Ellie Hutchinson and her friend find wilderness and culture rubbing shoulders on a weekend in Coromandel.
I don't ask for much in a short weekend getaway — sort me out with some bracing walks, a bit of art, stunning scenery, a few oysters, leaping dolphins and plenty of R and R and I'm happy. I found all of these in a 48-hour Coromandel break.
After an early Friday evening dinner and obligatory end-of-week espresso martinis, my friend Alessandra and I left Auckland on the 6.40pm ferry and headed out into the Hauraki Gulf, looking back on sunset over the city. The ferry delivered us two hours later at Te Kouma Harbour, Coromandel.
We spent our first night at Tokatea, one of three self-catered villas at Driving Creek Villas, a hidden gem set in native bush with immaculate private gardens, giving us an immediate feeling of solitude.
The beautifully designed villas all have generous sleeping areas, expansive decking and an outdoor Japanese hot tub. After a long week we agreed this peaceful oasis was everything we had hoped for, and it wasn't long before we were lulled to sleep by the babble of the creek and the resident moreporks.
We woke bright and early to a perfect sunny autumn day and stunning views to the Coromandel Range. Ready for our Coastal Walkway hike, we filled ourselves up on complimentary croissants and coffee before being picked up by our guide, James, from Coromandel Adventures.
He drove us north to the start of the walk at Stony Bay, along the way providing information and useful facts and stories about the area, and stopping off to take in the views over the Hauraki Gulf and point out the islands. We broke up the two-hour journey with a stop at family run Hereford 'n' a Pickle in Colville village, where roast beef sandwiches were freshly prepared for us along with the best Anzac cookies I have ever tasted.
At 11am we arrived at the track and began the self-guided 10km walk up Henry's Hill, following clear signposts along the way. We meandered through the beautiful forest, chatting constantly, admiring the views and stopping at the lookout. On a clear day, as we were enjoying, you can see all the way out to Great Barrier Island.
After walking (and talking) for about two hours we stopped for lunch at Poley Bay — a gorgeous rugged beach where we sat on the rocks to eat our sandwiches. We completed the last section of the walk through rolling farmland to Fletchers Bay, stopping for plenty of photos on the way.
James then announced that we had had our starter and main course and it was now time for the dessert. As we headed to the Muriwai walk with our wobbly legs, he assured us it would be easy in comparison to what we'd just done, but would hopefully finish us off.
The ridgeline track to Wharekaiatua Pa was breathtaking and so were the stairs, but the most breathtaking of all was Muriwai estuary — we had no other option but to cross, so it was shoes off (and for some, pants off) so we could wade through the waist-deepwater.
Totally soaked, we giggled as, barefoot, we made our way along the beach and back to the van for a cuppa.
The drive back along Port Jackson Rd was lovely. Ancient pohutukawa line the foreshore and as the sun set we saw dolphins, at least 30 of them, playing in the shallow water close to shore.
We couldn't resist nipping back for a soak in the hot tub before heading out to dinner and listening to the tuis and bellbirds as we soothed our aching limbs. We agreed this tranquil retreat is perfect for a girls' weekend or a romantic getaway, but would also be good for families as clever landscaping means you are invisible to the other two villas.
Our restaurant that night, Pepper Tree — a landmark in Coromandel township at over 100 years old — comes complete with courtyard, verandas, kauri wood floors, cosy open fire and mouth-watering menu. We had worked up an appetite and begin salivating over the thought of a dozen freshly shucked Coromandel oysters and award-winning lamb rack, and decided we definitely deserved the lemon meringue and crumble for desert.
The following day, we were up early to explore the grounds before departing for a delicious brunch at Wharf Rd cafe, where friendly owners Ellie and Leigh have the vibe — and the coffee — just right.
We were lucky enough to get a look at the local art studios. There is an incredible arts community here and the big event, the Coromandel Arts Tour, takes place this year from October 7-15.
Builder Kevin Brett clearly has a talent for crafting unique and beautiful furniture from native kauri driftwood, and his work incorporates reclaimed steel. We thought a nice touch was that he includes an inscription on where the recycled materials were found.
Other artists we visited included new resident Julie Pijfers with her stunning bespoke shell jewellery, Petra Meyboden, whose prolific Puketai Pottery came complete with totems, Pete Sephton, who makes limited edition screen prints, Diann Cades' fine art paintings of local people, Stuart Fyfe's stoneware pottery and Portage Ceramic Award's finalist Caitlin Moloney's giant ceramic necklaces with incredibly intricate detail. Her latest piece will be shipped to Hawaii. It was amazing being able to meet and chat to the artists in their own homes and Alessandra couldn't resist buying her first piece of art from Vaughan Udall's fantastic home studio.
We both agreed we'd found a winning formula for the perfect weekend getaway.
Accommodation: Driving Creek Villas are set in beautiful, private bush.
Further information: See coromandelartstour.co.nz for details on the arts tour in October.