Our latest weekend trip took us to the Coromandel Peninsula. The drive from Auckland is around an hour and a half to get to the closest part and is easily doable as a weekend trip if you’re starting from there. Getting around in Coromandel and all the way up to its northern point can take a few more hours of driving, as the roads are very windy. Another way to get to Coromandel is via ferry departing from Auckland. We did a few amazing and free activities that aren’t to be missed!
Our first stop on the Coromandel wasn’t far from the bridge where you enter the peninsula. About 25 km from the town of Thames is the start of a hike leading through the beautiful Kauaeranga Valley, all the way up to a rock formation called the Pinnacles, which offers stunning 360 degree views from the top.
The starting point is the car park at the end of the road, 8km past the visitor center and the road leading to it is gravel and has countless potholes. We reached the car park where quite a few people were getting ready to start the hike. There are different routes leading up to the Pinnacles, we decided to do the Kauaeranga Kauri Trail using the Webb Creek Track. The hike can be done in one day or as a two day trip, with sleeping facilities at the DOC run Pinnacles Hut (need to book in advance) for only $15 per person. As we had other plans for the next day, we decided on doing it as a day hike.
The first section of the hike is easy with only a few uphill sections and a fun crossing over a suspension bridge. After a while the path changes to stone steps, which have been cut in the rock and built during the logging days, when horses used to pull logs along the path. This part is a little more challenging, but still very doable and it leads through a beautiful New Zealand forest.
We crossed more hanging bridges and enjoyed the shade of the trees until reaching a plateau after two hours or so where there are stunning views of the surrounding mountains and forest. From here it was another 45 minutes or so before we reached the Pinnacles Hut. The hut looked really nice and if we would’ve had more time we would have definitely enjoyed spending a night there. This time we only had our lunch and refilled our water before heading out again, to the Pinnacles Summit. It took us another 30 minutes or so to climb the steep steps toward the top.
Shortly before the summit, the well maintained steps turned into ladders and bars fixed in vertical rocks. After a fun climb we reached a platform near the top. From there you can go up a bit higher on the rocks, where you’ll be rewarded with amazing 360 degree views over the Coromandel and out to the ocean.
We enjoyed the views for a while, before starting to head down to the car park. It took us about two hours to get back and by that time it was already getting dark. We hopped in our car and started driving toward the only freedom campsite in the Coromandel, on Highway 25 and Red Bridge Road where we hoped to stay the night. We expected the campsite to be full, due to reviews we had read and our late arrival, but to our surprise there were still a couple of free spots. The main season for tourists is in summer, and since we went in fall we figured that was a factor that helped us secure a spot. The campsite isn’t big and the facilities (a single door-less long drop) aren’t the nicest, but it’s totally free, which mattered the most to us.
The next morning we got up at 4:45am to drive 30 minutes to the famous Cathedral Cove and watch the sunrise from the beach there. We parked at the end of the road and started the 30 minute walk toward the cove. As we hiked along the path we got to admire the sun as it started to rise. After a final set of stairs down to the cove we reached the beach. It was simply stunning. At first we had the beach to ourselves less one other visitor, and after that a few others showed up slowly. It gets very crowded during the day, so if you want to enjoy the cove, arriving as early as possible is essential.
On left side of the beach the rocks open up to a huge archway, the famous Cathedral Cove arch. You can walk through the arch to the other side of the beautiful beach. Be aware that the arch partially fills with water during high tide! To the right on the beach is a cave that leads to another bay, unfortunately the tide was high when we were there, so we weren’t able to walk through it. It’s easy to spend an hour or two here just admiring the beauty of the place.
We had a short stop at Stingray Cove, another small bay close to Cathedral Cove, where there can be stingrays in the water, hence the name. The tide was high which meant the beach was underwater. We decided not to go in the water this time, but it looked like it’d be a beautiful place to snorkel during low tide. We ventured back to our car to finally have some breakfast before heading to our next destination in Coromandel.
Hot Water Beach
A short drive from Cathedral Cove is Hot Water Beach. Due to volcanic activity in the area a section of sand on the beach gets very hot. If you grab a shovel and dig a hole in the right spot it fills with warm, sometimes burning hot water!
You can either turn to the left at the first sign that says Hot Water Beach to park in a free lot where you have to walk a bit along the beach until you reach the hot water spot, or continue down the road to the small town. We continued down the road since we didn’t have our own shovel, so we rented one from one of the two cafes in the village for $5 for the day with a $20 refundable deposit.
About two hours before the tide was at its lowest point, we headed out onto the beach to start digging our hole. There were already a few people out there and we were wondering where to start digging. A kiwi girl taught us the trick to finding a good spot by burying her feet under the sand. There’s only a small area on the big beach where the water under the sand is hot and even then you have to find the right spot – not too cold and not too hot. It took us a while to dig a hole big enough for the six of us to sit in, but it was definitely worth the effort. It’s hard to dig the pool very deep, so we made it pretty wide over the half hour or more we took to dig it. Shovels are a must since in a lot of spots the water is too hot to hold your hands in without getting burned.
Once we were done, we sat in our hole and enjoyed the warm water. We noticed the area around us was covered by other peoples holes, so it was good we secured our spot early. When the water was getting a bit too warm, we ran into the ocean to cool off a bit and then back into our hot pool. It was easy to spend a couple of hours there and we could have stayed all day, but we had work back in Auckland the next day. Grudgingly we left the amazing hot tub we dug on the beach and started our journey home.
If you’re traveling on a budget, Coromandel can be great! We only spent money on gas and renting a shovel that weekend, plus a coffee while we waited for the tide to go out. From hiking and getting amazing views to one of the most beautiful sunrises we’ve ever seen, to digging a hot tub on the beach, the bit of Coromandel we got to see was stunning.