New Zealand: Adventures on The Coromandel

18/12/18 – 23/12/18

An oyster catcher on Hahei Beach

On the recommendation of many, we took a ferry from Auckland over to The Coromandel Peninsula. Giddy with the excitement of a new adventure beginning, we boarded the early morning ferry after several commuters hopped off, lanyards around necks and headed for the city. The captain had greeted us all so warmly as we stood at Pier 4 and the two-hour ferry crossing was an incredibly friendly one – we ordered hot drinks and they were brought to us! The fact that I wore my helmet for the duration of the crossing (easier to transport and harder to lose that way) did not go unnoticed either, and the crew took a real interest in our trip. Points of interest were highlighted along the way as we chugged across the Hauraki Gulf and I was sure I spotted the elephant seal sunbathing as we passed Mission Bay.

Stepping off the ferry, it felt like we had stumbled into paradise. The waters were so clear and just a few, small boats bobbed in the harbour so that little waves quietly lapped against the shore. The four-person crew waved us merrily on our way as we walked across the wooden jetty. Our fellow passengers so quickly dispersed that we suddenly found ourselves alone save for one other cycle tourist, a German lady who was heading into Coromandel town, whilst we were headed for the 309 Road and Hahei for two nights.

We had heard so much about New Zealand roads (and, two months in, now have plenty to say for ourselves) that I was quite nervous to click into my pedals and start the journey proper. We cycled around the coastline for a short while before heading inland and towards our true introduction to cycling NZ style: the 309 Road was a quieter and thus safer road, but it was also an unsealed, gravel one! Oh and it was hot as we pushed ourselves and our food-filled panniers up the hill! However, we could not stop marvelling at the landscape around us. The huge tree ferns and ‘the bush’ (that we had been warned not to stray into for fear of never returning) meant only one thing to Olly: we’d stepped into the set of Jurassic Park.

We stopped for lunch in ‘Jurassic Park’, quickly devouring our second packet of, by then quite melted, Mint Slices (chocolate biscuits with a peppermint cream) since arriving in New Zealand (a quickly established obsession that we still have yet to beat). We paused at Waiau Falls (“wai” is the Maori word for ‘water’) and enjoyed our first example of Department of Conversation (DOC) signposted, free-to-see, NZ, natural beauty. The fact that there was a drone buzzing around was only slightly perturbing. I’m sure he got some great snaps of the people stood in their togs, though!

At Whitianga, (although open to discussion, ‘wh’ is often pronounced as a ‘f’, thus “Fit-i-an-ga”) roasting and dehydrated, I stumbled into the supermarket to buy a few, fresh supplies for our two nights (and several lunches) at Hahei. I also bought us both a carton of chocolate milk and something that looked, and, if I’m being kind, tasted like flapjack to quench our thirst and hunger. I’ve since had to really re-think my stance on chocolate milk cartons. So cheap and convenient, but so damaging to the environment. A couple of weeks ago now, whilst on The Great Taste Trail from Nelson to Abel Tasman National Park on the South Island, we declared we had had our final milk carton: a sad, but essential move if we’re serious about fighting plastic pollution (I’ve been reading a lot about it just recently).

Whitianga was our first, proper experience of a Kiwi town and it was very different to the image I hold in my head of a town centre, which I guess is mostly based on Shrewsbury and so quite single-minded anyway. Everything was more or less concentrated onto one main street and all of the buildings were single storey and of little, conventional, architectural beauty. It also wasn’t very big, despite being written in quite big letters on the North Island AA map that we’d picked up at the iSite in Auckland. I knew that New Zealand had a population of approximately 4.5 million people (with three quarters of the population living on the North Island), but this was my first experience of such a small population size in practice. As for the predominantly single-storey buildings made from wood, they’re easier to manage in the event of an earthquake. Typically, I have no photos.

At Whitianga we caught our second ferry of the day! A tiny little boat across an equally tiny stretch of water over to Cook’s Bay. It was such fun and reminded me of the “island hopping” that we had done the summer before during our two-week, cycling trip around the Hebrides. As this was our first proper day back on the bikes in a long time, and as I was feeling generally overwhelmed and overawed by everything around me – everything was new! – I was quite relieved to see a sign for Hahei not long after we entered Cook’s Bay. We had done 45km on undulating and uneven terrain, and so it was good to get to the campsite and find cold, vanilla Coke available to buy in the little shop there. We pitched up our tent and it was only then that I discovered the extra little toggle that enables you to properly open the tent door! All in good time. A two minute walk from our, now very flash and professionally open (obviously we closed it when we left the tent…), front door was a beautiful, beautiful beach. We were hopeful that we might spot an orca following a news story from the previous week about a woman swimming in the sea at Hahei, innocently enough, when a pod of orca decided they’d join in the fun! Sadly, no such luck for us.

