We spent three and one-half days on the Coromandel Peninsula. Just a little over two hours from Auckland, we had a leisurely and easy drive through rolling pastureland to Thames which is located at the base of the peninsula and is the largest city of the Coromandel with a population of 10,000. The rest of the peninsula contains small towns or hamlets; the main ones being Coromandel Town (pop 1600) and Whitianga (pop 3600 + growing). We spent two nights in Thames and two in Whitianga. The peninsula is a major summer destination spot for Aucklanders and New Zealanders alike, drawn to the region for its amazing seascapes & beaches as well as the hiking and camping that can be done in the Coromandel Forest Range. We really enjoyed the area and are having some serious talks about moving here (see Real Estate section below).
In Thames, we stayed at the Gateway Backpackers, a well-located but nondescript two building backpackers located in a residential area just two blocks from the main strip. We had a perfectly suitable double room and only shared the property with a handful of other guests. This was also one of the cheapest places we’ve stayed with a double room costing only $42/night.
In Whitianga, we stayed at the aptly named On The Beach Backpackers. This was a larger facility but we had a lot more privacy as all of the double/twin rooms were located in little ‘quads’: two bedrooms together with a shared a common kitchen, living room and bathroom. The bedrooms were cozy but having the quad afforded us some quiet time and meant we only ever had to ‘socialize’ with one other couple. The first night the other room was occupied by a Canadian couple in their fifties, Marie and Barry, who had recently retired and were on a two-month bicycling tour of the north and south islands. The second night we had different roomies, Jen from Ireland and Kiwi Grant, two folks in their late twenties who were traveling around the country searching for some good surfing waves and normally camped out in their van, but on this occasion, (see weather below) decided to seek respite from the inclement weather. We enjoyed chatting with each couple as all of us tended to dine around the same time.
We enjoyed two days of pleasant weather and one day of wild storms. We had heard on the news a few days earlier that a big cyclone (hurricane) had hit parts of Australia, causing lots of damage. Unbeknownst to us, the storm was now heading for NZ and hit the north island during the evening of our first night in Whitianga. Whitianga and the surrounding area is supposedly great for kayaking and snorkeling/diving and we were looking forward to our one day in town to enjoy the water. Well, we enjoyed water in a different way, that is, by watching it fiercely come down and blow against our glass door as we sat inside reading for an entire day. The storm raged for about 36 hours and took down one of the phone lines out front. That’s all we saw of Whitianga as we left town the next day.
We mainly ate in, having tired a bit of the fried foods we’d been eating and preferring to have a few healthy meals of salad and bread.
We did manage to find the organic food co-op which we tend to seek out in every town. Thames had a lovely little store and we had a nice chat with one of the employees (or maybe she was the owner?). She was a Canadian gal who’d been in the country for twenty years and had studied organic farming down at the Polytechnic Institute in Christchurch – she gave us a few contacts to look up when we get there.
There was even an organic co-op in the tiny, tiny hamlet of Colville (north of Coromandel Town, population something like 100). Of course we pulled over and stopped to take a peak, finding a really impressive selection of organic products.
We also attended the Saturday morning farmers market (every town seems to have them) where we picked up some delicious homemade fruit bread, sun dried tomatoes, some veggies, and a big hunk of smoked salmon which served as our meal for the two nights we were in Whitianga. Mmmm, mmmm, good.
A general comment on food: There appear to be four grocery store chains in the country: New World Markets (upscale); Pak n Save (the cheapest and you pack your own groceries, kind of like a Costco), Woolworths, and Countdown. Food is reasonably priced; meat seems a whole lot cheaper than in the States. The stores generally have a small section of organic produce; again, same as in the States. It seems best to buy your organics at the smaller co-ops.
Not too much to say here. Everyone we meet is pleasant and friendly and always receptive when we say we’re new migrants. Clothing attire is just the same as home – jeans & tees and casual wear. There are little boutique shops in each town and any town that’s sizeable has a Farmers which is the only department store chain in the country. I’ve snooped through a couple of them and they seem to carry a decent selection of clothing, housewares, and the like. All shops do close at 5 pm though; there’s no mall-crawling in the evenings like in the States. I think that’s a good thing; although it must be hard for ‘worker-bees’ to tackle any chores during week days.
