The Coromandel Peninsula to the east of Auckland draws vacationers from around the North Island who come for one reason: the fabulous beaches. In fact, the Coromandel rivals Northland for the best beaches in the country.
Picking just one to visit might be a fool's errand. For swimming and sunbathing, you can quickly eliminate the pebbly (albeit beautiful) tidal beaches on the western coastline, on the harbor of the Firth of Thames. Head instead to the northern and eastern shorelines, facing the ocean.
You must travel more than 31 miles (50 kilometers) from Coromandel township to reach one of the peninsula's most northern and remote beaches, Fletcher Bay. The last leg, from Colville, takes you down a dirt road, but one with incredible views back to Auckland, Great Barrier Island, and the Mercury Islands. The limited accommodations beyond freedom camping include a developed campground and a single backpacker's lodge.
Wainuiototo Bay (New Chums Beach)
Despite being described as the most beautiful beach in New Zealand, Wainuiototo Bay (also known as New Chums Beach) remains unspoiled and a well-kept secret. The 30-minute walk north from the seaside development of Whangapoua probably discourages the beach-going crowds; for some, however, the seclusion makes it worth the effort.
The resort village of Matarangi, with its 2.8-mile (4.5-kilometer) white-sand beach, faces Whangapoua across the harbor. The area is notable for the quality of the beach-side homes, good swimming at all stages of the tide, and wide areas for walking.
You reach this sandy beach via a short ferry ride from Whitianga, the main settlement in the northeastern Coromandel area. It is named after New Zealand's most famous explorer, who stayed here briefly during his voyage to New Zealand in 1769.
Hahei and Cathedral Cove
The area around Hahei, with its large cluster of holiday homes, becomes very busy during January, the main New Zealand summer vacation period. Cathedral Cove, one of the most photographed natural attractions in New Zealand, sits just to the north between Hahei and Cooks Beach. A natural sandstone arch separates two lovely little beaches, accessible only by boat or on foot from Hahei.
Hot Water Beach
At the northern end of this well-known beach, hot water from an underground thermal spring bubbles to the surface at low tide. It's great fun to dig out your own thermal hot pool and have a soak; bring a shovel if you'd like to submerge yourself to the neck.
Tairua and Pauanui
These two beaches face each other across the narrow entrance of the Tairua Harbor; both are popular holiday destinations with smaller permanent populations. Tairua has a small township with shopping and some services.
You won't find any housing or commercial development at Opoutere, another of Coromandel's most magical spots. A forest of pines hugs the 3-mile beach, with a sandpit on the southern end at the entrance to the Wharekawa Harbor, a breeding ground for several species of endangered native birds.
This gorgeous beach, with a small community of holiday homes and a couple of hundred permanent residents, segues into three private beaches at the southern end. A small waterfall and good snorkeling draw people to the north end of the beach, where the view to the offshore islands of the Slipper Group, the Alderman Islands, and Mayor Island is particularly appealing.
This deservedly popular holiday spot with lots of beach and harbor frontage also supports the largest shopping area since Whitianga, with a supermarket, convenience stores, and a selection of excellent restaurants. A marina accommodates leisure fishing and sailing vessels.