Coromandel Road Trip – See the Best of the Peninsula

This Coromandel road trip from Auckland explores the more remote parts of the peninsula, including the Coromandel Coastal Walkway.  The majority of the trip is via campervan, which offers flexibility and opportunities to see as much of this magnificent and remote area as possible.

This itinerary is about self-guided travel, giving the flexibility to see the best of the Coromandels in reasonable comfort, while keeping an eye on costs.  New Zealand travel costs can be an issue, particularly with campervan and RV hire.  Fuel costs are relatively high, compared to Australia.

The vast majority of visitors to the Coromandel Peninsula tend to stay around the southern part.  This is much to see and do, but it’s worth the effort to go north past Coromandel Town to see some of the most beautiful coastal scenery New Zealand’s North Island has to offer.

We enjoyed planning this trip, and we hope this post gives you, our reader, some ideas on how to get the most out of this beautiful region of New Zealand.  If you have any questions, or thoughts, drop us a line using the comment box below.

Coromandel Road Trip Itinerary – Where it Takes You

Duration: 8 to 13 days
Distance: 686 kms

Coromandel Road Trip Start – Auckland

This New Zealand road trip begins in Auckland.   It’s here most travellers pick up their vehicle.  The vehicle for this road trip is a VW Caravelle, fitted with a roof top tent.  It’s a typical people mover, with the rear seats taken out to provide additional cargo space for gear.

Campervan Setup
Campervan Setup – Mark II

The essential camping gear carried in the vehicle is:

  • 3m x 3m gazebo with walls. Provides cover and protection from the elements.  A sheet of shade cloth provides a durable and convenient floor for the gazebo.
  • Waeco 50 litre 12v/24v/240V fridge/freezer. Can be run off the auxiliary battery in the vehicle or directly from powered camp sites.
  • Folding chairs and tables.
  • Bedding – double sleeping bag with pillows and doona.
  • Butane gas cookers, with assorted cookware, cutlery and crockery.
  • LED lighting.
  • Plan on paying somewhere around NZ$150 – $175 per day for this basic setup. We added in the gazebo/flooring ourselves.

First Stopover – Flaxmill Bay

Distance Auckland to Flaxmill Bay Campground: 178 kms
Travel time: 3 hrs 30 mins with breaks
Time Spent: 2 – 4 days (excluding travel day)
Cost per night (powered site/2 people): NZ$75 per night (expect to pay more over peak holiday periods around Xmas and Easter)

Because of the flexibility offered by the campervan setup, the first choice in places to stay is campgrounds.  The first destination on this Coromandel road trip is Flaxmill Bay Campground. It’s a nice introduction to the whole area.

To get from Auckland to Coromandel, drive south from Auckland along State Highway 1, then take Exit 477 to get onto State Highway 2. Flaxmill Bay as a destination isn’t recognised by Google Maps and some GPS units.  Key in ‘Ferry Landing’ and it will direct you towards the end of Purangi Road.  It’s here you will see the entry point to the campground.

The campground itself has excellent facilities, with grassy campsites set amongst trees.  There are showers ($2 coin for hot water), toilets and an outdoor eating area. There is a camp kitchen with gas cooktops, commercial grade fridges and freezers for use by guests.  There’s also a good Wi-Fi service for all the digital nomads.

For those who don’t want to camp, there are holiday houses and cottages available for rent.   Both are fully self-contained.

There are 11 holiday houses and 4 cottages, two holidays houses of which have wheelchair friendly access.  The houses are spacious, fully-equipped suitable for family or group accommodation, while the cottages are best suited for couples.

Things to See and Do Around Flaxmill Bay

Beautiful Flaxmill Bay
Idyllic Flaxmill Bay

The whole area is simply beautiful.  Spending a few days here will give any visitor an opportunity to take in the sheer natural beauty of this part of the Coromandels.

