The medley of sun-kissed pickings along Coromandel’s Pacific Coast are as a sweet and succulent as holiday berries. Few New Zealand beaches can compare to the sweeping magnificence of Whangamata’s main ocean beach, renowned amongst surfies as a most reliable performer, with the legendary “Whanga bar” delivering the best breaks. Big game fishing, golf, mountain biking and bush walks are all on-tap. Don’t miss the cascading beauty of Wentworth Falls, a one hour walk through sublime native bush climaxing with the viewing platform and the swimming hole at the base of the falls.
In March, Whangamata crawls with classic cars, rock n’roll and Americana-themed diners, as the annual Beach Hop roars into life. Happy Days are yours and mine, indeed.
Heading north, with a cerulean sky and the cobalt waters of the Pacific Ocean stretching out in front of you, Hot Water Beach holds the unique distinction of doubling as your personal spa pool. For two hours either side of low tide, you can access an area of sand at the southern end of the beach, in front of the rocky bluff, which boasts a hot water spring. The real trick is to locate a spot with the perfect mix of hot and cold water! Pack a spade, or hire one from the adjacent beachside shop, and treat yourself to an indelible holiday soak.
Maori believe Kupe discovered the Coromandel coast in 950AD, originally attracted by the now extinct moa. Historic pa sites are studded along the coast, but I loved exploring Te Pare Historic Reserve in Hahei. The Ngati Hei stronghold, on a rocky headland with the sea on three sides, is a lofty vantage point to survey glistening Mercury Bay and Hahei Beach.
But the piece de resistance for all travellers to this locale is the chance to savour the pohutukawa-fringed splendour of Cathedral Cove. I deliberately timed my visit for very early morning, when the sky is still lemony with the first rays of the day. Make an early start on the 45 minute walk down to this scenic jewel, and like me, you may well be rewarded with the gift of solitude. The well formed track weaves you through a fabulous melange of tumbling open countryside, sweeping ocean vistas and groves of native bush, aflutter with birdlife. On arrival, I had Cathedral Cove and its ivory-sand flanks, to myself, with the exception of a breakfast-hunting seagull. Photos cannot do justice to the colossal stone arch, the rocky limestone fang, the natural waterfall shower, bone china -coloured sand and iridescent water, that shimmers like cut-crystals.
Famous for its New Year holiday stampede, Mercury Bay’s focal point is a red-carpet destination for water-sports, whether it be boating, kayaking and diving – or simply beaching it, on the broad crescent-shaped sweep of Buffalo Beach. I awoke to the mirror-smooth stillness of its deep harbour, from the spacious and sophisticated comfort of Marina Park, to soak up the sensory charms. Boats bobbing on the glistening horizon, cafes briskly trading in steaming espressos and morning strollers gliding across the beautifully lawned gardens, bracketing the waterfront. Catch a ferry across the harbour to walk in the footsteps of Captain Cook, who landed here in 1769, and observed the transit of Mercury. There are some enchanting walks, taking in Whitianga Rock, Shakespeare’s Lookout, Lonely Bay and the great explorer’s commemoration plaque. After your appetite-building walk, head back across the harbour, and plop down for a restorative stop at Salt Bar & Restaurant. The seafood could not be any fresher, and the open-air dining overlooking Whitianga Marina is a knock-out perch.
For extra-indulgence, Whitianga boasts an extravagantly designed geothermal pool retreat, the Lost Spring. Extensively landscaped with a heady mix of native forest and exotic tropical foliage, I languidly lazed in the sculpted rock pools, hop-scotching from one to the next, and their differing extremes of heat, before ordering up a poolside cocktail from the generous spoil of offerings. Now, that’s what holidays are all about.
Plan a sweet and succulent road trip on State Highway 25, traversing the wonders of the Coromandel’s Pacific Coast. Thrifty offers plenty of handy pick-up and drop-off locations including Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga.