A Classic Kiwi Summertime
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Hannah Klein
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A Classic Kiwi Summertime

In Coromandel

Words by Emma Fenton-Wells

Blog #2 of her solo trip in NZ

 

The rear door of an Apollo Euro Tourer is open next to the beach

 

I picked up my home on wheels from the Apollo branch in Auckland, setting forth bright eyed and bushy tailed, with two months of absolute freedom ahead of me. Two. Whole. Months. 

The Coromandel is where Kiwis holiday. It’s a beautiful peninsula, approximately 85km long, filled with beaches and bushland, coves and caves, all waiting to be explored. I’d liken it to Byron Bay in Australia, before it became South Hollywood. 

I cannot tell you how many people recommended that I start there. It’s filled with beautiful coves, marine reserves and cheese. Yes. Cheese. Well, at least at one place: the Matatoki Cheese Barn. A whole barn made of artisanal cheese?! It’s a miracle I made it to Coromandel Town at all. 

 

Matatoki Cheese Barn in Coromandel

 

Driving my camper ended up being a lot easier than I had expected. Having driven a much smaller car around London for months, the New Zealand roads were comparatively palatial. Once you’re out of Auckland, the roads begin to wrap themselves around the mountain ranges. I wish only to have been a passenger to look at the views as they grew more expansive, the further up the range I climbed. 

The drive itself is worth taking slowly. Look, you probably won’t even mean to go slowly, it’s just the nature of all this freedom. When you’re driving your bed around the country, there’s no hurry. You’ll also be reminded to go carefully when you come across the sign exclaiming, “We have two cemeteries and no hospital. Slow down”. 

Cruising into Coromandel Town, I wished I hadn’t been quite so enthusiastic at Matatoki (although I can heavily recommend the pies, venison salami and organic camembert). Along Tiki Road, there’s stop after stop of local seafood restaurants. With each beach I approached, I kicked myself for not buying a spread of smoked fish and taking it down for a picnic - especially at Wyuna Bay - a beautiful and mostly residential beach.

 

Mailboxes in Wyuna Bay NZ

 

Coromandel Town is worth a visit and a stay. It’s a small town and has a charming nature to it. There’s a smattering of delicious cafes, loads of boutiques and some art to take it (you can also park up relatively easy). A heap of freedom camping options dot along state highway 25 too. Just take your pick!

Next, I more or less rolled down towards Cooks Beach, to a campsite I picked based on its proximity to both Hahei and Whitianga. All that Matatoki cheese will do that. Working in my favour was the fact that schools had gone back, so it honestly felt like I had the whole peninsular to myself. Such a treat. 

After a night in an empty campsite, I followed my nose and grabbed breakfast at Eggsentric, a cafe built in what had (and probably is) a family home. The food was excellent but unfortunately not nearly enough to power the uphill ride to the ferry. Before setting off, I had bought a fold-up bike thinking I wouldn’t need to drive into towns and could cycle instead. Great thought. Problem was at 5”8, it looked like I was riding a clown bike. 

The ferry to Whitianga was well worth having to push my clown bike up the hills. It takes you across a clear water bay, surrounded by cliff faces. Only a few minutes in length, you have just enough time to take in the sun and spy on all the excellent boats awaiting the better sea conditions to fish. That’s why many people make their way to this part of the Coromandel - for the amazing fishing on the edges of the Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve.

 

The coastline of the Coromandel

 

Whitianga is filled with shops and museums. It’s a fun day in a seaside town and best finished with a swim at Cooks Beach. Town highlights included the Mercury Bay Cancer Support Book Shop and the Mercury Bay Museum.

 

Mural outside of Mercury Bay Museum in Whitianga NZ

 

After a quiet night at camp, I set off for Hahei. As if I hadn’t already encountered so many stunning beaches, Hahei was something else. I grabbed brunch at HBC and wandered through The Lawnmower’s Son Art Space - a newly opened gallery filled with Kiwiana art. 

Most people trek to Hahei to take in Cathedral Cove. It’s a spectacular bay, reachable only by hiking down or by boat. Today I would tackle it on foot and tomorrow by kayak. It was a steamy day, and the walk from Hahei Beach takes around 45 minutes. I deeply regretted not packing my togs (swimmers) when I reached it. The stairs and hills were worth every second when you catch the sun glittering through the natural cove over sandy beaches. Upon returning, I rewarded my hike with an ice cream on the beach. 

 

View of Cathedral Cove coast line

 

Cathedral Cove Photo credit: @ThatPhotoGuyNL

Photo credit: @ThatPhotoGuyNL

 

Another classic activity in this area is visiting Hot Water Beach. Starting two hours before low tide, gaggles of spade-laden enthusiasts make for the ‘big green rock’ to bag their own hot spa pool in the sand. The water springing through the sand is at points near boiling. You need to dig around to find the warm patches and watch out for a rogue wave that might wash it all away. This beach isn’t the best for swimming as it’s a lot rougher than Hahei, but is worth visiting all the same just for hot springs. 

That evening, I stayed up at Purangi Winery which I arranged using Okay2Stay. I met Danny, the operator of the winery, at Hot Water Brewing Co for a tasting of their products (most involving feijoas) and in exchange for my purchasing a bottle of something delicious was allowed to camp up at their site. The winery isn’t currently operating, but is perched up on a hill overlooking Hot Water Beach and the surrounding mountains - one of the most beautiful views to wake up to. 

 

Emma leans against the back door of the Apollo Euro Tourer taking in her view

 

Emma wearing a life jacket on a kayak with Cathedral Cove Kayak Tours

 

Kayaks on the beach at Cathedral Cove

 

To finish off my time in the Coromandel, I had arranged to go kayaking with Cathedral Cove Kayak Tours. Setting out nice and early, I headed back to Hahei and cooked breakfast in my van (now affectionately known as the Mystery Machine) and hit the beach. We suited up and paddled out into the bay, first visiting the sacred (tapu) islands, untouched by humans. It’s truly special. We made our way down to Cathedral Cove, stopping for coffees and then paddled back through Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve where curious (and evidently, not hunted) snapper come right up to the boats for a look. 

 

It was now time to head to Rotorua, for an entirely different experience of New Zealand’s North Island.

 

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