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Coromandel – Guide for Backpackers

Tourism NZ

The Coromandel: Peninsula Paradise!

From brilliant beaches to marvellous mountains, the Coromandel is an 85km long peninsula extending into the Pacific Ocean. Mild weather and a selection of golden sand beaches, amongst them the unique Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach, attracts backpackers looking to enjoy some luxurious beach time while they are in New Zealand.

In the middle of the peninsula, the Kauaeranga Valley is not to be missed! The hikes will allow you to feast your eyes on forest-covered mountains, coastline and the thickest trees you’ll ever see in your life! Pictures don’t capture the Kauri tree’s magnificence until a person is next to it! More more hikes, check out 16 Awesome Hikes in The Coromandel.

The Mercury Islands are certainly an enticing diving location full of sealife, while those who prefer to stay on the water’s surface can find some awesome stand-up paddleboarding locations and surf spots towards the southern end of the Coromandel.

Things you can’t miss in Coromandel

  • Visit the historic town of Thames.
  • Hike in the Kauaeranga Valley.
  • Take a mountain train in Coromandel town.
  • Dive, horse ride and fish at Mercury Bay.
  • Go to the famous Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach.
  • Explore the mining tunnels at Karangahake Gorge.
  • Stand-up Paddle Board or kayak to Donut Island in Whangamata.
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What was once a thriving town in the gold-rush era, Thames is now the ideal base for backpackers wanting to explore the Kauaeranga Valley (see below), just 10-minutes outside of the town.

Along the Thames Coast are a number of safe swimming beaches lined with pohutukawa trees, the New Zealand Christmas tree, which blossoms red flowers during summer. Why not have a BBQ on the beach? Free gas BBQs are at Kuranui Bay and Waiomu Beach.

Visit a tropical butterfly and orchid house at the Butterfly and Orchid Gardens or educate yourself on the area by visiting Thames Historical Museum, Thames School of Mines, the Small Gauge Railway, and the Society of Arts Gallery.

If you have a car while in Thames, cheese lovers will die with excitement at The Cheese Barn along the Thames-Paeroa Highway.

For more inspiration, see 7 Best Things to Do in Thames.


Kauaeranga Valley

If you want to go out into the Coromandel wilderness, then Kauaeranga Valley is a great place to start. There are heaps of walking tracks from short walks to full-day hikes. The highlight for many is The Pinnacles. At 759m high, this rock formation also has amazing views of the surrounding mountains, forests and coastline. To get there, start from the car park at Kauaeranga Road End. The hike takes about 3 hours to get to the Pinnacle Hut then another 40 minutes to get to The Pinnacles. Be aware that the road is gravel.

Alternatively, from Kauaeranga Road End you can take the Billygoat Circuit. Along this 4-5hour hike, you will walk the same tracks as packhorses during the kauri logging days. The ascent gives some great views of the area, then you drop down into the basin to see rivers and Billygoat Falls.

For a short walk to see a model kauri dam nestled in native bush, start the Kahikatea Walk 20 minutes from the Kauaeranga Visitor Centre.

The most adventurous way to experience the heart of the Coromandel has to be canyoning in the Sleeping Gods Canyon with CanyoNZ. Check out more canyoning opportunities in 7 Impressive Canyoning Locations in New Zealand.


Coromandel Town

Apart from the main street covered in art galleries, other attractions of the Coromandel are walks the railway tour.

There is a ferry terminal in the town, meaning you can use the ferry to get to Auckland and back. But for those wishing to stick around in the Coromandel, take a ride on the Driving Creek Railway. This is a 1-hour mountain railway treating you with views of the Hauraki Gulf while you go through a native Kauri forest. The trip also includes access to a pottery and wildlife sanctuary.

From the Coromandel, take the 309 Road to see the Waiau Waterworks, for a crazy collection of water-powered inventions, and Waiau Kauri Grove and Waterfalls. Just by the road are Waiau Falls – a pretty sight and a swimming site.

See more activities in 5 Fun Things to Do in Coromandel Town.


Mercury Bay

A mix of land and sea activities can be enjoyed at Mercury Bay. The towns of Whitianga and Hahei make a good base while visiting Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach (see below).

From the towns, you can go on horse treks in amazing scenery, go on fishing charters, snorkel in the Cathedral Cove Marine Reserve, dive at Mercury Islands, relax on Cooks Beach, and taste some fine beers at Hot Water Beach Brewing and The Coromandel Brewing Company. Plus, check out the 10 Best Walks in Whitianga.

Must-Visit Beaches

On the west side of the Coromandel peninsula is where you will find the beaches everyone talks about.

A 30min walk from Whangapoua will lead you to the stunning beach of New Chum. The long stretch of golden sand is lined by native forest and is often deserted, as it is not well known.

Make your next beach stop the famous Cathedral Cove featured in the Narnia trilogy. The dramatic arched rock is a token tourist photo every backpacker needs. You can swim at this beach or explore further by taking a kayaking tour.

When it is low tide, head to Hot Water Beach. As the name implies, you will find some hot water if you dig into the sand. Then relax in your very own natural hot pool. At night, you’re likely to see glowworms along the path to Hot Water Beach.

Whangamata not only has its own long-stretching beach, but it is the ideal base for some surfing, paddle-boarding and kayaking. Ask your paddle-board and kayaking operator about Donut Island – a must-visit on a low-swell day.

Find more beaches in 10 Coromandel Beaches You Can’t Miss. For more awesome natural attractions, check out 10 Features That Make The Coromandel Unique.

Tourism NZ

Karangahake Gorge

On the way out of the Coromandel, if you are heading south, don’t miss out the Karangahake Gorge. The remains of gold mining railways and tunnels are situated in a beautiful gorge for you to explore. Make sure you bring a torch for the tunnels… or not if you want to challenge yourself.

On the border of the Coromandel and Bay of Plenty region is Waihi, the end of this gold-mining trail. The grand finale is a 200m mining pit. Find out more here: Bay of Plenty – Guide for Backpackers.

Videos About The Coromandel

If you have more time in the Coromandel…

  • Walk inside a real mine tunnel on the Colins Drive Circuit.
  • Do the high ropes assault course at Highzone, Whitianga
  • Perfect your surfing skills at Whangamata Beach. Surf lessons are available
  • Paddleboard in the Kennedy Bay estuary
  • Go canyoning, which involves 300m descent down waterfalls. CanyoNZ is near Thames
  • Visit the coastal towns of Tairua and Pauanui – see 5 Best Things to Do in Tairua & Pauanui
  • Check out more activities at 15 Coromandel Must-Dos.
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