The mighty Coromandel peninsula is holiday-making in excelsis. Blessed with bucket loads of sunshine, lighting up its sapphire waters and warming long stretches of sugar-sand beaches, it’s the glint of gold that powered its first flush of population growth in the late 19th century.
Before succumbing to the shoreline pleasures, dip into the region’s pioneering past, steeped in gold and logging, by starting your exploratory in the main settlement of Thames. Most of the period buildings can be found in Grahamstown, although the bustling heart of Thames, Pollen St, still exudes vestiges of its fevered past. The Thames Historical Museum is a cutie and the Mineralogical Museum features a bewildering collection of minerals, still encased in Edwardian glass. Located on the legendary Golden Crown mine site, check out the working five-head stamper battery and the underground mine at the Goldmine Experience. Run by volunteers, this outstanding tourist attraction was developed by ex-goldminers, eager to preserve the region’s goldmining heritage.
Take a short drive to the Kauaeranga Valley, a river valley of ravishing prettiness, criss-crossed with walking trails, from where mighty kauri were felled, before much of the land was reclaimed by native bush. If you have the stamina for an all-day or overnight tramp, the stabbing saw-tooth peaks of the Pinnacles, are a major draw.
Heading north from Thames, the narrow coastal road hugging the Hauraki Gulf is ablaze in the summer months with the crimson triumph of the pohutakawas. It’s the grand old trees that tenaciously cling to the cliffs and bluffs above the sea, that had my camera burning through the pixels.
Coromandel Town boasts a chocolate-box collection of period buildings, many of which are recent lookalikes. Arts, crafts and tasty cafes abound in this story-book village. Have a pint in the gloriously restored Star & Garter Hotel Saloon Bar, and immerse yourself in the colourful history festooning its walls.
Just outside the township is Barry Brickell’s remarkable visitor magnet, Driving Creek Railway & Potteries. The ingenious handcraft potter devoted 32 years of back-breaking work, to build his narrow-gauge railway track , complete with viaducts, tunnels and switchbacks. Primarily built to supply clay for the pottery and pinewood for the kiln, this magical railway hauls you up to Barry’s Eyeful Tower, ( designed to mimic the Bean Rock Lighthouse on the Waitemata Harbour) and its panoramic viewing deck. Clattering through gloriously rugged bush, the native tree reforestation programme’s 25,000 plantings, are ever-present from the train. Slowly but surely, kauri trees are rising again.
A road-trip in this region inevitably will lead you to the oceanside temptations of the Coromandel Coast, which we will explore in the next month’s touring profile. But as you head east, perhaps on the 309 Road, pick and choose from the spoil of en-route treats. There’s the wildly quirky recycling-themed leisure park of Waterworks, stirring scenery of the Coromandel Ranges, Waiau Falls and its swimming hole, but best of all – the Kauri Grove and its 13 towering, time-honoured specimens.
Thrifty offers plenty of handy pick-up and drop-off locations when planning a Coromandel peninsula road journey, including Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga.