During our trip up the Coromandel Pennisula, we went from the town of Coromandel to Mill Creek via highway 309.
This is definitely not the most common road to take from the top of the pennisula back down to the bottom, but it did make for a scenic view.
Highway 309 has Castle Rock, Waiau Waterworks and Waiau Falls as its main sites, but I was also very impressed by all of the rock formations on the sides of the road.
Be careful though, as some of this road is actually not paved, which I found odd for a numbered highway!
On SH 25,a couple of km's south of Thames, turn of to the left and you are on the Kauaeranga road. It brings you through typical Coromandel scenery: green native forest, tree ferns, a small river with a very old suspension bridge (take care), several fords, all surrounded by high hills.
In the DOC Visitor Centre you can get information and a map with a lot of (walking)tracks. Choose one to the top of a hill and enjoy the view from your private look-out. Because it is almost sure you will not see anybody else.
For us an unexpected experience.
First check your car rental agreement, because some companies don't allow you to drive the '309'. This gravel road connects Coromandel Town with Whitianga across the peninsula.
There are a couple of car parks, which allow visitors to make short walks in the bush. One track leads to the Waiau Falls, another will bring you to the kauri grove with just 'young ones' of 600 years (this walk takes about 10 minutes).
Of course, the 309 offer more than just a waterfalls. Why, just next door there's a waterworks (pic 3) - complete with massive spider (pic 4). To quote from their blurb:
"Waiau Waterworks was created for you to explore, Meet our Cyclist pedalling eternally on the lake, Ride a bicycle that pumps water, Discover waterwheels, machines and different gadgets for you to play with. And there's a huge water-driven clock just in case you lose track of the time!
Set in a beautiful, peaceful two acre park with trees and gardens, lawns and ponds, Waiau Waterworks is the perfect place for a picnic and an hour or two of fun.
Visit the picturesque cottage shop for local manuka honey and pottery. Kay Seawood's enchanting ceramic sculptures are offered on sale or commission. Tea and coffee available"
You'll also be winding through some dense forest scenery and see the results of over logging on occasions.
I was apprehensive. People had turned up their faces when I mentioned the possibility of driving the 309, the almost forgotten short road to Coromandel. Having taken the winding, interminably long main road 25 to get there, I figured the return journey was going to be on a different route.
I need not have worried. Though it's dirt, something that doesn't bother me, it cuts a lot off in terms of distance and a fair bit in terms of time.
En route, the sign said scenic reserve so, naturally enough, that was irresistable for me.
Beautiful native bush surrounds Waiau Falls and its popular swimming hole, located seven kilometres along the 309 Road in the Waiau Falls Scenic Reserve.
Just a few steps down off the road and you're there.
Another kilometre up the road, a walking track leads to a grove of large kauri - one of the few unlogged stands left on the Peninsula. The grove contains a ‘Siamese’ kauri which forks just above the ground.
I didn't get to see those but I'm glad I stopped for the falls, they were made for photography.
Sitting on the summit of Paku Hill is like looking over an endless stretch of paradise. This camel shaped hill in Tairua on the Coromandel is surrounded by the sea on three sides, so it forms its own little peninsula. You get there by a short drive from the township of Tairua, and from a little carpark it is only a steep 10 to 15 minutes walk. The view is breathtaking, and it is my number one view in NZ. You see, of course, are the sea, white beaches, rainforest, little islands, but also the peninsula with the luxury resort town of Pauanui to the South, the Tairua River which separates Pauanui and Tairua, and on the horizon the Broken Hills. Sitting on a big block of rock you feel like on a throne overlooking a magic, quiet and peaceful kingdom.
Tairua is perfectly located as the base for visits to Cooks Beach, Cathedral Cove, Hotwater Beach, bushwalks etc., has plenty of accommodation and restaurants and offers boat tours through the canals of Pauanui.
