Kia ora: Coromandel Town

Elisabeth Easther falls in love with a slice of coastal paradise.

The view to Wharf Street, Coromandel Town. Photo / Destination Coromandel
The view to Wharf Street, Coromandel Town. Photo / Destination Coromandel

Where is it? 75km east of Auckland by sea, although the road between them, around the Firth of Thames, is 190km long.

Origin of name: The peninsula was named for HMS Coromandel, a British Navy ship that put in at Coromandel Harbour in the 1820s to buy kauri spars. The ship was named for a coast in India.

Population: 1500.

Town slogan: Coromandel, Capital of the Peninsula.

Famous locals: Barry Brickell - potter, rail enthusiast, writer, conservationist and all-round groovy dude.

Best website: coromandeltown.co.nz.

Big business: Mussel farming; oysters too. Tourism is big, as are arts and crafts.

Source of pride: It's just so beautiful, with a very diverse community.

Doers: The area is bulging with clubs and societies as the locals are really active in the community. They're also very good at protesting, having stopped mining, dredging and building on New Chums Beach.

Town fiestas: The Keltic Fair on January 2 each year is the biggest market festival in the Southern Hemisphere. The annual Arts Tour is a doozy. Then there are the adventure races, including the K2 and the Kauri Run, in which every competitor has a kauri planted for them on the Success Track. So far, hundreds of trees have been planted - one day the forest will be astounding.

Best reason to stop: Aside from Colville, 27km north, there's nowhere else to go. Plus it's gorgeous and the history from the mining and logging days is fascinating.

Best place to take kids: The Waterworks, New Zealand's quirkiest theme park with its wooden water clock, water cannons, bikes that pump out water plus a human hamster wheel.

The other best place to take kids: Barry Brickell's Driving Creek Railway and Potteries. Their millionth visitor went through a few years back and with good reason.

How about? Take a tour of the stamper battery with Ashley and try a spot of gold panning - show me a kid who doesn't want to find gold and I'll suggest you check for a pulse.

Best place for a beverage? There are heaps of places to drink; two pubs, a great little wine bar and several licensed restaurants. You have no excuse for going thirsty.

Best food: Coromandel Mussel Kitchen on SH25 is a working mussel processing plant whose mussel burger and chowder are both stupendous. Plus they make their own beer and ginger beer, and grow their own herbs. UMU Cafe does yummy lunches and breakfasts, from fry-ups to muesli. Success Cafe does a wicked chowder. Chai Tea House and Coro Cafe are also delicious options.

Best fine dining: Pepper Tree Restaurant & Bar has won more awards than you can shake a stick at.

Best flat white: Mussel Kitchen and Driving Creek Cafe.

Best bakery: There's only one, called Munchies Deli Bake House, perfect for a pie.

Best butcher: The Coromandel Meatkeeper does a mean mussel sausage.

Beady eyes: Tara's Bead Shop has more than 2500 different beads in stock at any time.

Other great emporiums: The Source, a co-operative of local artists with all wares made in Coromandel. Weta Design Store is a cool shop with a neat garden in an old cottage with most goods from New Zealand. The town is bursting with lovely craft and gift shops.

Best museum: The School of Mines Museum is really cute, housed in the old School of Mines Building. It's full of photographs and intriguing artefacts and is staffed by friendly volunteers.

Best walk: The best short walk is Long Bay, a circular route through an old kauri grove, along the beach and beneath cliffs. It takes about 45 minutes and is stunning but a bit hilly. The 7km (one way) Coromandel Coastal Walkway from Fletcher Bay to Stony Bay has stunning views. Or the Success Mine Track behind the old hospital along the old Colville Rd, which takes you up into the hills behind town, takes about 2.5 hours.

Best view: Castle Rock - walk to the top and enjoy 360 degree views. Or if you don't fancy a climb, on SH25 between Coromandel and Whitianga there's a high point where you can see both coasts. Or, coming from Thames, enjoy amazing views as you crest the Kereta Hills.

Best swim: Long Bay, Oamaru Bay and also Golden Bay, which isn't far out of town and used to be a nudist beach. North of Colville there's Waikawau Bay, which might be the most amazing beach in the world. Also New Chums Beach and Whangapoua. Enough for you?

Best mountain biking: There are lots of old mining tracks that pig hunters and dope growers have kept open. Also, you can do a version of the Coromandel Coastal Walkway by bike.

Best park: There are two little parks, with the swings at James Reserve understandably popular.

Best venue: Hauraki House for art shows, the gallery and amateur dramatics. There's a really good park outside it and a nice little stream.

Best facilities: The beautiful new lavvies opposite the information centre mean visitors can spend a very pleasant penny while in town.

Meet and greet: A lot of the people who live here have had really interesting lives and have great stories to tell so talk to the locals and learn something fascinating.

Fabulous wildlife: Barry Brickell has created a pest-free zone at Driving Creek and the birdlife is fabulous. He's planted so much habitat, when you go on the train you'll see tui, kereru and even whio (little blue ducks), and morepork make a racket all night long.

Safety warnings: Visitors hate leaving, so prepare to feel a bit blue on the way home. Or you could just up sticks and move there.

Visitors say: Everyone is so friendly and kind here.

Locals say: Yes, we are lovely.

Thanks to Tara Homan who made Coromandel Town sound so fabulous. I want to move there too.

- NZ Herald

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