Coromandel: On sandy shores

By Mike Yardley

I feel embarrassed to admit this, but I have just completed my first foray around the Coromandel. Too many years passed before I surrendered to the abundance of scenic charms of this region.

Basing myself in the beach township of Whangamata, the rich pickings along Coromandel's Pacific Coast are as a sweet and succulent as sun-kissed holiday berries.

Few New Zealand beaches can compare to Whangamata's main ocean beach, renowned among surfies as a most reliable performer, with the legendary Whanga bar delivering the best breaks.

Big game fishing, golf, mountain biking and bush walks are all on tap. Don't miss the Wentworth Falls, a one-hour walk through native bush to a viewing platform and swimming hole at the base of the falls.

In March, Whangamata crawls with classic cars, rock 'n' roll and Americana-themed diners, as the annual Beach Hop roars into life. Happy Days are yours and mine, indeed.

Heading north, with a cerulean sky and the cobalt waters of the Pacific Ocean stretching out in front of you, Hot Water Beach doubles as a spa pool.

For two hours either side of low tide, you can access an area of sand at the southern end of the beach, in front of the rocky bluff, which boasts a hot water spring. The trick is to locate a spot with the perfect mix of hot and cold water. Pack a spade, or hire one from the adjacent beachside shop, and treat yourself to a soak.

Maori believe Kupe discovered the Coromandel coast in AD950, originally attracted by the moa. Historic pa sites stud the coast, but I loved exploring Te Pare Historic Reserve in Hahei. The Ngati Hei stronghold, on a rocky headland with the sea on three sides, is a lofty vantage point to survey glistening Mercury Bay and Hahei Beach.

But the piece de resistance is the pohutukawa-fringed splendour of Cathedral Cove. I timed my visit for very early morning, when the sky is still lemony with the first rays of the day. Make an early start on the 45-minute walk down to this jewel and, like me, you may well be rewarded with solitude.

The well-formed track weaves you through open countryside, ocean vistas and groves of native bush. On arrival, I had Cathedral Cove and its ivory-sand flanks to myself, with the exception of a breakfast-hunting seagull. Photos cannot do justice to the colossal stone arch, the rocky limestone fang, the natural waterfall, bone china -coloured sand and water that shimmers like sapphires.

- Hamilton News

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