Day 15: Te Mata Point-Stony Bay-Coromandel Town
We continued our drive North along the Coromandel Peninsula, along coastal Highway 25. First stop was Coromandel town. The 35 km drive brought us along the coast and with clear blue skies we were treated to aqua blue waters and the most scenic drive we had to date. There are many viewing bays positioned between Te Mata and Coromandel town so the 37 minute drive took us well over an hour due to all the stops.
Coromandel town itself hasn’t got much going on but we stopped off for a coffee and wander around for 10 minutes before setting off again. Our next stop was the ‘Coromandel Coastal Walkway’. This is a 20 km walkway connecting Fletcher Bay on the north coast and Stony Bay on the east coast. We decided to head east and start the walkway from Stony Bay.
There were two routes to our planned destination of Stony Bay, both with similar distances. We took the risk to go the ‘scenic’ route via Kennedy Bay and ended up on the worst road that we have ever been on. As the van struggled up steep and rocky ‘roads’, our luck didn’t improve much when the blue skies disappeared and the heavens opened. For the next hour and a half the road continued to worsen before we finally got to Stony Bay. Thankfully, the weather had started to clear up and stayed nice for the rest of the day.
However, our planned camping spot at Stony Bay was closed so we wouldn’t have enough time to do the whole walkway as planned. We parked the van up and walked partway along the coastal walkway towards Fletcher Bay. We walked for 2 hours along the pacific coast before heading back towards Stony Bay and doing a few short range walks between viewpoints.
Because Stony Bay camp site was closed, we headed back towards Coromandel Town. This time we had some sense and took the route via Colville road, which was a much nicer road and ironically ended up being more scenic. We stopped off at our freedom camping site for the night and slept well after an eventful, but enjoyable day.
We stayed at ‘Kapanga Road freedom campsite’, which was opposite the police station, and two minutes walking distance to the crazy town of Coromandel. Public toilets were 30 seconds away. There is space for four campervans, so we luckily got one despite getting there quite late.
Day 16: Coromandel- Hahei-Cathedral Cove-Tairua
Cathedral Cove is a must visit on any New Zealand itinerary. It is a Marine reserve and is prominent in Maori culture. We set off from Coromandel town early and got to the town of Hahei within an hour. Between October to May, parking at the Cathedral Cove start point is prohibited because of traffic restrictions. We parked at Cathedral Cove ‘park and ride’ car park. From here you can either get a $5 per person shuttle bus or walk 20 minutes through the town to the start point. We opted for the latter.
Hahei town, like much of New Zealand, has huge numbers of beautiful houses, overlooking the coastline. The town itself was quiet with many of the business’ in the area foccused on tourism and specifically promotion of Cathedral Cove. Although we didn’t partake, kayaking and boating tours are popular activities in Cathedral Cove, but comes with a starting price of $125pp.
We instead opted for the free coastal walkway. From the start point, the walk is a 1.5 hours round trip that takes in Gemstone bay, Mares leg, and finally Cathedral Cove. We stopped off at Gemstone bay on the way, and passed a WW1 memorial before arriving at Cathedral Cove, a beautiful small white sand beach snuggled between caves and overhanging cliffs. We were lucky to have such great weather to make the place look even more spectacular. The water was baltic cold so we chickened out of having a swim, but had lunch sitting on the beach, absolutely in our element.
Three hours later we arrived back to our van and headed 10 minutes south to another New Zealand bucket list activity, Hot Water Beach. Hot Water Beach offers you the chance of digging your own thermal pool. Two underground fissures in the Earths surface allows heat to come up from magma in the centre of the Earth and warms the water. To be able to access this area on the beach you must be there two hours either side of low tide. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it for low tide today but will come back tomorrow morning and try again.
The closest freedom campsite was 30 minutes drive south to Tairua. We made the most of the remaining afternoon by heading to the library and doing a few bits for our Aussie visas and downloading a few movies, before chilling in the van for the evening.
