Coromandel Town to Whangamata Road Trip

hot water beach

A tree outside the cottage provides a lemon in the morning. After a sumptuous feed of the flounder caught last night, we decide to skip SH25 in favour of the 309 Road and head to the Waiau Waterworks. We depart, but first call into the Coromandel Smoking Company where we pick up hot smoked trevally for our picnic basket.

At The Waterworks, we find creative feats of engineering and large sculptures sprawling over the Ogilvie’s four-and-a-half acres.

“I’ve always wanted to do silly things with water,” says Chris Ogilvie when we arrive. We walk through its gardens beside the Waiau River and there are several fun rides, all of which are powered by water, and a variety of water-powered clocks, butter churns, waterwheels and intriguing pedal-powered pumps. Feeling energetic Bob takes a ride on the Flying Fox, which like many of the Waterworks creations, is made from recycled materials – it even includes brake callipers from an old car.

We leave and drive across the peninsula past the Waiau Falls and Coromandel Forest Park before rejoining SH25.

A ten-kilometre drive north leads to Whitianga, the main hub for marine-based activities departing for the Te Whanganui A Hei Marine Reserve, which stretches from Cooks Bluff and Motukoruro Island through to Mahurangi Island. However, we head south as you can also access this park from Hahei.

En route, we call into the roadside Wilderland Organic Shop and fill our picnic basket with ripe avocados and delicious peppery rocket.

In Hahei, we join Nigel Horne’s Hahei Explorer and cruise to Cathedral Cove, where a gigantic arched cavern penetrates the headland and forms an arch. Hidden beneath the waves are many other similar structures, which shelter unique marine life and plants. We continue south to explore the Orua sea cave. Bob gets a fright when a large drop of icy water lands on his forehead, but Nigel assures him that local Maori consider this good luck.

Duly blessed, we return to Hahei and drive to Hot Water Beach. We eat our picnic sitting on the beach watching people dig holes in the sand. Then we dug our own private pool and wallow in its warm thermal waters until the tide begins to turn.

In Whenuakite, we visit Alan Rhodes’s eco-friendly potting community where potter Bobby Neal shows us around. Clay is dug onsite and pottery wares are created using a variety of firing methods. Bob adds a blue butter dish to his collection of purchases, which are now housed in a box in the boot.

We drive to Mt Paku in Tairua, and take a short hike to the top. From the top, we have outstanding 360-degree views of Tairua’s harbour and the long sprawl of holiday homes at Pauanui. Maori legend has it that if you climb to the top of Paku, you’ll return here within seven years. Bob’s more than happy with this arrangement but wonders out loud if they’ll also shout him a ticket.

We cross the one-lane bridge at the southern end of Tairua and head south through the Tairua Forest, turning off at Opoutere. A ten-minute hike through pines leads to its broad sweep of sand and we complete a loop through the Wharekawa Harbour Wildlife Refuge, where New Zealand dotterel and variable oystercatchers breed, back to the car park.

As we leave Bob spots a sign for Topadahil Studios, and we drive up a long steep driveway to meet artist Guity Evelyn. Her paintings explore light, colour and depth, and have an incredible energy and warmth. I pick up a framed print entitled ‘Moon Glow’ for $25, before we continue on to Whangamata to check into a B&B.

A popular surfing resort and more recently a favoured place to retire, Whangamata provides many good cafés and restaurants including Nero’s, Smokey Pallet, and Incognito Restaurant. We head to the latter and enjoy an early dinner of herb & garlic rubbed venison with a red current, merlot sauce, green beans, and smashed garlic & herb potatoes.

Later we return to our B&B via Whangamata’s beautiful white sandy beach and are lulled to sleep by the sound of waves breaking on the shore.