  • Start the day on the right note with a healthy breakfast at Eggcentric Café and Restaurant, a five-minute stroll from the camp ground. With its unique décor, local art and garden settings; you don’t visit this place, you immerse yourself into it. It’s also opens for lunch and dinner.  Do check their website, as they close up shop during the cooler months of the year.
  • Visit Cathedral Cove. There are boat tours that operate from Hahei Beach and other locations.  These tours give the opportunity to see some of the marine life of the area.  Either from the boats, or by donning a snorkel and mask.  During the cooler months it is common to see seals, and on rare occasions, Orca.

For a truly unique experience, and to get up close to this part of the coastline, we’d personally recommend Cathedral Cove Kayak Tours. They run tours daily during the busier times, and the guides know the area like the back of their hand.  They also do a really great ‘smoko’ (morning tea break).

  • Catch the passenger ferry over to Whitianga (pronounced ‘fitti-anga’). A return ticket costs NZ$7 and the crossing takes about 5 minutes. Whitianga is a bustling town with great cafés, restaurants and pubs.  If you’re running short of basics, there are some major supermarkets (New World, Countdown, Four Square) located a short walk from the ferry.  Nearby there’s The Warehouse, which stocks just about everything from clothing to camping gear.

Alternatively, it’s possible to drive to Whitianga, but it takes about 40 minutes.

There’s also tourist information centre in the main part of town.  The staff are very helpful in sorting out tours, accommodation and providing general information on the area.

  • Take a walk to Shakespeare Cliff Scenic and Historic Reserve. It’s a 2.5-kilometre (1.5 mile) round trip, with a stairway to get up to the top.  However, the effort is worth it with incredible views taking in the whole panorama.  Better still, take a bottle of bubbles and some local cheese and have a picnic in the cleared area at the top.
  • A visitor is spoilt for choice when it comes to local beaches. Flaxmill Bay Beach, Lonely Bay Beach, Cooks Beach (by far the best for swimming), Hahei Beach.
  • Grab a spade and dig yourself your own personal spa pool to relax in at Hot Water Beach, with geothermic underground springs bubbling hot water up through the sand at temperatures around 60oC (140oF).  This is a ‘must-do’ in the Coromandels!

Depending on the time of year you’re in the area, go to a festival.

  • Concert in the Vines (January) – Food, wine and music at the Mercury Bay Estate & Lonely Bay Vineyard.
  • Cooks Beach Summer Gala (January) – hundreds of stalls supporting the local primary school.
  • Leadfoot Festival (February) – As the name suggests, a weekend of classic cars, motorcycles, their devoted owners and admirers.
  • Mercury Bay Art Escape (March) – See what’s happening with local artists.
  • The Scallop Festival (September) – centred in Whitianga, it celebrates this seafood delicacy.
  • Pohutukawa Festival (November) – coincides with the flowering of NZ’s native Christmas Tree.

Second Stopover – Coromandel Town & Surrounds

Distance Flaxmill Bay to Coromandel Town: 80 kms
Travel time: 1 hr 30 mins
Time Spent: 2 – 4 days (excluding travel day)
Cost per night (powered site/2 people): NZ$30 – $50 per night

It’s a short drive over the peninsula to Coromandel Town.  There are two ways to get from Flaxmill Bay to Coromandel.   The more direct route goes south on Highway 25, then through Caroglen, Kaimarama, Waiau into Coromandel from a south easterly direction.

The second route detours through Whitianga, then around Mercury Bay up to Kuaotunu and then across to Coromandel Town.  This adds about 20 minutes to the road trip, but the scenery along the way makes it worth it.  Tree ferns and greenery cloaking the rugged landscape.

Coromandel is where the visitor changes down a gear or two.  It’s a busy town during the peak holiday season, but this doesn’t mask its charm and character.  It is a good placed to be located to branch off and explore the more remote parts of the northern Coromandels.

There are a couple of good campgrounds/holiday parks close to the town.

Where to Stay

Shelly Beach TOP 10 Holiday Park

This is located 5 kilometres (3 miles) north of Coromandel Town along the Colville Road.  It has a mix of lodge rooms, cabins, units and camping accommodation with both powered and unpowered sites.

