Coromandel Weekend

Getting There

Our first weekend away from Waiheke had its highs and its lows—a spectacular white sand beach where we walked Sam with only a handful of other people, our ratty accommodations, some great food, beautiful landscapes and a broken camera (you can guess which was which).

We left Waiheke on the 7:00 a.m. ferry on Saturday morning to drive to the Coromandel Peninsula, about a two-hour drive from Half Moon Bay, the car-ferry landing on the mainland. Sam stretched out on her bed in the back seat as Steve and I decided to get breakfast along the way and to take the back route through the countryside. We headed south and drove to Clevedon, the town where we spent several nights recovering from jet lag in October. The Clevedon Café had wonderful food including great eggs Benedict, so that was our first destination. Unfortunately its only open for lunch and dinner. We kept driving, looking for a breakfast spot or at least a good bakery. Somewhere we made a wrong turn and went around in a big circle route, ending in Papakura, a gritty little town near the motorway. So much for the back roads, we jumped on the motorway for about 20 miles or so to connect with the major country route to the Coromandel.

Route 25 is a two-lane road that heads across the Huraki Plains and onto the Coromandel Peninsula, via a one-lane bridge. I’m told traffic can really back-up on summer weekends. Can you imagine a one-lane (really one lane, traffic controlled by a signal, taking turns from either side) bridge, say to Cape Cod? We pass several interesting cafes along this part of the road but by now it’s getting late and we decide to push on to Thames, the first town at the beginning of the peninsula.


Thames is mildly disappointing. The town is funky, crowded and has a shabby, 1950s feel to it. We walk along the main street, where the Saturday market is being held, with Sam on leash. On the sidewalk a sign reads no dogs on this side of the street. (Huh?) We cross over, but it’s hot and crowded with the tables of people selling fruits and vegetables and assorted crafts. A local charity is selling Christmas trees, a half-dozen or so are laying flat on the pavement. They look like the ones in Charlie Brown’s Christmas, short, skinny and very few branches. We can’t find anything good for breakfast (at least not on this side of the street), and decide that breakfast was not meant to be.

Our destination is Coromandel Town, which is the next town of any size and more than halfway along the length of the peninsula. After Thames, the road literally hugs the shore on one side with steep cliffs on the other. There are tiny settlements of summer cottages along the road and it’s much more rural. Sheep cling to the steep cliffs and I expect them to have evolved with longer legs on one side. This is more what we had in mind, even if we’re pretty hungry. We’ve learned Lesson Number One: bring snacks! Somewhere along here I discover the digital camera has stopped working. It’s been giving us trouble since it got soaked on a climb of Mt. Monadnock in the summer. I had thought about bringing my Nikon as back-up, but the camera had been working fine on Friday afternoon. Groan. No pictures today. Lesson Number Two: never trust electronics that have been wet.

Coromandel Town

Coromandel Town is charming with buildings that are a mixture of Victorian and flat-fronted shops, like the buildings in old westerns. There are several interesting restaurants and we choose one with outdoor seating so Sam can lie under the table while we eat. Most restaurants don’t seem to mind a dog under the outdoor table and sometimes I’ve had to walk her through the main restaurant to get to the outdoor seating. No worries is the usual comment.

By now we’re really hungry and everything on the menu of the Success Café looks good. We decide to share a bowl of mussel chowder and each have a cheese and bacon sandwich. The mussel chowder is terrific—thick, creamy and loaded with New Zealand mussels which are more meaty than ours and have a taste that is more flavorful but not as strong as our mussels. The sandwiches give new meaning to vertical food. The bottom layer has melted cheese on good bread topped with lettuce, tomatoes, cukes, peppers and a large slab of Irish-style bacon on top. After Steve's latte, we stagger from the table ready to explore.

We decide to check on our "cottage" accommodations before we push further out toward the end of the Coromandel. The Celadon Motel, B&B and Guest Cottages is not far from downtown, but located in thick bush (a.k.a. jungle). The reception building is perfect Vermont hippie, circa 1968; an odd assemblage of sheds and carports topped with an A-frame, all in rough, unfinished wood. (Well, we did want someplace inexpensive.) There’s no one around but the sign says to blow horn which brings our hostess, Maggie. We do introductions and chat and Maggie tells us that they are putting a new bed into the cottage, can we come back later? Sure, okay, no problem. Maggie is very friendly, somewhere between late fifties and late sixties and has a soft, squishy look. We head off to see more of the Coromandel, saying we’d be back later.