We stayed at Tui Terrace and Wharf road freedom campsite. There was space for three campers only and was meters from public toilets. We had a view over Tairua Harbour and Mount Paku in the background.
Day 17: Tairua-Hot Water Beach-Mount Maunganui
The following morning we travelled 30 minutes back up the road to Hot Water Beach. We used the Coromandel official website to find out low tide times to ensure it wasn’t another wasted trip. Low tide is twice daily, normally early morning and late evening, but times vary each day so make sure to check the website before you go. Low tide for us was 08:35 am so we had two hours either side to dig our thermal bath. We rented two spades from a local cafe for $10 and headed to the beach to dig. It is not signposted where is best to dig but parts of the ground feel hotter than others so we picked a spot and dug. We were amazed at the temperature of the water and the further we dug the hotter it got. Apparently the water can reach up to 64 degrees Celsius.
After an hour on the beach we grabbed a coffee and headed down the road to Tauranga where we would meet up with a friend that we met whilst travelling.
There are plenty of beaches we could have stopped on the way down the east coast of Coromandel, but we were content we had got our fill and travelled 150km to Tauranga. We got to our friend Katie’s family home in the afternoon and they kindly let us stay for the next two nights. We went for a walk around Mount Manganui before Katie brought us to ‘The Rising Tide’ pub which was also a brewery. The food was class and fairly cheap so we would highly recommend going here. Also, there are concerts on every month directly outside the pub, so we got to hear the ‘Tyga’ concert for free.
After dinner and a couple of pints, we headed back and settled into our first proper bed in a family home for the first time in 6 months.
Day 18: Tauranga-Rotorua-Mount Manganui
Today, we went to the Redwoods of Rotorua with Katie and her father, who were keen mountain bikers. Rotorua has officially been named the smelliest place on earth, and we can confirm that it stinks of rotten eggs. This is caused by the sulpher being released from hot pools and geysers across the area. Luckily when we got to the Redwoods, the smell had settled. Katie kitted us out with bikes and gear and guided us around the extensive mountain biking tracks which went on for miles.
We started out on the ‘kids tracks’ which being honest was enough to start with. We soon got the hang of it though and as our confidence grew over the next three hours, we managed to complete a level 3 intermediate track. Mountain biking was not something we had thought about trying in New Zealand, but we were delighted Katie brought us along and it is something we will definitely try in the future again.
Having come through the mountain biking unscathed, we got back to Tauranga and climbed to the summit of Mount Manganui. There are two tracks to the summit, and signs suggests 1 hour to get there, but it can be done comfortably in 25 minutes. The views from the summit overlooking Tauranga were awesome.
We spent the evening in Katie’s having drinks, food, and the craic.
Day 19: Tauranga-Rotorua
After spending the morning around Tauranga, we said goodbye to Katie and her family and went back to Rotorua to set up camp for the next few days beside the Polynesian spa, one of the top 10 spas in the world. The spa overlooks lake Rotorua, which is surrounded by Geysers and the water is pale white in complexion due to the continuous sulfer being sprayed into it. As aforementioned, Rotorua is not the most pleasant smelling place, but has alot of unique attractions we could not miss out on. Like other towns around New Zealand, most of the attractions are outside the town centre however. As we got to Rotorua too late to venture to any attrations, we explored around the town before having a quiet evening, and planning our next couple of days in Rotorua.
We stayed at ‘Government Gardens Thermal Area’ which was opposite the Polynesian spa. Toilets were accessible in the spa until 11pm. Because there are only two free campsites in Rotorua, we made sure to get here earlier than normal to secure a spot for the next three nights.