A fabulous way of getting to Tairua from Auckland- clearly neither the shortest nor the fastest way - is by crossing the Peninsula from Tapu (North of Thames) to Coroglen and then on HW25 down to Tairua. It is a drive through lush and rough rainforest, lonesome and spectacular - the Coromandel at its best. You should not do it in bad weather conditions as rain can be very heavy in this region, and you would put yourself at risk in such an adverse - although beautiful - environment.
Tairua is a small village on the east side of Coromandel with a lovely beach, a lot of accommodation and restaurants. It is located rather close to other sights on Coromandel.
Very easy accessible from Tairua along Paku Drive is Paku Hill, an old volcanic cone and long time ago an island. From the car park at the end of the road is a steep climb of about 15 minutes to the summit.
Your reward is a breathtaking view. On one side the Pacific Ocean with some islands as Slipper, Shoe and Aldermen Islands and the rugged Coromandel coast; on the other side Pauanui and its sandspit, Tairua River and the skyline of the Coromandel Ranges.
Tairua is located on the east side of Coromandel Peninsula on highway 25.
Coming from Auckland (as most visitors will do) Thames is the first town on the Coromandel Peninsula. It is also the ‘capital’ and the main shopping centre. The town has an interesting main street with some old buildings.
The city has a ‘gold history’ after gold was discovered in the year of 1867. Nowadays the Goldmine Experience is the number one tourist attraction in Thames. We did the guided tour trough a Stamper Battery and learned a lot about the way gold was made in the older days. There is also a (small) museum with photographs and a video presentation
Thames is the gateway to explore the Kauaeranga Valley (see tip), with its dozens of tracks through the impressive scenery of the Coromandel. And off course starting point for the peninsula it self with the scenic drive along the Firth of Thames.
Hahei is a small settlement a couple of km's from highway 25 between Whitianga and Tairua; just turn off at Whenuakite. The village has some accommodations, a camping, a shop and a café.
We liked the beach at Hahei very much. It is such a beauty with crystal clear water, more or less pink sand, fantastic views over the Pacific Ocean and a whole bunch of islands and some old pohutukawa's. During our visit (February) we were almost alone on this lovely beach.
If you are finished with swimming and sun bathing, Hahei is a good starting point for a visit to Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach (see other tips).
The Alderman Islands are an uninhabited group of tiny islands about 25km off the East Coast of the Coromandel. They are now a wildlife reserve, and are only accessable by boat. The waters around them are deep and clear, and a popular spot for fishing trips (the waters do not form a marine reserve). Watch for dolphins, whales and orcas - you never know your luck!
If you are headed up to Coromandel, make sure you pack a little picnic, and enjoy the view!
On several of the different turnouts, we saw campervans enjoying the wonderful view and grass knolls for a little picnicking!
There was a stunning view of the firth, matched with the farming and livestock of New Zealand all wrapped into a beautiful package!
The Pinnacles is a very popular and interesting bush trek on the Coromandel Peninsular. You can stay overnight or make a day trip of it and return in one day.
I have written a more detailed account of this trek, here.
There is a fine and well equipped trampers hut near the base of the Pinnacles where you can overnight. You will need sleeping bag and cooking utensils, the hut provides gas cookers and bunks.
Driving on SH25 take the Opoutere turnoff (between Whangamata and Hikuai), after a couple of km's there is a car park. From the car park follow the track over the bridge and through a nice smelling pine forest. Suddenly you will stand on the dunes and reach a splendid beach: so quiet, so remote and with almost white sand.
Stroll along the water line and look for shells, seahorses and ...... much more.
At the end of the beach (to the south) is the Wharakawa Harbour Wildlife Reserve.
Return to the car park along the inlet.
Onemana has some interesting birds nesting, during the summer.
Variable Oystercatchers and the New Zealand Dotterel were nesting on the beach when we visited in January. DOC staff fence off the areas, as these birds are threatened by extinction, so the successful nesting is needed for their survival.
Between Tairua and Whitianga, turn off and go visit Cooks Beach. Drive around towards the wharf and climb Shakespeare's Cliff Scenic Reserve to look back at the beach.
This photo was taken by my son, from that Cliff.
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Hetherington Road, , Whangamata
Good for: Couples