SUMMER SPECIAL: Bay of Plenty and Coromandel, from heritage to hot sands
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It’s always busy, but the Karangahake Gorge – the main road link between Waikato and the Bay of Plenty - is an enjoyable drive: winding and full of sights to see.
Plenty of places to stop as well. The Gorge is steeped in history as one of the key gold mining areas of the 19th century (heritage sites, anbandoned equipment and incredible tunnels) and following the removal of the East Coast Main Trunk railway from the canyon it’s now also an integral part of the Hauraki Rail Trail.
And at the eastern end of the Gorge you reach bay of Plenty and Coromandel, both go-to destinations for the classic Kiwi holiday. Coming from the west, if you follow SH2 through to Waihi you’ll be on the border of Coromandel to the north and Bay of Plenty to the South.
Waihi is a great base from which to explore this part of the coast, but it’s also an iconic destination in itself. Car enthusiasts will know it as the long-time host of the warm-up party for the annual Beach Hop, the biggest American car/hot rod nostalgia event in the country. The event itself is based in the Coromandel town beach resort town of Whangamata, every March.
Waihi is also full of mining heritage for the history-minded (it’s known as the “heart of gold”), but the nearby resort town of Waihi Beach is pure Kiwi holiday heaven. It boasts 9km of white sandy coastline and is acclaimed as one of NZ’s safest surf beaches.
For the ultimate in picture-postcard Kiwi beach walks, you can head to the northern end of Waihi Beach and make the 40-minute trek to Orokawa Bay, a popular picnic spot with overhanging pohutukawa trees. If you can handle another 45-minute detour, you can also visit the spectacular 28m-high William Wright Falls on the way.
From Waihi north you’re close to iconic Cormandel destinations like Hot Water Beach, where warm water bubbles through the sand two hours either side of low tide, and Cathedral Cove (you can walk or boat there).
Feel free to complete a “lap” of the Coromandel for an epic summer drive, but there are also plenty of places to stop on the way: Coromandel Town, Thames, Whitianga on The Mercury Bay (full of surf culture, close to Cathedral Cove) and Pauanui.
Head south from Waihi and you’ll rapidly be into Bay of Plenty heartland and Tauranga. In Taurange there’s plenty of opportunity to explore more, shall we say, urban pleasures – weekend markets (there are several every month), shopping, eating out and craft beer/wine.
But there’s still plenty to please the more energetic visitor. Mount Manganui is the iconic beach holiday spot in the area, but there’s only one way to truly appreciate a mountain whose name translates as “caught by dawn” – climb to the top and watch the sun come up over Mount Manganui Beach and Pilot Bay. It’s a steep climb that takes about an hour, but there are several tracks to choose from and it’s a spectacular stroll. Don’t be surprised to meet the odd sheep or rabbit on your journey.
There are many walking tracks in the area; the best known is McLaren Falls Park, where you wind through glowworm caves and native forest.
Or why not walk to an island? Moturiki Island is adjacent to Mount Manganui Beach and can be reached via a small bridge. There are more great views of the ocean to be had here, as well as a spectacular blowhole that erupts during high tide.
Other activities are more tailored towards a tourist frame of mind. There’s a lot to do out on the water, including catamaran trips and snorkeling.