The Coromandel Peninsula is one of the highlights of the North Island of New Zealand. Although you could spend a lot more time there, it's possible to see the major sights in three days. Here is a driving itinerary from Auckland to Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty. It makes an easy side trip from Auckland (in which case return to Auckland on the third day) or something to add to a larger tour of the North Island.
Note that this trip is best undertaken by private transport (car or motorhome). Some bus companies (such as Naked Bus) service some of the towns, and there is a daily ferry to Coromandel town from Auckland) but it won't allow you to take in all the sights.
There are also a number of organized tours of Coromandel, such as a day tour from Auckland. As you will no doubt realize, it is possible to cover this journey in less than three days. However, most of the roads are quite narrow and winding so can be rather tiring. Besides, this is one of the most special parts of the North Island. Give yourself time to savor the sights and atmosphere of this remote and beautiful area.
Day 1: Auckland to Whitianga
Distance: 210 kilometers/130 miles
Driving Time: 2 hours, 55 minutes
Leave Auckland along the Southern Motorway and up and over the Bombay Hills, the southern boundary of the Auckland province. On the southern side of the hill take the exit on the left (follow the signs for Tauranga and Coromandel).
After passing through the flat farmland of the Waikato and the Hauraki Plains, arrive at the town of Thames. This is the largest town in the Coromandel so is a good place to collect supplies. Apart from that, and the quaint main street, there's not a lot to do here.
Drive north to Coromandel town. The road hugs the water of the Firth of Thames which separates the Coromandel Peninsula from Auckland. Coromandel town itself has a lot of atmosphere, reminiscent of the gold boom which struck the area in the 1850s.
From here take the overland route to Whitianga. If you have an extra day to spare, the coastal road north of Coromandel town leads to some beautiful and very remote beaches on the northern tip of the peninsula. They include Port Jackson and Fletcher Bay. Be aware that this road is narrow, winding and gravel in places and ends at Fletcher Bay so you must retrace your route. There is a beautifully situated campsite and backpackers at Fletcher Bay, right on what is one of the ten best beaches in the Coromandel.
The road between Coromandel town and Whitianga crosses the Coromandel range, through beautiful forest and with great views. Then it is down to the eastern side of the Peninsula, where all of the best beaches are located. If you have time take a detour for a swim at Matarangi, a fine beach backed by one of the nicest housing developments on the coast. The road then turns inland and winding once more, heading south to Whitianga.
Stop at Whitianga for the night and enjoy one of the many good restaurants and cafes along the waterfront. Whitianga also has a good range of places to stay, from campsites and backpacker hostels to apartments, hotels, and motels.
Day 2: Whitianga to Whangamata
Distance: 120 kilometers/75 miles
Driving Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Although the distance for this day is relatively short, there are so many detours to beautiful places to stop and enjoy along the way that you are not going to want to rush.
Firstly, take the side road on the left after leaving Whitianga to visit Hahei and one of the Coromandel's most beautiful places, Cathedral Cove. This is reached by a walk from Hahei.
Next stop is Hot Water Beach where you can dig a hole in the sand to uncover the hot water from below (only accessible at low tide, but a lovely beach at any time).
Stop for lunch at Tairua. This small town is built on a harbor, slightly inland, but it's only a short drive to the ocean beach, another great Coromandel beach).
On the way on to Whangamata, make sure you stop at Opoutere. This is surely one of the most beautiful beaches in New Zealand and one of the last readily accessible beaches in Coromandel without houses backing onto it. It's a long beach that's good for a walk or a swim.
Whangamata is a popular holiday town with an excellent beach. This is a popular surfing spot, with one of the best surf breaks in the country.
Day 3: Whangamata to Tauranga
Distance: 100 kilometers/62 miles
Driving Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
If returning to Auckland, head back there from Waihi through the magnificent and historic Karangahake Gorge.
Again, there is not a lot of distance involved today, but there are lots of places of interest to stop along the way.
After leaving Whangamata, make a short detour to Whiritoa, another fine example of a Coromandel east coast beach. Then continue back along the main road to the town of Waihi. Waihi was another important gold mining town; in fact, gold mining continues to this day, with a large open-cast mine situated right on the outskirts. Waihi is a good place to stop for lunch.
Then head for the coast to Waihi Beach, one of the finest beaches on the east coast of the North Island. There are some good coastal walks at either end of the beach and at the southern end a lookout over Tauranga Harbor.
The rest of the route tracks along the inside of Tauranga Harbor, with views out to Matakana Island. Finish the day at Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty. This is one of the fastest-growing centers in New Zealand, and there are many things to see and do. It makes a great place to start further exploration of the east coast of the North Island, including Whakatane, Ohope Beach, and Ootiki.