Andrew Gillick leaves the car behind and finds another way to explore the Coromandel.

Travelling by ferry to Waiheke, I always thought, was as far removed from city life as I could get via a short boat ride. But when you're sailing between the rolling green hills punctuating the gulf sometimes you'd rather keep going.

Just over two hours from wharf to wharf on Fullers 360 you can be at the doorstep of Coromandel Town, having breakfast on the way while enjoying the views. So it was I left behind the chrome glow of the city for the far peninsula.

Arriving at Te Kouma Harbour I was greeted by Tom, one of my guides from Coromandel Fishing Charters. Along with a group of 10 seasoned fishermen we set out in the refurbished Ruben Jack, and it wasn't long until we were hauling in serious-sized snapper.

The area is a fisherman's playground and the inaugural Coromandel Town Seafood Festival on May 7 will lure foodies and fishers alike for competitions, demonstrations and lots of other events.


Back at the wharf I met the guides for the rest of my stay, Sarni and Willie of Coromandel Adventures. Their company runs the bus from Te Kouma back into Coromandel Town and beyond, and tailors tours for people who either travel by ferry or want to enjoy a getaway without the car.

The pair are every bit what you'd expect of authentic Kiwi hosts, and have an encyclopedic knowledge of the area. We headed along the old unsealed 309 Rd to the Waiau Falls and Kauri Grove Lookout. A short jaunt brings you into the lushest native forest of kauri, fern and nikau palms. The lookout gives an idea of what the forest originally looked like before it was felled, when massive kauri burst through the canopy.

As the sun started its retreat we made our way to Whitianga town and The Lost Spring. From the moment you pass through the gates you feel lost in a paradisiacal oasis. Enveloped in native bush, it's hard to believe the place hasn't been cultivated over hundreds of years but by the work of a man's hands. The pools are sculpted in a natural cascading form as if by volcanic creation and neat features include the cave with glowing stalactites and stalagmites you can swim through.

The theme and atmosphere is quintessential Polynesian, with tiki bars and poolside service. Immersed in 40C in the crater lake listening to tropical rhythms I could have slipped away from my earthly confines and gone to Hawaiki. At that point I was ready to retire for a quiet night at the Admiralty Lodge in a big comfortable room overlooking Buffalo Beach.

Sunset on the Sky Tower taken from the top of Kirita Hill on the Coromandel Coast.
Sunset on the Sky Tower taken from the top of Kirita Hill on the Coromandel Coast.

At the wharf in Whitianga the next morning I boarded the Ocean Leopard for a scenic coastal run. And it was a totally different perspective of the coastline. Hewn into the volcanic stone are all sorts of features: caves, blowholes, a lava tube, a cliff face that's said to resemble the aquiline side profile of William Shakespeare and, of course, the famous arches of Cathedral Cove. I was still digesting all the geological information imparted by the skipper as I vacuumed up my milkshake on the deck of Espy Cafe back at the wharf.

Then it was back on the road for the northern escape tour to the tip of the peninsula. Judging by some of the eclectic dwellings we drove past on the way, there's a touch of bohemian life in the Coromandel, especially in the quaint hamlet of Colville, with its community-owned general store and Buddhist temple.

The drive up to Cape Colville is quite stunning: pohutukawa trees so contorted they could have been made in a Weta studio, and granite stone beaches. Fans of Lord of the Rings will appreciate the ent-like animation of the trees and one even has an uncanny resemblance to the face of Donald Trump " Donald Trunk. The drive gets even better the further you go out to beautiful Port Jackson where views stretch out to Great Barrier. It's a walker's dream up there.

After wandering the hills for the day we headed back to Coromandel Town to replenish our stores at the Pepper Tree restaurant. You can't go past the delicious beef 'n' reef.

My lodging for the night was in the Coromandel Treehouse, also run by Coromandel Adventures and, it turns out, it's not nested in a tree but is a small lodge among native woodlands. It can sleep up to six people and has all the amenities - you could comfortably retreat into it for weeks.

Flying back to Auckland with FlyStark was a real novelty. The four-seater took off from a field runway outside Coromandel Town and in no more than 20 minutes we touched down on the asphalt of Ardmore Airport.

A great way to tie together all the areas that I'd covered on land, and an otherworldly perspective on this slice of Pacific paradise.