The Coromandel - Life As It Should Be
Mention that you’re heading to ‘The Coromandel’ for a summer holiday to Kiwis and a sigh expressing the ‘wish I was going’ sentiment will escape their mouths. They’ll momentarily drift away to those long summer days spent on the coast with evening barbeques drinking in the sunset. Mention that you’re going for a winter holiday and the response may be a little more abrupt – ‘what for?’
Given The Coromandel is just over an hour away from home, we live south of Auckland, it is a popular summer getaway. Every summer we write a list of the must do activities only to end up lying on Whangapoua Beach, struggling to tear ourselves away from our favourite retreat.
So when the kids went to their grandparents for Queens Birthday we thought we’d finally tick off some of those must do’s. One of the first indicators of your arrival to the region is the Corogate Café on SH25 towards Thames. For years we’d driven past this quirky looking lunch stop.
As my husband and I approached this time we thought it was only right to stop off at the Corogate Café given it was Queens Birthday weekend. The Corogate Café celebrates ‘Olde England’ with portraits of the King and Queen and British memorabilia filling every nook and cranny.
Onwards to Thames we cross the new Kopu Bridge looking down on the old one-way bridge that we loved to hate. As it’s now in the early afternoon we head straight up the Kauaeranga Valley to the Department of Conservation information centre for our first must do experience. The Pinnacles track is a walk we’ve been meaning to do for years and finally we’ve made it, to the start at least.
We’re not as fit as we’d like to be but we’ve got 4 hours of good light ahead to reach base camp. The information sign says it should take us 3 hours so we’re feeling confident. Soon after leaving we’re straight into a lush native bush setting, over a swing bridge and onto the historic route. Thankfully we allowed enough time to stop and take in the scenery, the perfect excuse to catch our breath.
The Pinnacles track was built so packhorses could take supplies to the kauri loggers working in the hills. Along the way there are reminders of the pioneering heritage like the steps made from stone and timber. You can imagine horses loaded with essentials making the arduous ascent while we huff and puff our way up the steep climb.
After 3 hours of walking we finally make it to the hut where we’re to spend a romantic night with each other…and dozens of other people. To call the accommodation a ‘hut’ is underselling this camping resort. It can sleep up to 80 people with comfy mattresses, a decent sized kitchen and dining area. Being a long weekend it’s very busy. You must book in advance if you plan to stay in the hut. We escape the growing crowd to check out the nearby Dancing Camp Kauri Dam where many of the Kauri logs began their journey before ending up miles down river in the Firth of Thames.
We decide to rise early and complete the climb to the summit in time for the sunrise. Typically I’m not an early riser but this is a decision I will never regret. The views from the Pinnacles are nothing short of amazing. Sore muscles and feet are immediately forgotten as we meet the sun rising over the Pacific Ocean. Behind us we can see the Firth of Thames and right back into the Hauraki plains, everywhere in between are dramatic ranges cloaked in native bush.
The walk back to the valley basin via the Billy Goat track is a steady descent with more remnants from the logging days. Be sure to look back occasionally and take the odd side path to admire the views back up the valley. We finally reach our car and head south to the town that’s world famous in New Zealand.
Revisiting the days of old we admire antique stores overflowing with collectables. It’s no surprise that Paeroa are recent recipients of the New Zealand community of the year award. Behind every counter is a smiling local, happy to offer advice on where to go and what to see.
Heading through Karangahake Gorge we add another ‘must do’ experience to the list. We see lot’s people walking and cycling courtesy of the newly created Hauraki Rail Trail. Our legs are past any more activity so opt to we enjoy the scenic drive towards Waihi. Grumbling tummies tell us it’s time to eat so we head to Waitete Orchard Restaurant. The Coromandel is well known for producing homegrown dishes and Waitete is no exception. Make sure you try their delightful homemade ice cream.
Heading north towards Whangamata we stop off to take a quick picture of Whiritoa Beach. A relatively short walk over the hill to the next bay reveals a beautiful hidden beach surrounded by Pohutukawa trees. This is one spot we’ll definitely be returning to. Whangamata is our next destination, we’ve taken advantage of a Queens Birthday special and decided to treat ourselves to a night at Bushland Park Lodge. Located in the Wentworth Valley, Bushland Park Lodge is set in a generously sized garden with Kauri trees over 250 years old - thankfully the loggers didn’t mill these ones. After enjoying more homegrown dining with our own private chef we take a deserved soak in the outdoor double bath tub. It’s times like this that I wonder why we’re always rushing.
Reality sinks in the next day as we hit the motorway towards Auckland. We ticked off some of our must do’s, only to add a whole lot more. The sunrise over the Pinnacles, friendly locals and antique stores in Paeroa, homemade ice cream and star gazing while soaking in the bath remind us that the best things in life are right on our doorstep. We’ll be looking forward to returning to The Coromandel this summer but we’ll be coming far more often to enjoy life as it should be. After all, it’s only just down the road.