New Zealand North Island Road Trip- Coromandel Peninsula and Rotorua


“The journey is the destination”

















So we were now getting used to the morning routine- up around 8am, shower in the communal block, breakie of wheetabix and a cuppa, pack up the tent and out of the campsite by 10am. We made our way south on route 1 back to Auckland, taking in the last stretch of the Twin Discovery Coast Road. All the roads in NZ are like our A roads at home- 1 lane each way- so getting on a multi-lane motorway around Auckland was a bit of a shock. But we made it through okay and then headed East towards the Coromandel Peninsula. Our aim was to get to Hot Water Beach on the East coast on the peninsula, but had some back up options just in case because of our experience with the super slow roads in the upper Northland region. But we got there in no time at all (2 1/2 hr from Auckland). The Coromandel Peninsula is gorgeous. Green forests and scenic coastline everywhere. There are a lot of advertisements along the side of the road trying to tempt the cosmopolitan business people of Auckland to buy a “Boat, Bach and Beach house” to “live the dream”. And you can see why. Its my favourite part of the North Island so far. There was only 1 campsite at Hot Water Beach (HWB) which was the ‘HWB Top 10 Holiday Park’. Not our favourite has to be said (absolutely packed with young families) but great location and we were pleased to be out of the car enjoying the sunny weather.  So  HWB…scalding water pulses out of the sand at low tide. I’m still not 100% how/why (hot spring underneath the beach?). But you can access the hot spring area to dig your very own hot water pool 2 hours before and after low tide. We had just missed low tide for that afternoon and as we had to make tracks south the next morning, we realised that to how our HWB experience we would have to get up for the 3.45am low tide the next morning! So we hired our spade from reception, set our alarm for 4.30am and got an early night.

We got down to the beach just after 5am, guided by our head torch through the wooded footpath. We followed our directions (turn left from footpath and find a hot bit in front of the rocks), and soon found a bit where steam was rising from the sand and we could feel the warmth even through our sandals. Needless to say we were the only crazy ones there at that time, so we had the beach all to ourselves which is rare by all accounts. By the time we had dug a pit the tide was pretty much on us. But we managed to dip our toes in the pool…it was boiling!…before the tide came and washed our efforts away. We were only there 15 mins really, and then made our way back to camp and back to bed for 2 hours. Not the greatest HWB experience but an experience all the same and we were pleased we had made the effort to do it!

After shower, breakie, pack the tent away (you know the score!) we made our way a little more north to Hahei to visit Cathedral Cove. From the carpark it is a 20 minute walk down to the beach. We got there by 10am which was great as it was still really quiet (it gets rammed by lunch time). The beach is a “wow” one- white sands, white rocks, sea caves, archways and waterfalls. We spent some time on the beach through the archway, but realised the tide was still coming in and we didn’t want to get stranded so we had to lift all our stuff over our heads and leg it back through the arch to the main beach…quite a funny sight! However in the frenzy, Hedd lost his second pair of sunglasses on the trip being hit sideways by a wave! I wonder how many pairs he’ll get through come the end of the 5 1/2 months! We braved the waterfall, which was freezing, and then headed into the sea to play amongst the waves. Before we knew it, these waves got enormous and we were being bashed about by them. In the end a huge one took Hedd and I under and spit us out at the shore with me frankly trying to put my bikini back on and Hedd nursing a nasty sand burn on his hip! We called it a day then, rinsing off under the waterfall and enjoying the sun on the beach. As the crowds began to come at mid day we headed back up the hill to the car, had lunch overlooking the stunning coast, and then headed back on the road south towards Rotorua.

So Rotorua as a city is a bit of a dump. The locals call it RotoVegas as its gambling its natural charms for a quick tourist buck. But Rotorua is the most geothermal area in NZ and the world (after Yellowstone, Iceland and Kamchatka), and smells like one too! The first thing we noticed when driving in Rotorua was the smell of eggs from the sulphur in the hot springs! We camped up at Kiwipackers near the centre of town but in the less smelly end, had tea and went to bed- we were exhausted after our 4.30am start!

So our full day in Rotorua (13th Jan) began with a visit to the Mud Pool just outside Rotorua in Waiotapu. Mudpools I discovered occur when steam condenses into water near the soil surface resulting in a acidic soup turning the surrounding rock into a soft mud that bubbles and burps as more steam and gas escapes. Geology lesson aside, the mud pools were really fun to watch as the belching holes flung mud burps at each other, hissing and spluttering and plopping as they went. We then continued on the Waiotapu loop road to Waikite Valley Thermal Pools. The pools are fed by the Te Manaroa spring which had the largest discharge of boiling water in NZ. From the boiling spring there is a network of terraces set up to cool the water so by the time they get in the pools the water is a cosy 34-39 degrees.  Plus its mineral water so no rotten egg sulphur smell here! The local community funded the thermal pools development too so it was a quite reasonable $18 entry.