A recent addition to the campground are glamping pods, six in total.  These are compact, boutique structures of wooden construction with curved roofs.

One of the trends happening on a universal scale is the move towards glamping, with traditional campgrounds catering for a more upmarket visitor looking for that unique experience.  Visitors staying in the pods use the common toilet/shower/kitchen facilities at this point in time, but I’m sure this will change as their popularity grows.

Layout and Facilities

There is a common dining and entertainment room with sofa, wooden tables/chairs.  Shared kitchen facilities are good, with gas cooktops, sinks, fridge/freezers and island table.

Lodge accommodation has its own exclusive dining/lounge and kitchen area, which is light and roomy.

The shower/toilet block is large enough for a campground of its size, and is central to the camping area.  No long hikes in the middle of the night to go to the toilet.

Again, the trend in campgrounds that have a great location like this is the move towards increasing visitor density with a consequent increase in the number of people staying.  A side issue is some campgrounds don’t increase the size of the common facilities to cater for the increase in visitor numbers.  This is not the case with this holiday park.

Fishing is a large drawcard here.  There is a separate parking area for boats and associated vehicles, so the campground doesn’t become a congested parking lot.

Generally, it’s an enjoyable place to stay with the local staff being very friendly and helpful. It’s right on the water, and is family friendly with outdoor movie screenings during the busier times.

For more information and details on accommodation options and prices, head over to their website.

Long Bay Motor Camp

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Located about 3 kilometres (1.9 miles) north of town, this is the traditional, no frills family owned and operated holiday park.  It has a great location and the campsites along the front have uninterrupted views across the bay.

The only downside to the front campsites is when the wind picks up.  It gets very blustery and unpleasant.

Layout and Facilities

There are free-standing cabins, five in total, suitable for up to six people each.  Another three attached cabins with a shared verandah/deck.  There’s also a beach front unit that is fully self-contained.

The main camping area consists of 52 powered sites and 26 non-powered sites.  Campsite size is generous and can accommodate RVs, caravans and larger campervans.

The common kitchen is small for a park of this size.  This also goes for the showers and toilets. It’s also a hike to the toilet/showers from the extremities of the park.

A boat ramp is located along the front, and used by the public as well as those staying in the campground.  This can lead to traffic coming and going.  We are here during the peak New Year season, and it isn’t a big issue.  Maybe because it was windy during our stay, keeping the regulars away.

The reception area has a small store where bread and basic items can be purchased.  They also make a really good coffee.

Wraps and sandwiches can be bought at a small food van by the interesting name of the “Shag Shack”, permanently located near the front entrance to the camp ground.

Wi-Fi access can be purchased from reception.  The speed and reliability is not particularly good, so those amongst us who are digital nomads may need to go into town to get access to a more reliable service.

Des and Leanne, who own and run the facility, are wonderful people.  They are generous and helpful to all visitors who stay with them.

Adjacent to the Long Bay campground is Tucks Bay, also managed by Des and Leanne. 25 campsites here are non-powered with basic composting toilets and town water access.  They are for the more self-sufficient, down to earth campers.

Things to Do Around Coromandel

The pristine, natural beauty of the Coromandel Peninsula north of the town means it’s just right for getting up close to a sparse, unpopulated environment.

With hundreds of kilometres of coastline backed by a rugged landscape, there’s two experiences that are a ‘must-do’.

The Coromandel Coastal Walkway

Coromandel Coastal Walkway Route

This is a 10-kilometre (6.2 mile) one-way walk from Stony Bay to Fletcher Bay on the furthermost tip of the peninsula.  The trail is well marked, and tracks along the tops of the cliffs in some stretches to give panoramic views across the ocean.

There is one steep section where the trail dips down to Poley Bay and then rises back up again, other than that it’s pretty much flat travelling.

We choose to ride the walkway on electric powered mountain bikes (e-MTBs). Just to be different.  These electric motor-powered bikes are simply awesome.