The campsite was buzzing, especially with the iconic purple and green Jucy campervans, as we had arrived in New Zealand on the day that most schools broke up for the Christmas and summer, six-week holidays, thus it was super peak season (more reflections on that at a later date). I was so excited to see a fully equipped kitchen available to use on the site, something that is very typical of private (not DOC) campsites in New Zealand. Porridge and toast for breakfast! We had two nights in Hahei so that we could visit Cathedral Cove. It was a beautiful walk from our campsite to the cove, which was famously used in the Narnia films (though not for long as the stretch of sand really isn’t that big). The walk took us, firstly, along Hahei beach and then up and along a coastal path. There were new birds and plants to look at along the way and we marvelled at how hot it was too. New Zealand does not have an O-Zone layer above it and so the sun is so, incredibly strong; Olly burns even after two applications of Factor 50 suncream on a clody day! If only the lady at the aiport hadn’t been joking about the Factor 90!

The photoshoots taking place at Catherdral Cove were reminiscent of those at Cinque Terre and so after a quick paddle we headed back along the lovely path to Hahei and the promise of an ice-cream! We stopped briefly at Gemstone Bay and wished we had snorkels and masks as at the bay is a famous snorkelling track. We know for next time! Warmed (read: so gross and sweaty) from the walk, we swam in the sea and chatted to a man from Cornwall as we did so.

Gemstone Bay

The next day, our first port of call, along with around two hundred other tourists, was Hot Water Beach. Dig a hole in the right place and you can bathe in a pool of hot water. Whilst others hired a sizeable spade for $10, Olly said we’d be fine with our trowel. Comedy ensued as we tried to pile up the sand faster than it fell back in on us. Eventually we gave up with our own digging, envying those sat blissfully in a steaming pool, and jumped into an already vacated hole. We quickly realised it had been vacated and was still empty for a reason: the water in it was boiling hot! We dug around a little and managed to sit for a bit, admiring the steam rising from the sand.

Our destination that day was Pauanui, a pensinsula on the peninsula. Before leaving for New Zealand, we had sent out a few Warm Showers requests to try and sort out some accommodation as we journeyed south from Auckland. Dave in Pauanui had advised us to get in touch a little nearer the time as he wasn’t sure of his family’s holiday plans. When we emailed Dave, and advised of when we would be passing his way, he said he was so sorry, but his family would be visiting for Christmas. We thanked him for even reply during the festive period and then opened up the CamperMate App (a must have for anyone journeying around the land of the long white cloud) and searched for a nearby campsite. However, then our phone buzzed and Dave had sent through another message to tell us that he roped two of his friends in to hosting us for the night seeing as he couldn’t. We were overwhelmed by his kindness and that of his friends! And so with renewed vigour we pedalled in the direction of Pauanui.

5000km Olly

We stocked up with some fresh supplies at Tairua and, as Dave had informed us, headed to the ferry which would transport us 200m across the water to the peninsula. Excited by the fact it was just three o’clock in the afternoon, and having received a friendly text from Megan and Kevin, Dave’s friends, we replied saying we looked forward to meeting them very soon as their house was just a couple of kilometres away from the ferry landing the other side. However, as we pulled up at the tiny port, we spotted a very stationary looking ferry and then a very small sign advising that today, 20th December, the ferry wasn’t running. Service would resume as normal the following day. Bugger. We sat and looked across the slim stretch of water whilst we ate two Cadbury’s bars of chocolate that we’ve never seen at home: a Perky Nana and a Cherry Ripe. I preferred the cherry, Olly the nana. It turns out neither are actually suitable for vegetarians… Due to the lack of a ferry, we had a bonus 25km to cycle! Fortunately, the weather had brightened up as earlier in the day day we had cowered under a DOC site, foot cleaning station as it poured and poured. One minute it and we were dry, the next it was torrentially raining and everything was soaked. That was only the second time on the whole trip, though, that we ate lunch standing up in a bid to better shelter from the rain. Just as we finished eating the rain stopped in an instant and them steam started to rise from the road as the temperatures soared.

