Coromandel Peninsula Motorhome Holiday Guide

Coromandel Peninsula Motorhome Holiday Guide


Travelling around Coromandel Peninsula in a motorhome


With around 400km of picturesque coastline, misty forest valleys, laid-back towns and wonderfully remote walkways, the Coromandel Peninsula is worth exploring by motorhome.


In this holiday guide, we chat about visiting The Coromandel by motorhome, what you can see, do and eat on the peninsula — and what annual events and festivals are worth attending.


We also asked Wilderness co-owner and Coromandel resident Mary Hamilton about her recommendations for the peninsula.


Plus, we share the motorhome holiday experience of two of our most loyal guests, Mike and Kathy, around The Coromandel — as they discover some magical remote locations.




The Coromandel

Getting around The Coromandel

Things to see and do on The Coromandel

What to eat on The Coromandel

Where to stay on The Coromandel

Events and festivals to go to on The Coromandel

Back to The Coromandel with bikes




The Coromandel


Cathedral Cove Coromandel

Image by Matt Crawford


This North Island treasure has plenty of secrets to be discovered. The Coromandel’s unique character and culture have made it one of New Zealand’s most popular motorhome holiday destinations.


A variety of Polynesian people first settled on the peninsula in the late 13th century. But it was later, in 1820, after the British naval vessel HMS Coromandel arrived needing timber for ship repairs, that the area gained its contemporary name.


Gold was discovered on the peninsula in the 1850s — and The Coromandel became home to thriving gold mining and kauri tree industries. However, the gold rush was short-lived as surface gold became scarce towards the end of the 19th century and farming took over.


A herd of cows at a farm in the Coromandel Peninsula


The region has four main towns — Thames, Whitianga, Coromandel Town and Whangamatā.


Thames, considered the gateway to The Coromandel, has a rich history linked to gold mining. Coromandel Town is the peninsula’s most historic settlement — located on alluvial flats beside the Coromandel Range.


Whitianga is arguably the main tourist hub, with easy daytime access to hotspots like Hot Water Beach. Whangamatā has incredible beaches and one of New Zealand’s most famous surf breaks.


Today, the peninsula is best known as an outdoors bonanza for campers, surfers, anglers and beachgoers.



The spine of Māui's fish


According to well-known Māori mythology, Māui used a magical hook to fish up New Zealand’s North Island (a fish) with the help of the South Island (a canoe).


What’s less commonly known is that Te Tara-o-te-Ika a Māui is both the Māori name for the Coromandel Peninsula and the spine or backbone of Māui's fish. It most likely refers to the Coromandel Range — the jagged centrepiece of the peninsula.




Getting around The Coromandel


The landscape of the Coromandel Peninsula is dominated by volcanic hills cloaked in native rainforest. Inviting bays and the vast Pacific Ocean are always close — providing incredible views as you drive.


The most common way to navigate The Coromandel and take in everything it has to offer is by planning your trip in a loop route — of which the peninsula has two.


Road around Coromandel Coast


State Highway 25 (SH25) is your go-to road in the northern parts of The Coromandel where you’ll enjoy winding roads, lush greenery, pristine beaches and glimpses of the Pacific Ocean. It’ll take you 80 percent of the way around the peninsula before you need to change to SH25A to complete the 190km loop.


The more southern loop route ventures to rugged cliffs, hidden coves and breathtaking surf beaches. This 130km stretch of road passes through the towns of Paeroa, Waihi and Whangamatā.



Essential scenery — Owharoa Falls


Driving a few minutes off SH2 between Waihi and Karangahake Gorge is peaceful Owharoa Falls. A superb spot for a picnic, even when it’s busy during the summer months, it’s one of the easiest waterfalls to access in The Coromandel.


Owharoa is also popular for swimming — but take care as there are slippery rocks, deep holes and strong currents.




Things to see and do on The Coromandel


With so many jewels in its crown, The Coromandel is an outdoor playground with a host of activities to take your vacation to the next level.




If you’re coming from Auckland, stop at Miranda Holiday Park which has hot pools because it’s in a thermal area.


There’s also a really popular freedom camping spot called Ray’s Rest. Pull over here for the night if you’re arriving by plane and it’s too late in the day to get to The Coromandel.


