Only a few hours’ drive from Auckland are some of the best walks, beaches and views Aotearoa has to offer. As a geothermal hotspot with pockets of natural hot water, breathtaking cliff faces and sprawling forestry covering the hillsides, the Coromandel has positioned itself as a tourist destination and one of our county's most well-kept and beautiful treasures.
We’ve collated some of the region’s lesser known hidden gems, including kayaking to Donut Island and stargazing in Whitianga right through to not-to-be-missed spots featured on most travel guides like the Pinnacles Walk and Hot Water Beach.
No matter whether you're interested in a full, action packed day with the family or a relaxing stroll through mother nature, the Coromandel has something for everyone and is sure to be a hot road trip destination this summer!
1. Whenuakura Wildlife Sanctuary / Donut Island
- Location: Whenuakura - Donut - Island Kayak Tour
- Suitable for: An afternoon of kayaking or paddle boarding, best for those with an adequate level of fitness and confidence in the water.
Formerly a well-kept secret shared between the locals, Donut Island, also known as Whenuakura Wildlife Sanctuary, is becoming increasingly popular with visitors to the Whangamata region and is a particularly brilliant place to visit during the peak of the heat in the December to March summer months.
The Island has two small beaches in the centre of the its collapsed blowhole, and is the perfect location for an afternoon kayak or paddle board, but it’s very important to go with a registered tour company such as Pedal and Paddle because the ocean swell and tidal conditions can quickly change.
You enter the cove via a single 40ft-high cave and can marvel at the rock formations and beautiful bright pohutukawa trees blossoming in the summer months. If you're looking for a place to take pictures that look straight out of a travel guide, this is the the location to drop a pin on your map.
2. The Pinnacles Walk, Putangirua
- Location: The road-end car park and start of Pinnacles Walk is at the foot of the ranges, nine kilometres of unsealed road from the Kauaeranga Valley Visitor Centre.
- Suitable for: Athletic hikers who are looking for a challenge and some great views (probably not suitable for young kids to tackle).
While by no means a hidden gem, this walk is on every Coromandel must-do list for a reason! The stunning views over the Kauaeranga Valley make it easy to see why this walk was voted as one of the 101 Must Do's for Kiwis.
Deeply entrenched in local history, the original steps on the pathway were constructed for pack horses which carried supplies for kauri loggers, gum diggers and gold miners that worked in the area in the 1900s, and leads to a summer at 759 metres that boasts a spectacular view of the entire Coromandel Peninsula.
The walk can be done in one day (8 hours return) but it’s recommended to split it over two days and stay overnight at the 80 bed Doc hut available on the track (although you’ll need to book this well in advance).
3. Stargazers Astronomy Tour, Whitianga
- Location: 392 State Highway 25, Kuaotunu, Whitianga
- Suitable for: A relaxed evening of stargazing after a day of lounging in Whitianga’s The Lost Spring geothermal pools.
Stargazers Astronomy Tours and Accommodation in Kuaotunu, Whitianga, offers an ideal dark-sky site, free from light pollution for the astronomically inclined amongst us. If gazing at the night sky and pondering extraterrestrial mysteries is up your alley, this is a must-do.
Small groups are offered the opportunity to explore the southern night sky with the guidance of the tour host, professional geologist and amateur astronomer, Alastair Brickell.
Visitors staying at the accommodation are offered the tour complementary and non-guests can pay $60 (for an adult) and $30 (for a child).
If you're looking for a full-day activity to pair with your night-time gazing, we have to make a special mention to The Lost Spring Whitianga. Harnessing the geothermal activity, these 16,000 year old mineral water springs from 667 meters below ground, emerge pure and sterile, into man-made rock pools for you to sit in and enjoy with your friends.
Enjoy the geothermal pools, the restaurant or the day spa for a little luxury in your summer roadie.
4. WhiteStar Horse Trekking, Colville
- Location: Colville Farm Holidays, 2140 Colville Road, RD 4, Coromandel 3584
- Suitable for: Kids, nature-lovers and adventurers looking for something a bit different on their summer holiday.
The Colville Farm Holidays WhiteStar Station is a 1,260 hectare dry stock farm in Colville that offers quaint accommodation and activities for when you really need to get away from it all.
One highly recommended activity on offer is a fully guided horse trek ranging from 1 hour to 5 hours, and catering to all levels of experience. All gear is provided and the guides provide commentary on the local history, geography, flora and fauna.
Experience the varying terrain throughout the trek - grassy flats, hills, bush and encounter native birds, and grazing sheep and cattle.
Guests staying in the accommodation receive a discounted price, but visitors are looking at $65 for 1 hour, $75 for 1.5 hours and $90 for 2 hours.
Stay a little longer and enjoy one of the farm's accommodation options like glamping in a bush lodge or cosying up in a self-contained cottage. If you're looking to flex your equestrian muscles while enjoying the view as the colonial settlers would have, definitely stop by when you're in the area.
5. Hot Water Beach, South of Hahei Beach
- Location: Pye Place, Hot Water Beach 3510
- Suitable for: Anyone! Just make sure to go two hours either side of low-tide for the best results, hire a spade for digging at the local shop if you didn’t bring one.
Hot Water Beach has become renowned worldwide for the patch of thermal water bubbling just beneath the surface of the sand at low tide. Tourists and locals alike flock to the beach in the summer months to dig themselves a pool and bathe in the warm water.
As the beach is public access, you can head to the hot pools any time of the day or night, providing it's low tide. We'd definitely recommend heading here in the off-season, evening or morning to avoid the flocks of tourists and ensure you get a spot to yourself to dig. If you do choose to go at nighttime, look out for the glow-worms in the walkway leading up to the beach!
You'll be able to spot the exact patch of sand that's geothermal by looking for the 'hot water' warning signs along the cliff face. A lot of people head here and expect the entire beach to be hot, which isn't the case, but there is a 50-metre-or-so stretch that's bubbling!
Hot Water Beach is also only a 5-10 minute drive away from another iconic Coromandel Beach, Cathedral Cove. Cathedral Cove requires a bit of a walk to access it (1.5-2 hours return), so make sure you allow plenty of time if you are planning to do both beaches in the same day.
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