Sunshine after the rain

Around the headland we went, desperately trying not to simply curse the ferry, but to be thankful for the beautiful cycle. We arrived at Megan and Kevin’s just before 6 o’clock and they came out onto their lawn and waved us in. We immediately felt at home with Megan and Kevin who welcomed us so warmly. The sight and smell of their Christmas tree was so wonderful and I think the smell of pine will forever transport me back to their wonderful home and the two nights we spent with them in Pauanui. Megan and Kevin have travelled a lot (the decorations on their Christmas tree were testament to that) and they shared some fantastic stories about their recent trip to Canada. Two have stuck in my mind, both about bears (we had explained about Olly’s preoccupation in the Pyrenees):

1. Megan asked a young local if they had seen any bears. Note, when a Kiwi says “bears” it sounds likes “beers”. The young local shook his head sheepishly and said, ‘no not here’.

2. Megan and Kevin watched as a group of tourists covered themselves in bear spray, believing that it acted the same way as insect repellent does. Note to us all, it does not.

The long way round turned out to be quite beautiful

Megan and Kevin were so welcoming and relaxed and left us to our own devices in their house whilst they slept under the stars in their camper-bus which was parked on the drive. They said they like to do this in the summer. We had only planned to stay for a night, but they both said we were welcome to stay for another if we wanted. We both did want, but after looking at the route and knowing that we needed to be further south, in Papamoa, for Christmas Eve, it just didn’t seem feasible. Plus, it would mean letting a couple of Warm Showers hosts down and we weren’t keen to do this after they had offered to welcome us into their home. However, we felt so happy with Megan and Kevin that it was with a heavy heart that I told Megan we would have to leave. She said that was a shame and then a second later said, ‘what if Kevin were to drive you down to Waihi?’. Kevin had a van and said he wouldn’t mind at all, and that sealed the deal. The kettle went on again and we sat and talked around the Christmas tree whilst Christmas classics played quietly in the background and the wind rustled through the leaves of the 'rain-tree' outside. It had been so wonderful to wander into the kitchen that morning and hear Christmas music. As Megan went off to yoga, Olly and I went off to climb Paunanui Hill. Later in the day we had a “tiki tour” of town courtesy of Kevin (which included his showing us where the ferry would have come in), we helped Megan polish the silverware for Christmas and Dave visited, as he had done the previous evening too, only this time it was for a French lesson as he is planning a cycling trip around France in the summertime and is keen to be able to parler un peu.

View of kiwi ochards from the top of Pauanui Hill

The Christmas tree with decorations from Megan and Kevin's travels

The "Referendum Flag" bearing the silver fern of New Zealand

The next morning was not rushed or hurried, but we packed everything away and into Kevin’s van, which the previous day Olly had helped Kevin to empty of a wardrobe! And then we were on the road and it was so nice to ride along and watch the scenery, every now and then Kevin pointing something out to look at. We firstly stopped in the surfer town of Whagamata and I could definitely have spent an afternoon strolling up and down the high street and sampling a few of the cafes there! After a quick pit-stop for supplies, we were back in the van and on the way to Waihi, a former gold-mining town that Kevin’s grandfather had left his home in Cornwall to work at. Kevin took us to the huge pit that is now no more than a tourist attraction and we struggled to comprehend its size.

Before we knew it, we had passed through the magnificent Karangahake Gorge and were waving goodbye to Kevin, surrounded by panniers. It is always hard to say goodbye, both to long-time loved ones and to new friends too. I hope that we will see Megan and Kevin again. Especially as they had spent some time in Weaverham during their last visit to England which is literally just down the road from Olly’s family home in Norley.

Kevin had dropped us off in a very strategic location and we were soon on the Hauraki Rail Trail and zipping through the kilometre-long tunnel and towards our DOC site for the night, Dickeys Flat.

Karangahake Gorge
Dickeys Flat was our first experience of a DOC site and it was exciting to ride down the gravel path to the site and sign ourselves in, sealing our camp fees in an envelope and tying a tag to our tent door. We hadn’t cycled far since Kevin had dropped us off and would be heading back into Waihi the following day and onwards to Katikati. On the way to the campsite we had visited Owharoa Falls. It was sublime!

