The Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand is an area of extreme beauty on North Island. It is a treasured spot with a rugged interior home to forests, waterfalls and rich biodiversity. Its dramatic coastline has pristine beaches and secluded bays, offering all manner of water activities, including cruises, kayaking and snorkelling.
On my Coromandel road trip, I spent three nights in Whitianga as my base to explore the area, which was the perfect length of time.
I planned my Coromandel Peninsula itinerary to include all the best things to do in Coromandel; the Cathedral Cove Walk, Hot Water Beach, the ancient Kauri Grove and Falls, and the Lost Spring were all on my list.
If you are wondering what to do in the Coromandel, you can follow my trip itinerary in this Coromandel guide to help you to plan a trip to this glorious peninsula in New Zealand.
Day One Coromandel Trip – Hot Water Beach and the Lost Spring
From Auckland, it will take approximately 2 hours and 30-minutes to drive to the Coromandel Peninsula.
NB: We had spent the previous night in Matamata enjoying an evening banquet in Hobbiton and were driving from there. Hence, it took us roughly the same amount of time, but we came into the Coromandel from a southerly direction.
Along the route to Hot Water Beach, there are plenty of small communities to stop for refreshments. We chose the laidback holiday town of Tairua to refuel at Out of the Blue Cafe.
If time permits, you may like to explore some things to do in Tairua, such as kayaking and windsurfing. Or the exciting hike to the dormant volcanic peak of Mount Paku to see stunning views of the estuary and surfing beach.
Hot Water Beach
Hot water beach is truly one of those fun things in New Zealand that you have to experience. Where else can you turn up to the beach with your shovel and dig a spa bath?
This New Zealand attraction pulls in tourists who want to experience this phenomenon for themselves, and we were some of them.
Armed simply with shovels, hired from the local beach shop, and lots of enthusiasm, we set about digging for our first drops of geothermal water.
I’m not going to pretend it’s easy digging a spa pool because it’s not. If you want to dig a decent-sized hole to sit in, you need to put in the elbow grease. No matter how hard it is, when you see the first trickle of water, you will feel euphoric, like you’ve struck gold!
All that remains is to wallow in your few inches of hot water and watch the others around you do the same.
You can find out full details of when to dig, why the water is so hot, when not to dig and other important information in my post How to dig your own spa bath on Hot Water Beach.
After arriving in Whitianga, we checked in at the Crows Nest Apartments for three nights. These luxury self-catering apartments are by Simpsons Beach and have a balcony and private parking. The apartments are perfectly positioned to enjoy Whitianga’s restaurants, shops and coastal walks.
The Lost Spring
On our first evening, we chose to spend a few hours in the stunning tropical oasis of The Lost Spring. This hidden gem in Whitianga has geothermal spa pools you don’t have to dig yourself, a sim-in cave, banana trees sheltering secret spots, a bar serving cocktails and grazing platters and the option to book a massage and other treatments.
It is the top thing to do in Whitianga as voted by TripAdvisor, and I have to agree it is fabulous.
Top Tip: Remember to apply plenty of mosquito repellant. We were there at an evening session in March and got bitten quite a few times.
Looking for somewhere to eat in Whitianga on your first evening – Salt Restaurant and Bar overlooks the harbour and serves fabulous fish dishes.
Day Two – Exploring Whitianga and the Hahei to Cathedral Cove Walk
Whitianga is one of the most popular towns to stay in the Coromandel and is well equipped for tourism with some great restaurants and bars. Our favourite place for brunch in Whitianga was The Harbour House Cafe. They serve the best coffee, cakes, avo on toast, eggs on toast and fabulous salads.
After brunch, we decided to explore Whitianga before our trip to Hahei. The town has attracted many artists and creatives over the years, evident by the many independent galleries on Whitianga’s high street. It is worth having a look in one or two of the galleries as there is some excellent NZ talent to discover and some incredible Maori art on display.
If you have forgotten to bring anything for the beach, Whitianga also has a host of souvenir shops selling beach paraphernalia, from buckets and spades to cover-ups and sunglasses.
Leading away from the high street, we strolled along this Coromandel coastal walkway that sweeps around Mercury Bay and admired the scenic views before jumping in the car for the 40-minute drive to the seaside town of Hahei.
