Following on from my previous article extoling the virtues of the Marlborough region I thought it only fair to move north and give you a glimpse of what New Zealand’s North Island has to offer.

Diversity is one of the things that makes New Zealand so unique and interesting. We have mountains and glaciers, rainforests, golden beaches, white beaches, rivers and lakes. Perhaps the only thing we’re lacking is a desert but I think I can live with that. Oh, and snakes. That’s right, no snakes. I can definitely live with that.

After returning from the South Island and having wowed our family visiting from the UK we decided to drive to the Coromandel Coast for a couple of days. Interestingly, this turned out to be my sister-in-law's favourite place.

The first thing of note to happen on this short road trip – it’s only a two and half hour drive from Auckland to the Coromandel – was a refreshment stop in Tairua. Elevenses to be precise. If you’re unfamiliar with this term it is the very English tradition of a light morning snack, usually taken around eleven o’clock with tea or coffee. Considering the holiday thus far had consisted of eating, and then eating, and then more eating, we saw no reason to change things.

I ordered a bacon and gruyere omelette – an interesting choice for me as I usually shy away from ordering omelettes when I eat out. Too often they disappoint – too oily, too much filling, overcooked. But at the Manaia Kitchen and Bar in Tairua I had an omelette to die for. I have no idea if it’s still on the menu or perhaps it was a special of the day. But I remember it as one of the most surprising and delicious eating experiences of the holiday. Go Tairua!

Moving on. We arrived in the Coromandel by early afternoon and still feeling sated from our “light snack” decided to forgo lunch and get in some beach time. We headed to Hahei, one of Coromandel’s most famous beaches. In contrast to the golden sands of the Abel Tasman, this part of the country is littered with white sandy beaches and Hahei has a long, immense stretch of white sand. Beautiful.

It’s a popular beach and a paradise for those who love water sports and ocean adventures. The list of activities on offer is endless – scenic boat trips, kayaking, scuba diving, snorkelling, surfing. There are also some very cool boat trips to the sea caves. The rock faces are spectacular and have such an eerie, primitive look about them, which only intensifies when you cruise inside – like I said, very cool. In fact this is my pick of the activities although I’m not much of a water sports fan so that may have tipped the balance here. Check out Sea Cave Adventures or the Hahei Explorer on TripAdvisor – some great reviews.

A trip to the Coromandel is not complete without a visit to Cathedral Cove, which was our destination for the first full day of our jaunt. It’s a smaller beach, a cove that is only accessible via boat or by walking down to it from the cliff top. There are plenty of boat tours that will take you to Cathedral Cove (and if you’re doing the sea caves Cathedral Cove may well be included) however if you enjoy a challenging walk I would recommend parking at the top of the cliff and walking down. The path twists and turns through stunning native bush and when you get your first glimpse of the cove through the trees it’s a truly memorable experience.

“Paradise” may be a word used too freely but I think Cathedral Cove is deserving of the label.

Its name comes from a large rock that spans the width of the beach and is formed as an arch, which resembles a cathedral. You can walk through the arch-shaped cut out to the other side of the beach. If by chance you are able to visit this divine spot in December/January the Pohutukawa trees will be in full bloom. Their flowers are like small explosions of red amongst the dense greenery. They provide a stunning backdrop to the white sand and sparkling ocean.

After a few blissful few hours at Cathedral Cove we all agreed that it was a very special spot indeed.

For our short two-night stay we chose to base ourselves in Whitianga, one of the larger towns of this area. The next morning I was up early for a walk along Whitianga's Cooks Beach. I’ve always loved to walk on the beach at first light; so calm and peaceful and it’s such a treat to listen to the steady lapping of waves without the noise of people and traffic. It is at times like this that I feel most privileged to live in New Zealand. What a way to start the day.

From Whitianga Wharf you can catch a ferry over to Ferry Landing. It’s a narrow stretch of water and the trip is only a minute or so. This side is less populated and you will find more incredible beaches. On this particular day the beach that we walked to had not another soul on it. My sister and brother-in-law marvelled at this phenomenon and made the comparison to beaches at home in the UK. A beach of Coromandel quality would never remain so empty, they said. (I do actually remember a thirty-degree weekend getaway to Bournemouth where my husband and I struggled to find a spare spot to put down our towels!)

If you prefer to get away from the hustle and bustle then a trip to Ferry Landing is definitely for you. There is also a lovely café just up the road from where the ferry docks. I mean, you may want quiet but that doesn’t mean you don’t want coffee!

The one place we didn’t make it to was Hot Water Beach but it’s also well worth a visit. This beach is unique by way of the underground hot springs that filter up through the sand. At certain times between the tides (and check this before you go) you can make small hot water pools in the sand.

I must quickly mention our dinner that night because it was the second memorable eating experience I’d had in as many days. We went for dinner at Salt Restaurant & Bar and for dessert I had one of the most delectable panna cotta’s I’ve ever eaten. Their menu may have changed by now but this is a great spot for lunch or dinner - delicious food and fantastic views.

My sister-in-law was particularly sorry to leave the Coromandel as we packed up the car the next morning and got on the road early. Admittedly she’s a beach and sun girl so it was right in her wheelhouse. But whatever your interests, you won’t be disappointed with the Coromandel. It is a spectacular part of the country.


Published by Tracey O'Brien