A visit to the captivating Coromandel Peninsular.
Where: Whitianga, North Island, New Zealand
What: A tiny town with a huge coastline
When: April 2017
Having read amazing reviews about Whitianga, I couldn’t wait to get there. Leaving Auckland on the Intercity service (I highly recommend!) it’s easy to feel a million miles from anywhere: reaching the Coromandel you’re greeted by clear blue seas and the chatter of ocean birds on one side, and dramatic green forests gracing rolling hills to the other. The bus driver even stopped to let us enjoy a true tourist moment, capturing the scenery from the highest peak.
Reaching Whitianga just an hour or so later, I checked into my hostel (I stayed here), dropped my bags and headed out to explore. The town of Whitianga was smaller than I imagined but was home to all the essentials you’d need. In contrast the coastline was more beautiful than I could have hoped for and was the most amazing place to explore: dwarfing all that surrounded it, the cliffs here are something special.
I only had two nights in Whitianga and used my first day to figure out where everything was, stock up on food and head for an early night. I hadn’t managed to completely shake my jet lag, and on talking to another backpacker who was also from Europe it became clear that early nights were an essential at this stage of the trip until my body had a clue what was going on. On hearing that, I was mostly relieved that it wasn’t my age (hahaha…).
The next morning, after a great nights sleep, I was up early for a boat ride I had booked with Cave Cruzer (find them here). Meeting them at the Marina I, and one other, donned our lifejackets and boarded the boat. This was a ride that was really catered to us: picking up speed when we wanted to ride the waves or slowing right down to get a closer look in a cave – the whole experience was a great New Zealand treat.
The type of boat we rode in really added to the experience – the size and material of boat meant that we could go inside the watery caves that lined the shore and get a really good look. This included a close up of the Cathedral Cove, a distinct archway from cliff to ocean that really is a must-see. You also get to experience the other rocks that stand tall from the sea and are washed into unique formations by the oceans around them.
After an amazing 90 minutes exploring the coast, we headed back to shore and I enjoyed a quick lunch break on the beach. Then I took the ferry over to the other side of the Marina and began a scenic walk along the cliff to Shakespeare Cliff Lookout. Exploring the hilltop lookouts along the way, this track offers spectacular views for a relatively easy walk. There’s also (importantly) plenty of opportunity to break off from the track and get to a beach (I had one all to myself for an hour or so) and just feel like you really are away from it all.
By the time I was back in Whitianga that evening I was ready for bed, but the treats Whitianga had in store for me weren’t over yet. As I was there in New Zealand’s autumn once it started to go dark, the light disappeared very quickly; and this is something you can really appreciate in the quiet towns, as there’s very little light to dim the nights’ stars. Now, this is particularly good for a mediocre night sky, but on this night I was treated to a spectacular Milky Way. It’s a difficult sight to describe (without sounding desperately poetic) but it was so beautiful I could never forget it. I stayed outside until I was too cold to last any longer but it stayed with me as a definite highlight of the trip.