Coromandel Road Trip

One week after our trip to Melbourne, we were off again – this time on a road trip to the Coromandel peninsular, east of Auckland. The drive down there is stunning, almost everywhere in New Zealand is beautiful.

View from the car

Our first stop was at a bed and breakfast near Whitianga, where we met up again with our friends Bertrand and Pascale and went for dinner at the Church Restaurant, which we can thoroughly recommend. The food was great, and the service was fun. The drinks weren’t bad either.

Hot Water Beach

The next day we set off to do a bit of exploring. And one of the hottest tourist sites to explore in the Coromandel peninsula is literally that – hot.

If you go to the hot water beach at low tide, armed with a bucket and shovel, you can dig your way to a heated bath. The only other thing needed is a bit of local knowledge of where to dig, which we got from our bed and breakfast host, Carol (together with the bucket and shovels). Carol advised heading towards the rocks to find the heat. But the number of people digging away in the distance made it clear where the hot springs were. It was like a scene from the Klondyke.

Bertrand and Pascale ready for the beach


Spring miners

We struck lucky with this lot. With so many people on the beach, finding a clear spot to create your own spa bath was difficult. Fortunately, this group of French holidaymakers invited us to share their impressive creation. With that on offer, Bertrand and I decided that practicality trumped any exploratory valour, so we put the tools down and plopped in the pool. Besides, the tide was on its way in to spoil the pool party.

The water below the sand surface can get exceptionally hot, enough to burn if not careful. But our main challenge was keeping the hot water in and the cool sea water out on the flooding tide, which we achieved for all of five minutes.

Temporary zen-like state in the piscine

Pool wall breach

Diggers on strike

Cathedral Cove

After the beach, we went our separate ways. Bertrand and Pascale had already been to Cathedral Cove, so they went on a bonkers bike ride to some wineries while we drove to get on board a boat trip. And then they were off further west to see a working gold mine.

As a result of the cyclone, Cathedral Cove is now inaccessible by foot, so a boat trip is the only option. We got aboard one piloted by an Irishman who possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of the marine reserve surrounding the cove. It was interesting to learn something more about the area besides looking at the rock formations and caves.





View from the top

Most Saturday mornings in the summer are Whiti City market days, an opportunity for local artisans to sell their goods. There are some very talented people here.

I bought honey of all descriptions and types while Maria spent money on a fortune teller who read her cards for fun and some cash.


Whitianga to Coromandel Town

Another victim of Cyclone Gabrielle, which battered New Zealand in February 2023, was the 309 road across the Coromandel peninsular. Fortunately, it was open for our trip to the west of the peninsular. If it hadn’t, not only would we have missed driving through the stunning forestry, but we would have had to endure driving all the way around the coast road again. That, too, might be beautiful, but it isn’t for the faint-hearted.

The Waiau Kauri Grove is the area’s largest grove, with some remarkable kauri trees. These trees are massive. They used to be plentiful before the Europeans came along and thought it would be a good plan to hack away at them for shipbuilding and house construction. And many forests were cleared for farmland. Fortunately, they are now under the control of the Department of Conservation, who seem to do a fantastic job of balancing the protection of these forests and making them accessible to people.

The photo below shows one of the cleaning stations located at the entrances and exits to these forests. These stations protect against kauri dieback—Phytophthora agathidicida – a fungal disease that attacks the tree’s root system and for which there is no cure.

Cleaning station

Kauri trees

Driving Creek Railway and Coromandel Town

What is now The Driving Creek Railway started as a small pottery opened by Barry Bickell in 1973. He had incredible talent as an artist and an engineer, and his entrepreneurial skills weren’t bad either. He managed to build this enterprise with very little capital. The railway he created to get the clay from the hills back to his pottery shed is an amazing feat of engineering creativity and now a very popular tourist attraction.

It’s a sign

Pottery shed

The train

Train ride

Raina – our train driver

Mouth of the tunnel

View from the train

View of the Coromandel

And back to base

Coromandel town – and old gold mining town

Immobile phone


A short drive from Coromandel town is the old gold mining town of Thames, where we booked an Airbnb overlooking the beach for a couple of nights. As nice as it was to sit and look out at the sea, the main attraction was the gold mine experience.

Thames mines extracted 2,327,619 ounces of gold between 1868 and 1871. In today’s money, that’s £4.27 billion – not bad for three years of hard graft.

The gold mine is now just a tourist attraction but it does have working machinery. The stampers that crush the ore are still operational, and are fired up during the tour. We tourists wore ear defenders for that, and I can only assume that the miners working the stampers were deaf.

Gazing out to sea

View out to sea

Thames goldmine experience

Panning for gold

The town itself is a bit quirky. That is particularly demonstrated by the shop selling old music media. Political correctness isn’t a thing in this shop – but I admire the guy’s sense of humour.

How the mighty have fallen

Sorry Neil and the Bee Gees

Grab yourself a bargain

Why not

And a little street art at Donkins garage

Across the road from the AirBnB was another Kauri forest. This one has an added consonant and extra mileage. The whole trek around the grove takes around 2 hours and it is definitely worth it.

Waiomu kauri walk



Then, on the way back to Whangarei, we stopped at the Hunua Ranges Regional Park to look at the waterfall.

Waterfall from close by

Waterfall from a distance

And out

Next time it’s back to Jamala, some more boat work and Christmas time Riverside Drive Marina style.