Take It Easy - A family hiking holiday around The Coromandel
Three families, four nights, five walks, six kids. What could possibly go wrong? Absolutely nothing, as it turned out. We were all there to take it easy and enjoy ourselves on a hiking holiday. Strategic planning to pick walks best suited for families and ensure ice cream stops were never far from the finish meant our ‘forced family fun’ hiking trip around The Coromandel was a standout success for everyone.
We started in convoy from Thames, driving up the pohutukawa-lined coast to Waiomu Kauri Grove. Not only was this walk a way of easing everyone into it, but it also didn’t demand a long drive to get to, and the reward of lunch at the Waiomu Beach Cafe provided the inspiration everyone needed on Day One of our Coromandel hiking holiday.
The Kauri Grove is a two-hour round trip, meandering into the regenerating native forest along an easy track before eventually arriving at a stand of mature kauri. The track is smooth and safe, with enough adventure to keep the kids happy including a stream crossing and footbridges to tromp over like the Billy Goats Gruff, imagining trolls lurking beneath.
Back on the road heading north, a side trip to Rapaura Water Gardens was a great way to give the young people space to roam, discovering ducks and walking to an impressive waterfall.
Shelly Beach Top 10 Holiday Park just north of Coromandel Town was a good accommodation option for Days One and Two, with its good for your soul beachfront location, bouncy pillow and plenty for the kids to do.
Day Two’s hike was our biggest; the Coromandel Coastal Walkway* at the northernmost tip of the peninsula. There are several ways to undertake this iconic Coromandel journey, which is a 20km round trip. We chose the easiest way, considering our diverse group with its spectral range of fitness levels, ages and degrees of enthusiasm, and walked one-way, from Stony Bay to Fletcher Bay, with local operators providing shuttle service from point to point. Choosing this option meant no tricky logistics with a vehicle at each end. It also meant the hike could be comfortably enjoyed and completed by everyone within a day, including plenty of time for a picnic at Poley Bay and a celebratory swim at the end of the walk, as well as transport time to and from Coromandel Town. Outstanding views, well-cut tracks and a variety of terrain including open paddocks, birdsong-filled bush and dramatic wooden staircases to the sea made this walk a real adventure and something for everyone to be proud of achieving. We returned to our base triumphant.
*Editor's note: The Coastal Walkway is impassable above Shag Bay, September 2023, so you will need to do an in and out walk from one end of the other. Pahi Coastal Walk, a 3-day hosted experience on a working farm is a great alternative, but you do need to book early, it's very popular.
Day Three’s drive was an easy half-hour southeast from Coromandel to Matarangi - one of the region’s long white sandy stretches of coast just off the highway. After the great heights of the Coastal Walkway, the Bluff Track offered up similarly stunning views over Matarangi, Kūaotunu and the vast ranges behind, without the long hours underfoot. Lunch at nearby Luke’s Kitchen in Kūaotunu lived up to expectations, as did the giant ice creams for the kids at the Kūaotunu Store. From there, we convoyed south through Whitianga where the newly refurbished waterfront adventure playground was a hit for all ages, while some of the adults took advantage of the great range of shopping the town has to offer and replenished food supplies at the local supermarket.
Tairua Campground was an ideal base for our group that night, with its large family room and freshly refurbished cabins and facilities. Based in the village, it meant we were able to park the car and enjoy the ease of everything Tairua had to offer, including the nearby estuary, playground, safe swimming and fun for everyone leaping off the Pepe footbridge into the full tide. Delicious wood-fired pizzas at Manaia Kitchen and Bar just across the road were a dinner-time treat and fueled everyone for our Day Four visit to Broken Hills in nearby Puketui Valley.
Once a bustling gold mining area, Puketui Valley and Broken Hills are now known for their outstanding historic hikes through the area, featuring fascinating relics from its bygone era, such as old machinery, tramways and tunnels. There are a variety of walks in the hills, ranging from five minutes to several hours long. We chose the Collins Drive Loop; a 3.5km circuit including the highly anticipated Collins Drive tunnel, a 500-metre historic mining tunnel, complete with glow worms that only can be seen when the lights are off! Torches are a necessity through the tunnel, and excitement intermingled with nerves when they were switched off for a few seconds so as to see the glowworms. Puketui Valley has several refreshing water holes along the river by the roadside, and these were welcomed by everyone after our fourth hike in as many days.
Our final on-foot exploration was the Windows Walk in historic Karangahake Gorge, after enjoying an easy evening’s accommodation in the bustling beach town of Whangamatā. Only 45 minutes drive from Whangamatā through Waihi, the Gorge offers an impressive introduction with a vast swing bridge inviting exploration into this fascinating area dotted with gold mining relics, structures and machinery from the area’s past. The 2.5km Windows Walk was a real favourite with the kids, as there was plenty for them to climb on, touch and play with, including an old steel wagon attached to a railway, which made for a great photo opportunity. The ‘windows’ are actually four openings cut into a series of tunnels, allowing jaw-dropping views of the gorge far below.
A compulsory photo stop at the giant L&P bottle in Paeroa concluded our ‘forced family fun’ on a sugary high, judging by everyones’ smiles. To anyone contemplating joining forces with other families and setting off on a hiking holiday, The Coromandel is a wonderfully hassle-free option. Driving distances are short, the landscape is fantastic and there are hikes to please all ages. Oh, and the ice creams are enormous...