It’s also important to consider where you’re going to get groceries. The two main places are Thames and Whitianga. People usually drive up the west coast and down the east of the peninsula — so stop in Thames and get your groceries.


Mary Hamilton — Wilderness co-owner and Coromandel resident



Discover Coromandel Town


Coromandel Town's unique historic character and rich Māori heritage are a slice of history just waiting to be explored. Charming heritage buildings like The Coromandel School of Mines and Historical Museum reflect its colonial past.


The town has a laidback lifestyle in an environment of remote natural beauty. A local mecca for artists and craftspeople, you’ll find Puketai Pottery and The Workshop offering crafty items nearby.


The town is also home to walking trails, cycling tracks, fishing charters and museum tours.



Ride the Driving Creek Railway


Mary Hamilton riding a zipline at Driving Creek Railway


The Driving Creek Railway is one of the Coromandel Peninsula’s gems. It’s a conservation area with a predator-free fence around a section of it, where highly endangered species are cared for.


You’ll have a few family-friendly activities to choose from at Driving Creek, including:


  • Railway tours — an hour-long ride through regenerating native forest includes some of the stories behind this incredible place

  • Zipline tours — before the thrill of gliding through the trees, you’ll hear about the history and conservation efforts at Driving Creek


  • Pottery classes — ideal if you’ve ever wanted to learn how to make pottery.




Driving Creek is a cool, unique place because a community trust runs it. The area is just all about the community.


Mary Hamilton



Walk amongst kauri trees


A must-see on The Coromandel is the amazing Long Bay Kauri Walk which takes you to the Big Kauri Tree. One of the most easily accessible places in the country to see ancient kauri trees, it will give you an idea of just how huge these kings of the forest can grow.


While in the area, don’t miss the Kauri Block Walk for scenic views of the nearby bays. Both walks are relatively short, averaging about an hour.


The road to these incredible natural wonders is narrow and parking a motorhome can be an issue. However, you can park at Long Bay Campground on the seaside while you take on the walk.




A great kauri walk, if you’ve got a little more time, is in Waiomu. Turn up the Waiomu Valley Road to the Waiomu Valley Road Track. However, you’ll want to park your motorhome before crossing the ford because there’s very little parking once the paved section ends — plus turning is difficult.


It’s a half-day walk that is quite steep but has many new bridges — and the kauri up there are just spectacular.


Mary Hamilton



Plan a coastal hiking or mountain biking adventure


The Coromandel Walkway and Mountain Bike Track is one of the country’s best coastal experiences. An easy trail with spectacular scenery, you’ll see the remote beauty of the peninsula, the Coromandel Range, Great Barrier Island and Cuvier Island.


Coromandel Coastal Walkway


Traversing bushland, farmland and the coastline, the hiking trail is highly rewarding — even in its current state with the middle section temporarily closed due to slips.


The mountain bike track is steeper and more slippery than the walkway, providing spectacular views of the ranges and the Hauraki Gulf. At 8km long and rated grade five (expert), it’s a technically challenging ride.



Chill on the northern beaches


You may have heard about New Chums Beach as it’s been ranked as one of the best in the world. You can reach New Chums via a short walk from Whangapoua Beach — a safe 1.5km stretch of sand to the south.


Mary Hamilton at New Chums Beach, Coromandel


To the southeast is Matarangi Beach which is so long it feels like it goes forever.



Explore Whitianga


The idyllic east coast town of Whitianga is ideal for pulling over for a few nights to relax. It offers a base in which to see some of the highlights, like:


  • The Lost Spring — a thermal pool and day spa that will melt your muscles and set you up for a great night’s sleep


  • Hot Water Beach — for a free soak in salty thermal water when the tides are low.


Although you can rent spades near Hot Water Beach, bringing your own is a smart idea.




One of the best campgrounds in The Coromandel is the Hot Water Beach Top 10 Holiday Park.


It’s right by Hot Water Beach, so camp here and visit the beach to dig your own hot pool at night or early in the morning — don’t go when the crowds are there.


You just have to get the tides right. If Hot Water Beach is on your list of things to do, then think about which direction is best to travel around The Coromandel based on tide times.


Mary Hamilton



Jump onboard a glass bottom boat


Mercury Bay, to the east of Whitianga, is home to one of New Zealand’s best marine reserves. The ocean here is teeming with fish, so there’s only one way to see them (without getting wet) — by joining a glass bottom boat tour.


Glass Bottom Boat at Coromandel


If you do fancy swimming with the fish, you’ll have an option to go snorkelling. Either way, you’ll learn plenty about the area's history aboard this tour.


Mercury Bay also offers plenty of watersports choices for divers, kayakers, paddleboarders, adventure seekers and marine enthusiasts.




Cathedral Cove is currently closed, so the only way to see it is on a boat tour — or with a kayak. If the weather's reasonable, the boat may land on Cathedral Cove Beach.


Cathedral Cove Kayak Tours is well worth doing if you want to reach some really cool places and land on Cathedral Cove Beach.


Mary Hamilton



Check out Tairua and Pauanui


The holiday town of Tairua is a slice of yesteryear. It’s set on the northern edge of a large tidal estuary harbour.


A surfer surfing at Tairua

Image by The Coromandel |


In this restful part of the world, you can:



Across the channel is Pauanui, which has a 3km beach — a safer swimming spot than Tairua, and is popular with kayakers, windsurfers and kitesurfers.



Surf at Whangamatā


This town at the southern end of The Coromandel offers extraordinary surfing and fabulous beaches. It has a nice little vibe and happens to be where some of New Zealand’s great surfers come from.


Find out more about Whangamatā Beach.



Image by The Coromandel |


Visit weekend markets


The Coromandel is home to numerous weekend markets and special occasions, like Matariki. You can interact with local growers, makers and musicians at:


  • Thames — every Saturday morning this market offers everything from fresh local produce and plants to crafts and secondhand goods


  • Whangamatā — a Saturday must-visit if you’re a foodie as it offers a range of local produce, seafood, cheeses, breads and handcrafts.



  • Matarangi — this Sunday market is seasonal over summer and has a lively atmosphere


  • Tairua — on the first Saturday of every month, the Tairua Market features stalls selling crafts, produce and clothes.



Essential activity — the Pinnacles


Organising a day hike to the impressive rock formations of the Pinnacles is a real highlight within Coromandel Forest Park on the peninsula.


Officially known as the Kauaeranga Kauri Trail, you’ll need a decent fitness level to ascend the 7km trail past Pinnacles Hut to the Pinnacles.


Expect ladders and some steep drops near the summit but once you reach it, the views of the eastern Coromandel’s bush, mountains and coastline are worth the sweat.




What to eat on The Coromandel


Oyster and crayfish at Coromandel


Seafood should be on your menu while circumnavigating The Coromandel — the quality and freshness of what’s available are worth seeking out.



Waiomu Beach Café


Break up your journey along the western shoreline with a pit stop at Waiomu Beach Café. A popular eatery for a lunch stop or if you feel like a treat, you’ll find a wide selection of pastries, savouries, sweets and even gluten-free items.




When on The Coromandel make sure you try the high-quality seafood. There’s a place in Kopu called Blackbeards Smokehouse which offers smoked mussels and smoked fish.


The Wharf in Thames also has superb fresh fish and smoked mussels daily — but you need to be there before 3pm.


Mary Hamilton



Coromandel Oyster Company


John and Anne Louden have owned the Coromandel Oyster Company a few kilometres south of Coromandel Town since 2007.


Coromandel Oyster Company

Image by The Coromandel |


At their popular establishment, you can enjoy mussel chowder, oyster bisque and a range of burgers — before leaving with a takeaway stash of oysters and mussels. They also cook delicious fish and chips.



Pepper Tree Restaurant


Situated in the centre of historic Coromandel Town, Pepper Tree Restaurant & Bar specialises in fresh local seafood. It has a sunny outdoor courtyard and an open fire in winter.


The Coromandel Mussels in green curry are a must-try — and if you’re lucky, you’ll enjoy the ambience of live music with your meal.



Lukes Kitchen


Only the best locally sourced ingredients go into the tasty food at Lukes Kitchen. With handmade wood fired pizzas and live music on offer, why wouldn’t you detour off SH25 to this rustic seaside restaurant.


Luke's Kitchen

Image by The Coromandel |


Recently voted the best restaurant in The Coromandel, Lukes Kitchen is a covered outdoor space with views looking out over Kūaotunu Beach. Call in if you’re into surfing — as most of the staff surf.



The Fig


This fully licenced café is a great place to start your day. The Fig is a highly-rated favourite in Whitianga with plenty of rave reviews about the food, service and atmosphere.


The French Fig Porridge, with a side of pouring cream, is a particular highlight.




On SH25, about halfway between Whitianga and Paeroa, is a family-run café that’s very popular. At Colenso, you can enjoy a glass of wine and a seasonally-inspired lunch with homemade sourdough, jams, pickles and chutneys. 



Incognito Licensed Brasserie


For an excellent dining experience with exceptional food and service, make a booking at Incognito Licensed Brasserie in Whangamata.


Your meal will taste great, be amazingly well presented and make for a special night out from self-catering in your motorhome.


Discover the joy of cooking New Zealand food in your campervan rental.



Essential eatery — Camina


In the heart of Whangamata is this share-a-plate restaurant with a Spanish style. The town is fast becoming a foodie haven — and Camina certainly helps raise the bar.


Set in the old pink cinema on the main street, founder and chef Barend Beukes uses locally sourced products to create market fish carpaccio, anchovy and flatbread, lamb skewers with lemon and patatas bravas.




Where to stay on The Coromandel


Covering an area of around 2,200 square kilometres of land, the Coromandel Peninsula offers a lot of camping choices if you’re travelling by motorhome hire.



Hahei Beach Resort


Hahei Beach Resort


Hahei Beach Resort is situated on a 500m stretch of Hahei Beach, a short walk from Cathedral Cove — which was closed at the time of writing. This popular holiday park includes on-site coffee, gas barbecues and a fish filleting station.


Just a few steps away is Hahei Beach with its rich golden sand and relaxed vibes.



Hot Water Beach Top 10 Holiday Park


Hot Water Beach Top 10


Perhaps The Coromandel's best commercial camping ground is the top ten just up the road from Hot Water Beach. Featuring swimming pools, soaking pools and kids' pools — there’s enough water in and around the park to have a great time.


Hot Water Beach Top 10 Holiday Park is popular, especially in the summer months and school holiday periods, so book early to secure a site.



Opoutere Coastal Camping


For something a little different on the peninsula, stay a few nights at Opoutere Coastal Camping. It’s a relaxed hideaway that’s situated in a forest by the beach.


While wandering through the woods to get to the pristine white Opoutere Beach, you’ll find huts that have been built by kids using whatever natural materials are available to them.



Waihi Beach Holiday Park


Waihi Beach


Breathtaking views of Waihi Beach’s 9km stretch of pristine white sand await you at Waihi Beach Holiday Park. Even if you only stopped here during the day, the beach experience is well worth your time — but you’ll get more out of an overnight stay.


The park includes a heated pool, gym, sauna, adventure playground and playroom for the kids. Adults can try surfing, hiking and even gold mining at the nearby Waihi Gold Discovery Centre.



Freedom camping locations 


You can find plenty of freedom camping in designated areas on The Coromandel. Just follow the rules around parking at each camp as they are enforced. You can be fined a few hundred dollars for not parking within the allocated spaces.


A motorhome parked up at a freedom campsite in Coromandel


A few of the most scenic spots are:


  • Tararu Beachfront North Reserve — for amazing views and amazing sunsets arrive early and grab a spot by this stoney beach

  • Waiomu Domain Beachfront Reserve — a popular little beachfront spot with a café across the road, but arrive early as there are only a few spots available

  • South End Reserves — you can park up for a maximum of two nights at this idyllic beachside spot in eastern Pauanui that features a cold outdoor shower and sunrise views

  • Little Waikawau Reserve — right on the beachfront and with plenty of space, this freedom camping park is a stunning spot that overlooks the Firth of Thames

  • Brighton Reserve — a free camping option right by Waihi Beach with a playground, toilet, outdoor shower and a barbecue space.


Find out all about freedom camping in New Zealand.




If you have an extra day on your trip around The Coromandel, driving further south to the Karangahake Gorge is well worth it. A walk through the gorge is a fantastic way to experience the dramatic rivers and get a sense of the gold mining history.


Mary Hamilton




Events and festivals to go to on The Coromandel


This diverse region is so popular that there’s no shortage of events at any time of year. If you’re travelling by campervan hire, you can easily access them.



Thames Heritage Festival


The Thames Heritage Festival is a September crafts showcase — from fine needlework to heavy metal forging. Events are held across several sites including the Thames School of Mines and the Thames Goldmine Experience.



Whitianga Run Fest


This May festival for runners and walkers has courses starting at Ferry Landing in Whitianga. The Whitianga Run Fest incorporates breathtaking views along urban paths and well-maintained trails.



Whitianga Oceans Festival


Whitianga Oceans Festival


September sees Whitianga’s Esplanade celebrate the area’s seafood and marine heritage. The Whitianga Oceans Festival, formerly known as the Whitianga Scallop Festival, features live bands, fresh seafood cooked by renowned chefs and plenty of entertainment.



Thunder Hop


If you’re into cars, plan to attend Thunder Hop. A social weekend of 4x4 events on a private track, it takes place at Hot Water Beach Top 10 Holiday Park around late May or early June.



Beach Hop


Since 2000, Beach Hop has brought rock ‘n’ roll back to the Coromandel Peninsula — to the idyllic beach town of Whangamatā.


Usually held in early autumn, the event is a nostalgic flashback to the best of the 1950s and 1960s. One of the best things about Beach Hop is that it’s free — though spending a few dollars on a festival program is encouraged.



Artbeat Spring Festival


Steampunk Parade Thames of the Artbeat Spring Festival


Spring into the warmer months of the year with The Coromandel’s Artbeat Spring Festival. From September to December, the festival celebrates art and creativity all over the Coromandel peninsula.


The festival features a range of events, exhibitions, workshops, open studios and musical and theatrical performances.


Check out our Coromandel winter road trip from Auckland for more things to see and do on the peninsula.




Back to The Coromandel with bikes


Kathy Hart at the Hauraki Rail Trail


Regular guests Mike Brown and Kathy Hart recently hired a Wilderness motorhome to rediscover the Coromandel Peninsula with more time on their hands — and mountain bikes racked on the back.


Is the saying true that you never forget how to ride a bike? Now that we’re semi-retired, we can slow down and explore easy-to-miss remote locations on two wheels.


Kathy explains that while the hills of The Coromandel may have a reputation for being full of gold, the valleys also contain plenty of hidden gems.




You need to take the road less travelled — turning off the main highways and being inquisitive whenever you can.


Kathy Hart



The scenic drive around the northeastern coast of The Coromandel offers plenty to see at every turn, as Kathy outlines.


The breathtaking twins of Ōtama Beach and Opito Bay were reached by yet another well-maintained road. Whiritoa Beach, just south of Whangamatā, is also well worth a visit at low tide. You can walk around large limestone buttresses and view some interesting graffiti carved into the rocks.




Another easy gravel road led us to Sailors Grave at Te Karo Bay. It’s a beautifully isolated beach where we soaked up the sun — hearing only the sound of breaking surf.


Kathy Hart



We also enjoyed a guided tour through the tunnels at the Goldmine Experience — a 19th-century operational goldmine. Here, you see the original stamper battery running at full steam, restored to working order by a team of dedicated volunteers.


The Coromandel region is steeped in gold rush history with many accessible ruins and old mining tunnels along well-marked tracks, which Kathy highlights.


Mike Brown at Broken Hills


Broken Hills Campsite is an excellent overnight stopover for both short and long tunnel explorations. Plus, the Windows Walk at Karangahake Gorge is a must-do — just don't forget your torch.


But how did Kathy and Mike get on with riding bikes for the first time in a while?


After a wobbly start, we soon rode confidently over restored rail bridges and through old tunnels on the Hauraki Rail TrailHaving the bikes onboard expanded the reach of our campervan adventure. We felt like kids again — exploring and having fun.


A Wilderness motorhome parked up at Fletcher Bay Campsite


Check out our Auckland to Waitomo campervan itinerary which includes a few days of travel around The Coromandel.


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