Undiscovered Aotearoa: A Facet of Coromandel You’ve Never Seen

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Kiwis love hidden treasures, so we’re on a mission to find them. Undiscover Aotearoa is a video series directed by Brook Sabin and Radha Engling to discover the best bits of New Zealand you’ve never heard of.

Coromandel is world famous for its pristine beaches and trendy towns like Whitianga. However, off the beaten path we discovered a heart full of hidden gems – here are our favorites.

The main tunnel of the rail tunnel loop in the Karangahake Gorge.

Brook Sabin / Stuff

The main tunnel of the rail tunnel loop in the Karangahake Gorge.

A canyon of wonders

Just outside Paeroa is a lush canyon full of spectacular walks that has it all: suspension bridges, tunnels, historical relics and pristine native bush. Welcome to the Karangahake Gorge.

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*World famous in New Zealand: Karangahake Gorge, Coromandel

The most popular walk is the Rail Tunnel Loop. This 1.5-hour trail follows the Ohinemuri River before disappearing down a huge hill, where you’ll pass through a 1.1 kilometer old railway tunnel.

If you can cope with the heights and small spaces, you should also try the adjacent Windows Walk.

A view from one of the

Brook Sabin / Stuff

A view from one of the “windows” on the Windows Walk.

This takes you through a hand-dug mining tunnel at the top of the gorge cliff. There are “windows” where the tunnel emerges from the cliff, offering spectacular views of the river below. The promenade is partially closed at the moment for urgent repairs, but you can still access the tunnels via the Crown Tramway. Check the Department of Conservation website for the latest update on the trail.

The main Windows Walk tunnel.

Brook Sabin / Stuff

The main Windows Walk tunnel.

If you prefer to cycle, there is an excellent day trip that takes in the best of the gorge. Hire a bike from Paeroa, before hopping on the Hauraki Rail Trail – this off-road track will take you to the gorge in just over 30 minutes.

You can then cycle through the rail tunnel and cycle another 20 minutes to the Falls Retreat for an award-winning dining experience from paddock to plate. The restaurant offers a “party lunch” during the weekend, which is two courses for $60, including a decadent pasture board. Make sure you leave plenty of time to enjoy dessert and a glass of wine – after all, you’ve cycled there, so have some calories to spare.

Our first course of the 'Feast Lunch' at Falls Retreat.

Brook Sabin / Stuff

Our first course of the ‘Feast Lunch’ at Falls Retreat.

You will follow the same trail to Paeroa, with the option to stop and explore the Windows Walk on foot.

You can, of course, just drive to the restaurant. But doing the entire trip by bike means you can experience the Hauraki Rail Trail, Windows Walk, and restaurant all in one go.

Move on L&P

Paeroa is, of course, best known for being the birthplace of a famous drink: L&P. However, there is a new kid on the block that is attracting a bit of attention. Could Paeroa soon become famous for her pies?

We couldn't stop at one pie and came back the next day for another.

Brook Sabin / Stuff

We couldn’t stop at one pie and came back the next day for another.

The Providence Pantry has just opened on the city’s main street. It is run by chef Rensha Bouwer, who was most recently in charge of the kitchen at Waiheke’s famous wine restaurant, Casita Miro.

Bouwer moved to Paeroa to be closer to his parents, with his mother even making a regular appearance in the kitchen to help create delicious sweet treats, such as the apple and caramel oatmeal slice, the almond cheesecake and passion fruit and the best Russian fudge you will ever try.

A ground meat and cheese pie from Providence Pantry.

Brook Sabin / Stuff

A ground meat and cheese pie from Providence Pantry.

But the highlight were the pies, which were bursting with flavor – you could tell a great chef had a hand in making them. The hash and cheese are the best we’ve tasted, and the chicken and bacon are also a must. Get in quick, because they are selling out.

Secret Surf Towns

If you’re looking for a quiet beachfront community with great food and amazing beaches, set your sights on Kūaotunu.

Ōtama Beach is fantastic for swimming.

Brook Sabin / Stuff

Ōtama Beach is fantastic for swimming.

You’ll find this coastal township in the northeast of the peninsula, with no shortage of empty golden beaches to explore. Our favorite was nearby Ōtama Beach – there wasn’t a single person on the two kilometers of sand when we arrived.

Kua Kawhe serves exceptional smoothie bowls.

Brook Sabin / Stuff

Kua Kawhe serves exceptional smoothie bowls.

When you’ve worked up an appetite, head back to Kūaotunu to visit Luke’s Kitchen for the best pizza on the peninsula – its rustic, laid-back vibe makes you feel like you’re in Bali. Head next to Kua Kawhe, where you’ll find great coffee and smoothie bowls. “Kua” is what locals call Kūaotunu, and “kawhe” is the Maori word for coffee.

