Classic NZ coastline, lush bush and old-fashioned holiday camp fun - Danielle Wright takes a campervan tour around the Coromandel.
The best "secret Santa" present I ever received was a detailed map of the Coromandel with notes of the best places to go scrawled all over it. They were tips from a co-worker who had spent a lifetime exploring it as a child, teenager, and now with her own family.
After a campervan trip visiting some of the places on the map, I realise it's no wonder she came so often - there are so many different kinds of holidays the Coromandel can provide and every town is different.
Arrive by boat
If you don't mind skipping the vintage shopping in Thames and the beautiful coastal drive, catch a 360 Discovery Ferry from Quay St wharf to Coromandel town, a two-hour trip.
The boat is tiny compared with the Waiheke ferry, but the views are unforgettable as you cruise past Motuihe Island and the remotest parts of Waiheke and Ponui Islands to Hannaford's wharf, spotting a few dolphins along the way.
A family return ferry pass is $230.50, adult is $88, child $54.50 and senior $77. Cheaper fares are available for same-day return, ph 0800 360 3472. Sailings also depart from Orapiu on Waiheke Island.
As campervan newbies, our Coastal Campers van couldn't have been better equipped and was clean and tidy. It took a while to get used to driving a van but our children loved their new home.
They had fun climbing up to their bunk bed, poking their heads out the top window and travelling in a roomy back seat, laughing as things toppled out of cupboards. The campervan was useful on day-trips to the beach - no need to pack a bag.
A four-berth campervan starts at $161 a day in October and November and $221 a day from December to February.
Stock up on seafood
The first stop on any Coromandel holiday has to be The Coromandel Oyster Company.
It's almost worth the ferry trip just to buy their mussel chowder. Cheerful staff sell oysters, green-shell mussels, kina, paua, crayfish and seafood fritters.
For mouthwatering seafood in a restaurant setting, try the Mussel Kitchen.
It collects, cultivates, harvests, cooks and serves the freshest mussels and offers them with views of the Coromandel countryside.
For more information, as well as family itineraries, visit thecoromandel.com.
Places to stop:
* The Waterworks: The 309 Rd, Coromandel Town. Costs $55 for a family pass or adults are $20, children/students/seniors $15. Ph (07) 866 7191.
We raced mini-boats and blasted each other on wicked water cannons, plus much more.
* Driving Creek Railway: 380 Driving Creek Rd, Coromandel, (07) 866 8703. Adults $25, children $10 or a family pass is $60, book ahead. The railway is an inspirational labour of love by founder and potter Barry Brickell.
* CombatZone: 108 Kaimarma Rd, Whitianga. Open seven days, 10am-5pm. Rides are $15, telephone (07) 866 0038.
Includes paintball, a real digger that you can use, and the amphibious Argo ride.
* Hot Water Beach: How do you know where to dig a hole? That will be the small spot where dozens of people are fighting to put their toes into hot sandy pools.
* Whitianga: If the weather is good, take a glass-bottom boat tour (two hours, $95 adults, $50 children, book by calling (07) 867 1962). If you're in Whitianga from Boxing Day to the end of the school holidays try a 10-minute thrill ride on a banana boat, and more gentle kiddies' cruises.
Where to stay:
* Coromandel Top 10 Holiday Park is at the edge of the main shops in Coromandel town. There's plenty to do onsite, with a heated swimming pool, plenty of kids DVDs to borrow, a trampoline, barbecue area and playground.
* The Hot Water Beach Top 10 Holiday Park is a quick walk to the famous surf beach and is pure luxury for a holiday park. There's a fish-and-chip shop onsite, as well as a pristine communal kitchen. The best part was its private family bathroom so we could all have hot showers.
* For a different experience try the Wentworth Valley Campsite. It's like being out in the bush, but with the added security of the onsite managers, who will take you for a walk to spot eels if you ask nicely. There's a stunning walk to a waterfall as well.