Leanne and Gavin from Bush e Bikes, who are based in town and run an excellent Coromandel bike hire business.  They hire both standard mountain bikes and electric mountain bikes.  They look after getting us and the bikes up to Stony Bay and picking us up from Fletcher Bay after the ride.  It takes about 2.5 hours going via Kennedy Bay and Tuateawa to get to Stony Bay.

The roads north of Colville are unsealed, but in good condition.  If you’re in a hire campervan or vehicle, check your T&C’s carefully before you drive around this part of the peninsula.  There may be an exclusion condition about driving north of Colville, basically meaning you’re not covered if an accident occurs.

We set off on the e-MTBs and rode/walked the 10 kilometres.  The dip and rise out of Poley Bay meant we put the ‘Walk Assist’ on the e-MTBs to good use.

There is a dedicated mountain bike trail from Stony Bay to Fletcher Bay, but our understanding it’s very steep, often slippery and technical in places.

Coromandel Coastal Walkway Views

This particular walkway is better as a hiking/tramping experience rather than a e-MTB experience.  Simply because of the width of the trail in parts and the more technical/steep sections getting into and out of Poley Bay. But we’re glad we did it.

However, the day before we did an 18 km e-MTB ride from the top of the range above Coromandel down to Colville.  This is the ultimate e-MTB experience. The Big Day Out.

Bush e Bikes ‘Big Day Out’

e-MTB Ride To Colville Route

This is a self-guided tour offered by Leanne and Gavin.  To do the full tour is 56 kms (35 mile) return to Coromandel.

We don’t do the full trip.  Leanne offers a shorter version of this tour by dropping us and the e-MTBs up at the top of the range at Tokatea.

The ride goes along a trail in the secluded bush, which opens up onto private farmland that only Bush e Bikes have access to.  The views are just stunning.

We stop for a break, to take in the vista before us.  The property owner, Zane and his wife drop by in their AV, to say ‘Hello’ and welcome us.

The last 7 kilometres is on the sealed road into Colville.  Before we get to our destination, we take a break at the Mahamudra Buddhist Centre.

The more adventurous will ride back to Coromandel, hugging the coast road.  However, we stop here in Colville, have a bite to eat and a coffee.  We reflect on the day, the unparalleled beauty and sheer magnificence of it all.

The 18 kms we’ve ridden is the best of the best.  And that’s good enough for us. Gavin will pick us up around 5:30pm to take us back to Coromandel.

This day I become a staunch convert.  Not to a god, but to e-MTBs.

Leanne and Gavin put together this shorter tour for us.  They are extremely accommodating, and if you want to get the best of the northern peninsula, drop in and see them.

Things to See and Do in Colville

Colville is not a big place, but an interesting one.  In the 1970’s the Coromandel Peninsula became the place for hippy communes.  People seeking a more peaceful and simpler life.

The communes have all but disappeared, but Colville still has the wonderful feel of an era when Love and Peace was both the journey and the destination.

  • Visit the Mahamudra Centre for Universal Unity – See the Stupa at the entrance. Walk around the tranquil surroundings, and take in the mural depicting significant events in the life of the Buddha. Visit the bookshop and see some of the unique statuettes from Tibet.
  • Drop into the Himalaya Shop – lots of unique clothing, gifts and handmade artefacts both from local and overseas crafts people.
  • Walk through the Colville General Store – one of the last true general stores, where you can buy just about anything.
  • Have a bite to eat at the Hereford ‘n’ Pickle – Great coffee and even better burgers. The perfect place to reflect on the day that’s been.

Third Stopover – Whangamata

Distance Coromandel Town to Whangamata (via Thames): 110 kms
Travel time: 2 hrs
Time Spent: 1 – 2 days (excluding travel day)

The Coromandel road trip takes us down the west coast of the peninsula into Thames.  This is a major town in the area, and it a good place to stock up on any items after the stay in Coromandel.  Staying on Highway 25 through Kopu,  Opoutere, Onemana then into Whangamata (pronounced ‘fah-anga-mah-tah’).