Day 20: Rotorua-Blue Lake-Green Lake-Lake Okareka-Rotorua
We started today with great intentions, to walk to a few of Rotorua’s beautiful lakes, enjoy the scenery, and wander back. We were hesitant to move the van as space was tight and we were not gaurenteed a place later in the day, so walking was the logical option. We ‘roughly’ calculated our walking distance and set off at 09:00am towards the Blue Lake. Little did we know that the Blue Lake was actually 10km away with most of the road unsuitable for pedestrians. We met a wide collection of NZ’s roadkill and got lost numerous times before we finally made it to the Blue Lake. Blue lake is exactly as it sounds and its beauty almost made up for the 3 hour trek to get there. We ate lunch overlooking the views before completing the 5 km track around the lake. This track offered amazing views of the both the Blue Lake and the neighbouring Green Lake, which is a protected Mauri lake meaning there is no swimming, fishing or boating allowed.
After finishing the track we continued another 6 km to Lake Okareka which in our opinion was the most beautiful lake, and surprisingly had no one there. There is a boardwalk track which has been highly rated in any research we have done about Rotorua, but having already walked 21 km at this point, we instead chilled by the lake before heading 12 km back towards Rotorua. We met a few locals enquiring about our day out and were in shock we had walked the route we did. After walking 33 km we were fairly wrecked so we grabbed a quick bite to eat before collapsing into the van for the night.
Day 21: Rotorua-Landing Jetty-Lake Tarawera-Kerosene Creek- Rotorua
We awoke determined not to make the same mistake as yesterday. We set off super early so we could drive to everything on our itinerary and still make it back in time to get a camp spot. The weather was class which made the attractions even more beautiful. We drove out to Lake Tarawera which has the now ‘insta famous’ landing jetty. It is a pier overlooking the crystal clear waters with mountain ranges in the background. We obviously took a few pics there before walking 5 minutes to see old Mauri paintings on rocks. These paintings were submeged by Lake Tarawera as a result of the eruption in 1886 and excaveated in 1962. They are now under guardianship of the local Mauri tribe ‘Tuhourangi’.
Rotorua has many natural hot pools, however the majority have a steep entrance fee. Fortunately, in the age of the internet, we found a hidden gem in Kerosene Creek which is only 30 km south east of Rotorua. This was our next stop on our day of exploring. Kerosene Creek is a river with small waterfalls and hotpools which can reach up to 30 degrees celcius. We got there early and it was already busy but we hopped in to see what it was all about. We couldn’t get over heat of the water and spent half an hour relaxing here before heading back towards Rotorua to secure a parking spot.
After being parked oposite the Polynesian spa for the past two days, it would be rude not to try out a top 10 world spa. We got back to Rotorua and booked in for later in the day. Meanwhile we went for a walk around Lake Rotorua where you could see active geysers from the path. There we met a kind, older man from Holland, who encouraged us to hop the fence and take a closer look. Having lived in NZ for the past 50 years, he told us all about the history of Lake Rotorua and his own experiences of being nearly scalded by the geysers. The ground underneath us was like walking on a sponge, having being constructed by drying sulpher. We were gratious to the nice man, and headed to the spa.
The Spa had a number of reasonably priced options. We decided on a private pool for thirty minutes for $70. The maximum recommended time is 30 minutes due to the high temperature of the water which can reach 41 degrees celsius. What makes the spa unique is the 28 mineral pools are fed water from two natural springs. There are both alkaline and acidic pools. The acidic pools are said to relieve tired muscles, aches and pains, while the alkaline water are said to nourish the skin. The spa was gorgeous, and we had a view of Lake Rotorua from our private spa. We didn’t appreciate how hot the water actually was until we felt dehydrated and we were thirsty for the rest of the evening. It was definately a different experience but something we think is worthwhile doing if in Rotorua.
There were other attractions we could have visited, including ‘Te Puia’ a Maori culture centre and a geothermal preserve, but this is quite pricey at $58 per person so we gave it a miss but have heard great things. Nonetheless, we were delighted with our time in Rotorua and would come back again, despite smelling like rotten eggs.
Thanks for reading,
Róisin & Bernard