Hahei Beach to Cathedral Cove Walk
One of the top things to do in the Coromandel is to visit Cathedral Cove in Hahei. It is an iconic New Zealand location comprising two sandy beaches separated by a giant limestone arch that visitors can reach by foot or water. This afternoon we were going to walk to Cathedral Cove from the sensational Hahei Beach.
Parking can be tricky in Hahei, especially in summer, so we were lucky to be travelling in the off-peak season and could easily find a spot at the beach car park.
We started our coastal walk from Hahei Beach and quickly started the ascent to higher ground. The seascape views are incredible, and the turquoise waters and golden sandy beach feel like you are in a tropical paradise.
The walk is 2.5km and is mainly a tarmac surface though the start takes you through some bush areas. The Cathedral Cove lookout will give you stunning views across Mercury Bay and Stingray Bay, and pathways give you a choice to make your way to either of the bays if you want to spend some time snorkelling.
Continuing on the walk, you will eventually arrive at Cathedral Cove, where you can relax, enjoy a swim and take those all-important photos of the Cathedral Arch with the blue of the sea behind it.
If you are feeling a bit peckish after your walk, there is a fabulous cafe/restaurant on Waihi beach called Flatwhite which serves up a delicious menu.
You can find full details of when to visit the cove, where to park, how to reach the cove by water transport, and other important information in my post Walk the Beautiful Hahei Beach to Cathedral Cove Trail.
Back in Whitianga, we were pretty tired from the day’s activities, so we opted to use the self-catering facilities in our Eagle Nest Apartment. The great thing about having a balcony is that we could eat dinner with an ocean view – Perfect!
Day Three – Kauri Grove and Waiau Falls
After our regular leisurely brunch at the Harbour House Cafe, we hopped in the car to make the 40-minute drive from Whitianga to Waiau to see the ancient Kauri forest and waterfall. It is a winding route, and we encountered several sets of roadworks, so be wary that the drive may take considerably longer.
Kauri Grove and Waiau Falls
The Kauri Grove is one of the easiest walks in the Coromandel, with the bonus of a nearby waterfall. You can even swim in the cooling forest waters on a hot day. If you travel off-season, you may get the place to yourself – we did, and it was terrific.
Much of New Zealand was once covered by these majestic trees until European loggers came along and decimated much of the Kauri forests. Now the threat isn’t from humans but from Kauri dieback disease, and on entry to the forest, you must disinfect the bottom of your shoes with the solution provided.
The trail starts from the main 309 Road and is a circular loop taking you around the forest. Kauri trees are the stars of the show, some over 1000 years old, with trunks several metres in diameter and standing so high that to look up means craning your neck right back.
Top Tip: It doesn’t take long to see Kauri Grove and Waiau Falls, so you could also visit the nearby Driving Creek Railway.
Back in Whitianga, we had booked a sailing trip to take us around the bay and to Cathedral Cove; sadly, the weather did not prevail, and the cruise company cancelled it. It was a disappointment as we were looking forward to cruising along the Coromandel and viewing the delights on the way. Another reason to return one day!
If you are interested in booking a cruise from Whitianga, here are several you may like:
On our last evening in Whitianga, we wandered around Whitianga Harbour, checking out the sailing boats before getting dinner at Grace O’Malley’s Irish Inn (yes, I know I was in NZ, but it is a local institution!). Then it was back to the apartment to pack for our drive back to Auckland the following morning.
My thoughts on staying 3-nights on the Coromandel.
With so many things to do on the Coromandel Peninsula, you may want to stay for a week or longer. However, by staying for three nights, you can still experience some of the main highlights of the area.
Three nights in Whitianga gave us the chance to discover all the best things in the Coromandel at a decent pace which, after travelling around the world for three months, was perfect for us. You can, of course, visit the Coromandel on a day trip from Auckland if you only have a day to spare in your New Zealand itinerary. If this is the case, go for it; it’s better to see something than nothing!
I have travelled extensively across New Zealand and have to say that the Coromandel Peninsula, along with the Bay of Islands, also on North Island, are two of the most beautiful places in NZ I have seen. But don’t just take my word for it – book that trip to New Zealand now and witness the beauty of Aotearoa for yourself.
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