The Kūaotunu Killer – more than enough to feed a family of four.

Brook Sabin / Stuff

The Kūaotunu Killer – more than enough to feed a family of four.

If you have an industrial-grade sweet tooth, head to the Kūaotunu store, where they serve ten scoops of ice cream on a double cone for just $9 – it’s called the Kūaotunu Killer. Yes, for the same price as a single scoop at some swanky Auckland gelaries, you get a leaning tower of ice cream here for under $10. The biggest challenge is to devour it all before the Coromandel sun.

driving stream

Just outside the town of Coromandel is one of the area’s must-see attractions: Driving Creek Railway. If you’re looking for a day away from the beaches, the kids will love it here.

This extraordinary village is now home to New Zealand’s only narrow-gauge mountain railway, a zipline course and a fully-fledged pottery factory.

You can even learn to ride an upside-down zipline at Driving Creek.

Brook Sabin / Stuff

You can even learn to ride an upside-down zipline at Driving Creek.

The late legendary potter Barry Brickell purchased the property in 1973 and took a particular interest in the clay found on the upper slopes of the land. So, over the years, he built an elaborate railway to bring the raw materials down, which was designed to be a replica of the Ōngarue tram. It eventually grew so large that it was opened as a tourist attraction.

Today you can take a 1 hour and 15 minute train journey around the property, passing through tunnels, viaducts and on your way to the EyeFull Tower – a large platform 167 meters above above sea level with sensational views.

Radha pottery.  The creation on the left was a first attempt that improved dramatically the second time around.

Brook Sabin / Stuff

Radha pottery. The creation on the left was a first attempt that improved dramatically the second time around.

If you fancy a little more adrenaline, try the zipline course, which begins with a train ride up the hill before descending eight ziplines. You even have the chance to learn how to zipline upside down.

However, the unexpected highlight of our time exploring Driving Creek was the pottery. For just $47, you can learn how to make two pieces using a potter’s wheel.

You will be under the guidance of an expert tutor, who will guide you every step of the way. If your hand-eye coordination looks anything like mine, the session will be filled with lots of laughs. But we came away with creations we were proud of – and having two attempts at creating something really shows how quickly you can improve.

Garden of Eden

A few minutes drive from the main coastal road, about 20 minutes from the River Thames, you will find a 64 acre Garden of Eden that took decades to create.

Rapaura Watergardens is just 20 minutes from the River Thames.

Brook Sabin / Stuff

Rapaura Watergardens is just 20 minutes from the River Thames.

The beautiful Rapaura Watergardens offers an enchanting walk that passes a vast lake of lily pads, then meanders through lush native forest to a waterfall known as “The Seven Steps to Heaven”. Take a picnic and lose track of time in this pristine nature. Best of all, there’s no cell phone reception – so the only thing to connect with here is nature.

cheese, please

Just a 20-minute drive from Paeroa is a little place called Matatoki – and the big cheese in town is, well, a cheese shop.

The Cheese Barn in Matatoki offers a variety of delicious dishes featuring their award-winning cheese.

Brook Sabin / Stuff

The Cheese Barn in Matatoki offers a variety of delicious dishes featuring their award-winning cheese.

The Cheese Barn in Matatoki has so many awards that they run out of space to display them, and the best way to experience their best cheese is to snack on a cheese board. To top it off, all the cheeses are organic and made on site.

Essential:

Stay there: A night at Wairua Lodge, near Whitianga, costs $235 per couple. See: wairualodge.co.nz. A night at The Refinery in Paeroa starts from $99. See: the-refinery.co.nz.

Getting There : Coromandel is easily accessible by car from Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga.

Play it: Hauraki Bike Hire offers rentals in Paeroa to explore the Karangahake Gorge and beyond. Day hikes start from $50. See: haurakibikehire.co.nz. Driving Creek offers train tours, ziplining, and pottery at great prices. See: drivingcreek.nz. Rapaura Watergardens from $10 to $15 per adult, depending on the season.

Carbon footprint: Flying generates carbon emissions. To reduce your impact, consider alternative ways to travel, bundle your trips and, when you have to fly, consider offsetting emissions. To offset your carbon emissions, go to airnewzealand.co.nz/sustainability-customer-carbon-offset. The author’s trip was carbon offset, alongside the use of an EV rental car.

Stay safe: New Zealand is currently under Covid-19 restrictions. Face coverings are mandatory on all flights and public transport. Proof of vaccination and vaccine exemption may be required at some locations under the traffic light system. Follow the instructions on covid19.govt.nz.

The author’s trip was supported by Destination Coromandel. To see: thecoromandel.com EThis story was produced through an editorial partnership with Tourism New Zealand. Learn more about our partnership content here.

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