We had pitched our tent close to the river and had enjoyed a brief swim in the river, which also acted as our shower for the day as DOC sites do not typically have showers and often only a long-drop loo! The water was clear and cool and a little further upstream we filled our water filter too, as DOC sites also rarely have a drinking-water tap. As night started to fall, lots of tents sparkled and twinkled with Christmas lights. It was hard to believe that ‘the big day’ was, at this point, just three more sleeps away. However, when the DOC warden came around to say hello and check all fees had been paid, she pointed us in the direction of the most spectuclar, natural Christmas lights that I have ever seen. A ten-minute walk (across two-suspension bridges) away was a cave that was illumiated by hundreds of glow-worms. It was awe-inspiring! For the first five minutes of the walk we were drenched in darkness and our headtorches lit up only the path immediately in front of us. Joined by another couple, we crept on and suddenly little green dots started to appear beside the path. As we looked up and around, hundreds and hundreds more appeared. The glow-worm cave was something else: the glow-worms lit up the puddles on the floor! They also revealed the big, hairy spiders and so after a fair amount of ooh-ing and ahh-ing we retraced our steps and settled into the tent as giddy as if we’d just met Santa!

Sunset at Dickeys Flat 
Searching for glow worms

The next day we cycled to Katikati which marked the end of our adventures on the Coromandel. In Katikati – the home of the avocado – we stayed with Diane and Ian in their incredible home on their kiwi farm. Diane and Ian welcomed us like family and once again, it was so hard to say goodbye to them and express to them our gratitude. We have vowed to meet up when they do the Lands End to John O’Groats cycle! The cycle to Katikati took us back through Waihi and down to Waihi Beach where Olly picked up his hi-vis vest and joined the cool crew (me). Anything you can do to alert drivers to your presence on the road is a must in New Zealand, or anywhere for that matter. I certainly will only be buying hi-vis cycling jerseys in the future. After stopping for a snack and watching the many oyster catchers on the beach, we joined the State Highway. It was drizzly and my water bottle escaped at the top of a hill and I had to walk back up the verge to reclaim it, but other than that our first main-road experience passed by without too much drama.

Christmas tree in Waihi

We arrived at Diane and Ian’s as it started to pour and it didn’t stop raining until they dropped us off in Papamoa the next day. When we told them our plans to cycle the road from Katikati to Papamoa, they definitively told us, ‘no’, as it is renowened for being a treacherous stretch of road at the best of times, let alone on a torrential Christmas Eve. With that settled, we relaxed into our evening with them, sharing cycling stories and sampling both Katikati avocado and kiwi fruit fresh from their farm. We slept so well that night.

The following day, the rain still pouring, we loaded our stuff and our bikes into the van and headed down the coast. Ian had strapped his bike to the back of the van too and was determined to show us one of the wonderful cycleways that led into Tauranga. We were lucky and caught a break in the rain. Diane and Ryan, their son, continued in the van and said they’d meet us along the way for lunch. About five minutes into the ride, and after shrieking through as many deep puddles, the sky burst open and in an instant we were all soaked through. Diane called Ian and told him to cut the ride short and meet her at a restaurant in the harbour. I could tell the rain didn’t bother Ian too much and that he’d have happily continued! We were soaked through though, and so changed into dry gear in the restaurant toilets, before being ‘shouted’ a Christmas Eve lunch by Diane and Ian. The gesture warmed me right through, and thinking back to it now is making me feel quite teary. After lunch, Diane drove us to Allan and Maddie’s place in Papamoa where we were to spend a few days over Christmas. They were both away and we had agreed to look after their cat, Steve. I couldn’t believe it when he walked down the drive! He looked just like Bilbo (although significantly slimmer, Olly would like to point out). We waved goodbye to Diane, Ian and Ryan and hauled all of our stuff into the house. We didn’t get too comfortable though as we had some Christmas shopping to do!


Hahei Holiday Resort ($25 per person. Nice facilities and in a good location for exploring the top, local attractions.)

Dickeys Flat, DOC campsite ($8 per person. No power, no shower and no drinking water tap. Epic glow worms.)

Top Tips
We bought a Spark SIM card from Auckland airport and used it in Olly’s unlocked phone. $59 bought us a two-month contract which included unlimited calls and texts to other New Zealand numbers, 200 minutes and texts to international numbers and 10GB of data + 2GB of “social data” (for FB, Twitter, but not, at the time, Instagram).

CamperMate is a must-have App. It is free to download and then can be downloaded onto your phone and used offline. It contains information ranging from the location of DOC campsites to paid campgrounds, from Lord of the Rings filming locations to grocery stores. We have used it every day. Others have also recommended Rankers and WikiCamps.

The ferry from downtown Auckland to The Coromandel Peninsula leaves every Sunday and Tuesday. It cost $64 each for a one-way ticket which we purchased directly from the Fullers Ferries website. The journey took about two hours. We didn’t need a physical ticket, showing the PDF on our phones was all that was needed to board the vessel!