This stopover takes in a unique kayak paddle that’s worth doing to a small island off the coast called Whenuakura Island (Donut Island).

The island is close to shore at Whangamata, and the unique aspect of the paddle is to be able to access a lagoon in the centre of the island by a narrow channel from the sea.

Things to See and Do in Whangamata

If adventure travel is your thing, there’s a few ‘must-do’ experiences, in addition to the Donut Island paddle, you can tick off your list here.

  • Whangamata Matariki Forest Trails – there’s well established mountain bike trails catering for all abilities. Gold was found in this region years ago, and parts of the trail follow the old bullock trails used to service the mining settlements.
  • Go Surfing – the beaches in the area are pristine, in particular Whangamata Beach. It was voted the best beach in New Zealand in 2018, and its left-hand break attracts surfers from all around the world.
  • Parakiwai Valley Walk – This walk follows an old tramway track. Walkers go through a 20-metre tunnel and get up close to a beautiful waterfall at the far end.  Allow 3.5 hours return.
  • Hauraki Rail Trail – it’s a 30 km (18.5 mile) drive from Whangamata to put you onto the famous rail trail at Waihi. It can get busy over holidays, with up to 1000 walkers/riders on the trail on any one day.

 If you’re looking for a more cultural experience, then drop into some galleries in town.

  • The Little Gallery – get to look at, and purchase, some original works by local artists.
  • Kauri Cliff Gallery – see some of the unique wood sculptures by award winning sculptor Tony Howse.

Best Place to Stay

We spend a few days here, just checking out the town and its unique look and feel.  Our stay is with Maryann and Russell at their farm on the outskirts of town.  Wonderful hosts in a tranquil location. Cost at the time of booking is NZ$135 per night.

Return to Auckland

Distance from Whangamata to Auckland: 160 kms
Travel time: 2 hrs 30 minutes with stop

The last day is back to Auckland, to return the campervan and get out to Auckland Airport for the return trip home.

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Department of Conservation – Coromandel Campgrounds

The New Zealand Department of Conservation operate a number of basic camp grounds across the Coromandel Peninsula to cater for travellers.

Visitors undertaking a New Zealand road trip require a campsite pass if travelling in a campervan, which varies in cost from $30 per single adult up to $90 for a family for seven consecutive days.  They can be purchased through the major campervan hire companies.

Walkers doing the Coromandel Coastal Walkway will find the following camping grounds perfect if they want to stay for a few days.

  • Fantail Bay Campsite
  • Fletcher Bay Campsite
  • Port Jackson Campsite
  • Stony Bay Campsite

Always check beforehand on the DoC website for any closures or alerts.

Special Thanks

During this Coromandel road trip, we had the pleasure, and privilege, of staying with some amazing people.

Sue and Phillip Noble – many thanks for accommodating us, while Marise frantically sorted out some last-minute campervan issues; and fitting in a kayak paddle as well!

Andre Hodgskin – a huge thanks for your wonderful hospitality at “High Hills”, and being our guide and driver as we gathered last minute supplies and gear before setting out on this road trip.

Last Look

Just to capture the beautiful experiences to be had with this New Zealand Road Trip.

How We Travel

Our general approach to travel is:-

  • Being as self sufficient/flexible as possible. Hire a basic campervan, or take our own 4WD with camper trailer, staying at quality holiday parks and camping grounds that cater for recreational vehicles.  Where appropriate, we bush camp. We don’t join extended package tours; they don’t work for us.  Some of the most wonderful experiences we’ve had were locals telling us about a place we’d not even heard of.  Change our itinerary, and go and see/do it.  Likewise, if a place doesn’t suit, we just keep going.
  • If we’re travelling off-season, we normally book where we’re staying a few days ahead of where we are on the road.  However, we always book our first night or two, and our last night before departure; before we leave home.
  • Depending on location or the weather,  we may book a cabin or an AirBnB.
  • Use short self-guided/guided tours for a some locations and attractions.  This gives us access to the right gear, and the local knowledge.
  • Self cater as much as possible, with the occasional dining out experience.  Marise is an expert in putting together simple, tasty, wholesome meals that can be cooked on a single burner butane stove.