After the pools we felt pretty wiped out, so headed back to camp to chill before our evening activities began- jam packed day! We got picked up at 6pm for our Mitai Maori Village experience which included a Hangi Dinner, and our night time Rainbow Springs tour. First thing we noticed when we got dropped off at the ‘village’ was the amount of people- loads of us! We had to cue to get into the holding pen, oh sorry the marque, and shown to our table for the evening. Our MC for the evening was funny, if a little odd, and asked everyone where they were from greeting each nation in their own language each time. Even Welsh! It was quite impressive. Worked out that we were a ‘tribe’ of 25 nations that evening. The massive ‘tribe’ got split up into 2  and got taken to see the Hangi meal. Traditionally the Maori food gets cooked underground in mud on hot stones. However health and safety means the ‘village’ can’t do this for mass catering so the food in just put in the hangi arrangement to keep it warm. A bit disappointing. We then got taken down to the small river to see the Maori warriors come in on a ancient war canoe. That was quite cool to see and they all made funny faces, wide eyed and tongues sticking out. Although some of the guys didn’t look too warrior to me…a bit too many take aways from down the road the ‘village chief’ later told us! We were then taken to an open air auditorium with a raised stage with a set up village on top of it to see the Maori concert. All the guys and girls were in traditional dress with painted faces, arms, legs and even bums! They performed lots of songs and dances for us and performed the Hacker at the end. It was fun to watch but completely contrived and I even caught some of the ‘Maori’s’ yawning during the show which was a bit sad to see. We all then headed back to the holding pen, ooh sorry marque, for the ‘Hangi’ meal. Far play to Mitai, the food was delicious- lamb, chicken, stuffing, roast sweet and normal potatoes, veg, salad, 4 choices of dessert….yum! After dinner the MC “to fill time”, told us some Maori stories which were actually really interesting and we both felt that there should have been more of that in the evening and not less. But alas no!

We were quite ready when the staff from the Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park came to pick us up for the next part of the night. We went and saw the glow worms at the spring, twinkling in the dark. Then the guide took us around the park, showing us trout up close and lots of birds. The guide was super knowledgeable and passionate about animals and told us all about the plants we were passing and the animal sounds we were hearing in the night. But the highlight absolutely was the kiwi enclosure. They are nocturnal creatures so you have to come at night to see them. So at 9.30pm we were perfectly times and after around 10 mins of silently waiting, a kiwi came out to forage for bugs. Oh my goodness, these animals are cute! Hedd and I were right at the front and the kiwi kept on going around and around in circles foraging right in front of us so we got to see them up close. They are fluffy balls of features with beady eyes and a long cream beak and they are so cool! Seeing one so close made my night. So verdict on the evening- overpriced and contrived but perhaps the only way to experience Maori culture up close in Rotorua? I hope I’m wrong. But the kiwi encounter topped it all by far!

Coromandel Peninsula and Rotorua in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Hot and sunny on Coromandel Peninsula. Showery and a bit cold in Rotorua.
  • Food= Wheetabix breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and anything on toast for tea!
  • Drink= Cider and Kiwi ‘L&P lemon and lime drink’
  • Car snack of choice= Mint Imperials
  • Coolest animal encountered so far on this trip= THE KIWI!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

The drive to the Coromandel was fun, we twisted and turned through a forest for what seemed like forever before emerging on the east coast. The coastline looked lovely and I wish we had spend more time there. We only had 1 night and half a day but we crammed a lot into that time. Getting up at 4am to go to hot water beach was a bit farcical and set the tone for the rest of the day, where I ended up getting robbed and beaten up by the sea at Cathedral Cove. Yes, you heard me, the SEA! Bloody waves first they knocked my sunglasses off my head, then they knocked me off my feet. I’ve never been dragged under by the current before, quite scary and painful as I slammed against the sand and suffered quite a bad “sand burn”. But despite this, I loved the Coromandel area and would go back there again for round 2 with the sea!!

I was planning to rant and rave about our time in Rotorua next, but as this is supposed to be a short section I’ll just say this: If you want to learn about the Mauri people, don’t go visit any Mauri villages in Rotorua, go to a museum or talk to the locals, save your money. The show we went on was tourism at its worse, fake, crammed with “typical tourists” and far too expensive! It made me very grateful for our authentic village visits Fiji. That being said, the lamb they served was very good!


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