It's an area with much to offer and it's hard to leave.
Throw a dart anywhere at a map of the Coromandel and you'll find a local attraction within three freedom camper van-lengths of its point. On my last trip I met a foreign couple in a Mazda Bongo, who had arrived on our fair shores with solid intentions of conquering the whole country. Or so they thought.
Their first month had just passed and they still hadn't left this peninsula that had them trapped. They were finishing breakfast in the Cathedral Cove carpark and heading off to Hotwater Beach to have a low-tide dig for their fourth time. Although still ignorant of the rest of New Zealand they already considered this place No. 1.
I look at early photographs of the Coromandel and have mixed emotions thinking about how it must have been before early European settlers laid siege to gold seams and kauri plantations. I think about the mining's toxic sludge that once sluiced heavy metals down rivers, poisoning estuaries and creating dead zones of ocean all around it. With little erosion I wonder how clean and clear the coastal waters would have been back then? Can you imagine the localised weather patterns generated by the cooling effect of the truly enormous kauri forests? It would have meant almost constant offshore breezes; as a surfer that's a tantalising thought.
As the wounds slowly heal, scars remain but it's great to know that measures are in place to see this beautiful part of NZ slowly revive.
A more modern Coromandel event also improving is the Whitianga Scallop festival.
Heralding the start of warmer weather each year, it sells out quickly as 5000 people come together to celebrate a simple bi-valve found along the sandy shorelines of the nearby coast. Local stripes are earned with scallop-shucking prowess. With knife in hand, shells are prised, frilly skirts whipped off, and gills removed. It's a wrist flicking art-form that takes seconds to do but years to finesse. I'm still bloody hopeless at it, but it has been scientifically proven that they taste 38 per cent better when shucked by oneself, so I persist.
The scallops give the festival purpose, so this delicious clammy little hero needs to be looked after to ensure it continues into the future. This means careful management of local stocks as modern commercial GPS dredging techniques can leave scallop beds looking like a mown lawn. I've seen first-hand the damage they do scraping the bottom as I was once nearly mown myself by a careless recreational dredger. Recently I found myself in a conversation with, of all people, Prince Edward and unprompted he brought up dredging, talking about how in other parts of the world they have phased out this practice, seeing vast improvements in local areas where it was no longer permitted. It would be nice to see protected areas in NZ investigated for the future.
Although the scallop festival is taking a break this year for waterfront developments, there are plenty of other marine-based opportunities to explore. On my trip I was also lucky enough to head out to do some truly deep-water fishing. I love this type of hunting as it feels like the final frontier of scaley exploration.
On board with Tairua fishing legend Carl Muir, we went "deep". As in, 17 minutes just to let your line out deep. Also known as 360m to hit the bottom deep. Here accuracy and technology are everything to find your marks. Get it right and the rewards are enormous. As in enormous bluenose, enormous ling and enormous bass which all swim in an environment that has almost no natural light. By the end of our session, I worked out I had hand wound more than 3km of line. Some bigger fish took more than half an hour to raise. With aching arms, legs and shoulders and plenty of fish, we headed back, sending a flurry of text messages to set up another great Coromandel tradition. A local barbecue.
Quickly friends, neighbours and even a couple of freedom campers, were all invited around to share some of the incredible deep-water catch. No wonder tourists struggle to leave this slice of peninsula paradise. Who can blame them.
● Clarke Gayford hosts Fish of the Day, Wednesdays, 8pm, Prime