This approach gives the best value for our budget; and almost unlimited flexibility.

The caveat on this approach is there is a need to plan ahead carefully, and be flexible and adaptive during the road trip.  If something goes pear shaped at the last minute, there is no travel operator to sort it out.  You just have to get on the phone, and talk to people to get an alternative in place. Read our trip notes on the campervan story.

Resources and Further Information

Flaxmill Bay Campground accommodation –  www.flaxmillbay.co.nz/accommodation

Eggcentric Café and Restaurant –  www.eggsentriccafe.co.nz

Cathedral Cove Kayak Tours – www.kayaktours.co.nz

Long Bay Motor Camp –  longbaymotorcamp.co.nz

Full Big Day Out – Tokatea Trail – bushebikes.co.nz/big-day-out

Coromandel Discovery Tours (also run by Leanne and Gavin) – www.coromandeldiscovery.com/tours

Donut Island Kayak Tours – – www.pedalandpaddle.co.nz/donutisland

Complete list of things to see and do around Whangamata – www.thecoromandel.com/activities-around-whangamata

Department of Conservation Camping (Coromandels) – www.doc.govt.nz/camping-coromandels

Maryann and Russell’s AirBnB – www.airbnb.com.au/Studio-413

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  1. Kendall

    I’ve always wanted to visit New Zealand. The road trip idea looks like so much fun!

  2. Nicola

    This trip looks like a dream! We’re looking at heading to New Zealand this year so we’ll need to follow in your footsteps! Thank you for sharing all the details!

    • Keith

      You’re very welcome Nicola. It’s a great holiday destination.

  3. Danijela

    Sometimes the best way to travel is by a campervan. So true, it offers such flexibility and a chance to stop whenever you feel like it. Didn’t know that fuel is more expensive in New Zealand.
    Nice tips you have here.
    Flaxmill Bay looks just gorgeous, would love to visit someday.

    • Keith

      Fuel, and camper van hire, is much more expensive in NZ than in Australia. For camper van hire, it’s by about a factor of 2. Even though the exchange rate for overseas visitors works in their favour, we advise people to shop around and book early if you can.

  4. Maggie

    I’ve never heard of this area of New Zealand but it sounds really interesting. I know I’d want to do the DOnut Island kayak tour because I love kayak tours! And I’d also like to test out the e-bikes. We actually have those here in DC, but those are city bikes, not ones made for trails, so I’m interested to see how they differ!

    • Keith

      It’s beautiful Maggie. Well worth a visit. Do try the e-MTBs. You won’t regret it. 🙂

  5. Sage

    To take a trip like this would truly be a dream come true. I have long wanted to visit New Zealand. I mean, just look at how gorgeous it is from your photos!

    • Keith

      It sure is a beautiful place to visit. Well worth a visit. Just got to put it on your bucket list. 🙂

  6. Vanessa (Wanders Miles)

    I’ve always fancied visiting New Zealand and this road trip round Coromandel looks fantastic and the W Caravelle looks like the perfect choice to take you around. Flaxmill Bay looks so idyllic, I bet the walk to Shakespeare Cliff Scenic and Historic Reserve is a lovely experience. I’d be well up for the Bush e Bikes tour to see the lovely landscape at its best. Great article!

    • Keith

      Thanks Vanessa. The Coromandels is a sparsely populated, incredibly beautiful part of NZ. It’s not hard to get away from the crowds, even over busy periods like Christmas.

  7. Audrey C

    Thanks for outlining such an interesting itinerary with so much to see and do. I’m really interested in trying out e-bikes and glamping on a trip after reading your post. And the scenery looks amazing!

    • Keith

      Thanks Audrey. I can tell you – e-bikes are the way to go! When you get the chance, try one.

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