Travel: A goldmine of sunshine in Coromandel

By Mike Yardley


The mighty Coromandel Peninsula offers holiday-making in excelsis. Blessed with bucket-loads of sunshine - lighting up its sapphire waters and warming its long stretches of beaches - its glint of gold powered its first population surge in the late 19th century.

Before succumbing to the shoreline pleasures, dip into the region's pioneering past, steeped in gold and logging, by starting your exploration in the main settlement of Thames.

Most of the period buildings can be found in Grahamstown, although the bustling heart of Thames, Pollen St, still exudes vestiges of its past.

The Thames Historical Museum is a cutie, and the Thames School of Mines and Mineralogical Museum features a collection of minerals encased in Edwardian glass.

Located on the legendary Golden Crown mine site, check out the working five-head stamper battery and the underground mine with the Goldmine Experience. Run by volunteers, this attraction was developed by former miners eager to preserve the region's gold-mining heritage.

Then take a short drive to the Kauaeranga Valley, a pretty river valley criss-crossed with walking trails, from where kauri were once felled.

If you have the stamina for an all-day or overnight tramp, the saw-tooth peaks of the Pinnacles are a major draw.

Heading north from Thames, in the summer months the narrow coastal road hugging the Hauraki Gulf is ablaze with the crimson of pohutakawas.

Coromandel Town boasts a collection of period buildings, many of which are lookalikes. Arts, crafts and cafes abound in this story-book village. Have a pint in the restored Star & Garter Hotel Saloon Bar, and immerse yourself in the history festooning its walls.

Just outside the township is Barry Brickell's Driving Creek Railway & Potteries. The ingenious potter devoted 32 years of back-breaking work to building his narrow-gauge railway track, complete with viaducts, tunnels and switchbacks.

Built primarily to supply clay for the pottery and pinewood for the kiln, this magical railway hauls you up to Barry's Eyeful Tower (designed to mimic the Bean Rock Lighthouse on the Waitemata Harbour) and its viewing deck.

Clattering on the train through rugged bush, you can see the 25,000 plantings of the native tree re-forestation programme. Slowly but surely, kauri trees are rising again.

If you're heading east to the ocean-side delights of the Coromandel, take the 42km-long 309 Rd from Coromandel Town to Whitianga.

There's the quirky recycling-themed Waterworks leisure park, the scenery of the Coromandel Ranges, Waiau Falls and its swimming hole, and best of all the Kauri Grove with its 13 towering specimens.

Fresh from its New Year holiday stampede, Mercury Bay is a red-carpet destination for water sports such as boating, kayaking, diving or simply lazing on the broad sweep of Buffalo Beach.

Catch a ferry across the harbour to walk in the footsteps of Captain Cook, who landed here in 1769. There are some enchanting walks taking in Whitianga Rock, Shakespeare's Lookout and Lonely Bay.

Afterwards, plop down at the Salt Restaurant and Bar. The seafood could not be fresher and the open-air dining overlooking Whitianga Marina is blissful.

Whitianga also boasts an extravagant geothermal pool retreat, the Lost Spring. Landscaped with a heady mix of native and tropical foliage, I lazed in the sculpted rock pools, hop-scotching from one to the next, before ordering a pool-side cocktail. Now that's what holidays are all about.

Top tipsMarina Park Luxury Apartments occupies a prime spot on the Whitianga Marina. The spacious apartments range from one to three bedrooms, and are equipped with balconies, kitchen and laundry facilities, plus a spa, pool and on-site gym. Check out the best rates at www.marinapark.co.nz.

Go Rentals operates a large fleet of vehicles across New Zealand, with handy airport and city locations. Grab a rental from Auckland Airport and be in the Coromandel within two hours. See www.gorentals.co.nz or call 0800 467 368.

- Hamilton News

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