We enjoy perusing the realty company shopfronts and always pick up the booklets with the regions’ for sale properties. The Coromandel is fairly pricey due to its close proximity to Auckland. Seafront properties can command $700,000+; but there were a lot of small sections with very nice homes located inland in the $300k range and some in the high $200s.
The main realty companies are:
I think Harcourts is one of the largest in the country and they have a database with good search features. If you’re so inclined, search for property CO930. We saw this property in one of the books and are just salivating over it. It is the perfect property for the ‘artist colony’. We’ve got our agent making some inquiries and we may just fly up to go see it in a few weeks.
Here’s the skinny:
Vida-Earth Sanctuary. Encompassing 28 ha (70 acres) of beautiful native forest with guided trails, waterfalls, rolling pasture, river and swimming holes, streams and organic gardens. Presently Vida is a holistic center with a large Macrocarpa (type of pine) building offering earth inspired sleeping spaces relaxed open lounge areas, library and dining areas and spacious kitchen. There are other retreat and workshop buildings. Whether your dream is of a retreat center, an eco village, organic gardens or purely a sanctuary to live and be….. to be guardian of this rare and precious land…. Is it calling your name?
This IS the dream property we’ve been fantasizing about and it’s caused us some sleepless nights as we discuss whether we’re ready to pursue such a big undertaking. My mind had been set on moving into the house in Christchurch and settling there for a few years while we gain more knowledge on organics & permaculture. I certainly wasn’t prepared for the potential to find the dream property so soon. But…….if it shows up on your doorstep, sometimes you just have to invite it in……. There’s still a lot to investigate so we’ll see what happens. No matter what, it’s a good exercise to go through as we need to be ready to act when the right time comes.
Memorable Moments & Fun Stuff:
We elected to stay in Thames as this was the jumping off spot for the Pinnacles hike in the Coromandel Forest. The seven hour round-trip hike is supposed to offer incredible views of jagged peaks (the Pinnacles) and lovely forested vistas. As Bruce mentioned in a previous post, the last part of the trail was closed for maintenance and the clouds were lying low that day, so we didn’t get much of either. We did have a lovely hike though through some neat tropical forest with several kinds of ferns and palms in the lower valley that changed to manuka and other trees as we climbed up the mountainside. We learned a lot about the Kauri logging that occurred in the late 1800’s and 1930’s which decimated the area of these beautiful trees.
On one of our drives we stopped for a short hike off of Road 309 to one of the oldest standing group of Kauri’s, about eight of them which were purported to be over 600 hundred years old. These trees are massive, much like the Pacific Northwest Redwood trees, and tower above the forest canopy, many with large palmed epiphytes nested into their boughs.
We had a very quick perusal at Wilderness Gems which had the largest display of ‘for sale’ gems, minerals, and rock treasures in the South Pacific. We didn’t have much time there, but I did manage to pick up a few stones for my collection.
New Zealand is a very thermally active country and every town seems to have a thermal spa/mineral pool complex. We enjoyed our Friday evening at the thermal springs in Miranda. This consisted of a very large olympic-sized warm pool, a 20+ person hot pool, and a couple of private hot tubs, all surrounded by a lovely grassy area with covered picnic tables and they offered the opportunity to purchase some yummy hot meals of fries, sausages, burgers, and fish. We spent a good 3+ hours there, soaking in the pools, and watching the goings-on of the forty or so folks who came through, many of them teens, and many who obviously knew each other. I rather liked this community-feel; people were coming in after a week of work to chill out, have a picnic, and socialize with each other. I loved it!
We also did a lot of driving along the coastline around the entire peninsula. This included a three hour drive on an unsealed windy mountainous road where we stumbled upon the very Stinson Beach-like hamlet of Little Bay and observed a beach wedding in progress. This is also where we started to smell our breaks as we put a lot of pressure on them as we came down off the mountain. Time to have a car checkup!