The road turns inland after Coromandel Town and heads up to some spectacular hills and valleys with views to the ocean. We take a steep side road down to a beautiful white sand beach with perfect blue green water. Sam is ecstatic to be released from the back seat and tears across the sand to the water. The weather is warm and sunny but there are only a few people a long way down the beach. I take off my shoes and roll up my pants to wade along with Sam. (Lesson Number Three: bring bathing suits. It was cool and foggy when we left Waiheke. Who knew it could change so quickly? Only every guide book ever written about New Zealand.) Sam lies down in about a foot of water until small waves wash ashore and send her into a fit of the zoomies (racing around at high speed, totally out of control). We spend an hour or so walking, splashing and playing before we head back to the main road.


The road has some really steep hills and winding curves, forcing the trusty Demio into low gear. We pass scattered vacation houses, a few farms, a Buddhist temple and glorious open fields. We drive as far as Colville, the end of the paved road, and then go a little further. It’s getting to be late afternoon and the unpaved road is very rough. When we come to a sign forbidding dogs past this point because of nesting kiwis (flightless birds), it seems a good time to turn around. There are several bullet holes through the sign so this may not be a popular policy with the locals. On the way back, we stop at the Colville General Store and Café for a coffee. The store has lots and lots of stuff, including the weekend newspapers and Tim Tams (chocolate cookies for the uninitiated). This is the only store for miles and miles. There is also a gas station and a small Post Office with a blackboard outside listing two people who have mail to be picked up. Steve has a "pretty good" latte and I have a ginger beer, being too lazy to go back to the store for the real thing.

The Bates Motel and Other Horrors

Back in Coromandel Town, we drive back to our cottage and are met by Ray. He goes on about how we just missed the bigger of two cabins by 10 minutes. Also he says he thought we would be "large" Americans, you know "really big" as he stretches his arms up and around in mid-air. So much for American stereotypes—this man is larger than Steve and Maggie is much larger than me. Ray explains that we must drive forward up a steep hill and then back into the driveway for the cottage. Then take the stairs up. This we do, and find ourselves in very thick bush. Up the stairs and up and up to the tiniest, roughest cabin you can imagine. I would have taken a photo (if my camera had been working), but I couldn’t get far enough away to fit the cabin into the lens. The cabin is one room, with a rudimentary kitchen along one wall, and a tiny deck, all built in the early hippie style of the reception area. It has a queen-sized bed and a bath off to one side. A pair doors that take up all of one wall open onto the deck, which is cantilevered out over the trees. The bathroom has all the usual stuff, plus a set-tub and broom. This place definitely won’t have chocolates on the pillows. A sign stapled to the outside says, "Please remove shoes" which makes us laugh considering the general level of cleanliness and the dirty dishrag hanging out the window. I feed Sam and leave a sealed zip-lock bag of dog kibble on the counter, several minutes later it’s swarming with ants. As I look around, a roach makes its way up the wall behind the bed.

Lesson Number Four: look at the room before you rent it. We didn’t and we should have. Lesson Number Four-A: when it’s this bad, go someplace else, anyplace else. I slept in my clothes for fear of roaches in the bed. We had to close the door because Sam would have been able to wander out into the jungle at night and maybe even fall into the discarded bathtub under the deck. There were no screens and no fans. It was hot, it was airless, it was smelly (partially because of leaky gas fittings from a tank to the stove), it was horrible. Another sign said permission must be granted to check-out after 10:30 a.m.; by 7:00 we were at reception looking around for Maggie or Ray. Lessons learned.

Wairu Falls and Kauri Grove

Early on Sunday morning, not much is stirring in town. We walk along the length of both sides of the main street and finally see someone in the Coromandel Café, which has outdoor tables. Coffee, eggs and bacon taste great and I share them with Sam who is delighted to be out of the bush. Heading back towards Auckland, we stop at Wairu Falls and Kauri Grove on the way home. We had planned to take a longer hike on Sunday morning, but we’re both so exhausted after a sleepless night we opt for these two short walks.

The falls turn out not to be very high, maybe 25 feet or so, but Sam loves wading into the pool at the bottom and taking a soak. Kauri is a tree native to New Zealand that grows very tall (like our redwoods), but most of the kauri was cut down in the 19th century for timber. The few remaining stands are rare and this one has several trees including a "siamese" tree that splits into two trunks. Boardwalks have been built into the forest and around the trees to protect the ground and the species that live under the trees. These walks take maybe an hour or so, but that’s about all the energy we have. Miraculously my camera has healed itself, but today it’s grey and hazy, not yesterday’s spectacular sunshine. I took a few shots, but they don’t really show the landscape at its best.

Continuing back to Auckland, we stop at an antique/junk shop and the Black Beagle Café for lunch. We take the coast road which is slower, has less traffic, and is prettier. After a long Sunday drive, we make the 4:00 ferry back to Waiheke and an early night. Lesson Number Five: fill up the car with petrol on the mainland where it’s much cheaper!

A very few photos.


Last update:
Monday, December 27, 2004
Copyright 2004 - Ellen Freda