the south of the east coast, you will pass by Tairua. Stop there for a short walk to the top of Mount Paku. From here you will have a great view of Tairua and Pauanui as well as the Coromandel Peninsula Ranges and Tairua River.
Access and tips: To access this short walk, drive to the Memorial Reserve on Paku Drive where you can park. From here, a path leads through the park around the volcano up to the summit. Some rocks will have to be climbed at the end of the trail to reach the top, but this walk is accessible to pretty much accessible to everyone.
Whangamata & Donut Island
If you’re a surfing enthusiast, Whangamata is the place to be. Its beach is considered one of the best in New Zealand by the Kiwis. Not only because of its surf breaks but also because this place is considered the safest in New Zealand for swimming.
More than just a surfing town, Whangamata is also famous for its wildlife sanctuary: Whenuakura Wildlife Sanctuary. Also known as Donut Island, because of its shape. This reserve has long been kept secret locally but has become a must-see in the region in recent years.
Access and tips: You can hire kayaks/paddles to explore this island. However, good physical condition and confidence in the water is required. The wind and swell can sometimes make it difficult to get back to the shore. If you are not comfortable kayaking/paddling, you can join a 2 to 3-hour guided tour which will also be done by kayak or paddle, but with the security of having a guide who will help you enter and exit safely.
Please remember, it is forbidden to set foot on the island. It is a wildlife sanctuary. It is therefore mandatory to stay in the water (on your paddle or kayak) in order to preserve this fragile environment.
Waihi beach & Karangahake gorge – historical site on Coromandel Peninsula
Waihi is also popular with surfers and travellers. Indeed, the town is campervan friendly and many free camps are available along its beaches. The atmosphere is warm and family friendly. It is the perfect spot to spend the night and enjoy the waves before discovering the sublime Karangahake Gorge.
The Karangahake Gorge is located about 20-minutes from Waihi Beach and I can assure you that you don’t want to miss this incredible place during your trip to the Coromandel Peninsula. The road to the gorge follows the Ohinemuri River and gets narrower and more winding as you approach the heart of the gorge. Here you can see steep cliffs accompanied by lush vegetation. Stop at the official car park (opposite the Talisman Café) and explore this historic site, once one of the country’s main gold mining sites. There are many walks where you can see old machinery and walk through the tunnels used to transport the gold. Don’t forget to bring a torch or your phone as there will be many tunnels to walk through.
– Karangahake Windows Walk Loop: 1h return (2.5 km)
This short 1-hour return walk is one of the most famous in the area. It takes you through the old gold mining tunnels where some of the ‘windows’ offer impressive views of the Waitewheta River and gorge. On the way, you can see the ruins and the old rails. You can have fun wandering around in the dark and get lost in the different tunnels (most of them are dead ends so you can’t really get lost I assure you 😉 )
– Rail Tunnel Loop: 1h return (2.5km)
Like the first one, this hike is rather short and allows you to cross the 1100m long old railway tunnel.
– Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway: 4h return (7km)
Want to see the entire gorge? Take the Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway, a half-day walk. This walk includes the Rail Tunnel Loop and takes you along the river to Waikino Visitor Centre, passing the beautiful waterfall, Owharoa Falls.
This ride is a small section of the long 82km Hauraki Rail Trail starting in Paeroa. It can be done by bike.
And finally, for the more adventurous/hikers, climb to the Pinnacles in Kauaeranga Valley National Park. The Pinnacles offers some of the most beautiful scenery on the Coromandel Peninsula.
This hike can be done as a day hike and will take about 8 hours round trip. Or you can spend the night in the charming hut available (reservation required on the Department Of Conservation website) and have the chance to watch the sunset and sunrise from the top.
Access and tips: don’t forget a headlamp if you want to watch the sunrise at the summit and therefore leave at night (or if you stay until dark after sunset). From the hut to the summit, it’s a 30-40 minute walk. You will have to climb some rocks so I don’t recommend using your phone light so that you have your hands free to climb.
Practical information for your trip to the Coromandel Peninsula
When to visit the Coromandel?
The Coromandel Peninsula is very popular with the locals so I would recommend avoiding going during school holidays if you can. Especially in the summer (December-January) as most of the points of interest will be crowded.
How to get there?
The northern part of the Coromandel Peninsula is 3 hours (190km) from Auckland and the southern part (Waihi beach) is about 1.5 hours. It is therefore very easy to go there for a weekend. This is what we usually do, as we work in Auckland during the week. Having a car to go there and to drive around is highly recommended. If you are just visiting New Zealand and don’t plan to travel by van, you can rent a car for the duration of your trip and pick it up at the airport on arrival.
Where to stay on the Coromandel Peninsula?
If you are travelling by van, download the WikiCamp and Campermate apps to locate available free camps and paid campsites. During the summer months, the Coromandel Peninsula is heavily patrolled by rangers so it’s best not to take any chances. Also, make sure you have your self-contained certification up to date. If you don’t know what this certification is, I talk about it in the blog post about buying a vehicle in NZ.
If you are looking for accommodation, there are many hotels of different ranges available in the main cities. There are also plenty of airBnb’s in the area if you like this type of accommodation.
And if like me, you like atypical and original accommodation and you want to treat yourself for a night, I advise you to have a look at ‘Coromandel Luxury Escape’ located in Matarangi Bay. A beautiful safari tent awaits you with a bathroom with a view. A great place if you want to celebrate a special occasion!
Any additional questions about the Coromandel Peninsula or New Zealand, remarks or suggestions for my blog, please feel free to share with me in the comments box. I’ll be happy to answer you!
And if you prefer to contact me directly, send me a private message on instagram @justinejehanno
See you soon for another evasion in the heart of Oceania.
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