Since I was a nipper in the backyard with an old woven mat pegged to the fence line, I have enjoyed camping outdoors! My first real pup tent was demolished in short order. It was like a light bed sheet held up by toothpicks’ – looked good but didn’t work properly!’
Herb’s family camp site
So, by the time I had been tramping over many years in many places – mostly with just a fly or a small tent, I was a dyed-in-the-wool camper! I did not find it difficult to adapt to a larger canvas tent when a family came along. I just applied the same principles as my lightweight days and accepted that I did not have to carry the load on my back!
Ashley from Greenland learns to turn a steak
My wife would have liked a spiral staircase but they don’t do those in canvas. Even so, I wondered how we used to fill the three rooms of a canvas mansion that spilled out to resemble a small village after the kids had decided that they wanted their own little tents! In spite of this, we have always kept it simple and resisted the temptation to get too high tech which is why we prefer the less well appointed campsites. We enjoy places where making do gives you a real sense of achievement and a healthy respect for the environment and what it can provide.
The kids hang out
Over the years we have had some great camping holidays and my wife and I still take a small tent away with us to pitch at a convenient DOC campsite.
Coastal areas have always been favourites. The sounds and smells of the sea are so relaxing and even the sound of the wind tugging in the trees is something that keeps me in touch with the forces of nature. I tend to be a bit of a geek too. Out come the binocs – kaka here, dotterel there, heron over yonder by the banded rail… Summer in the sun!
Variable oystercatcher spotted at the beach
So, as summer holidays approach I bust out the tent and all the other paraphernalia, pitch it in the backyard to check it out and think back a few decades to when the adventure began!
In the North Island, gold mining was a key part of the Coromandel’s early development. Similarly, in the South Island, Otago was the centre of the gold rush in the 1800’s. Today, both Coromandel and Otago offer great family camping and sight seeing, and a golden opportunity for those who like to get off the beaten track.
Today I’m going to show you around the Coromandel. We’ll head down to Otago on Wednesday.
A little paddler practices in the shallows
Coromandel – Off the grid but on the internet
The sun shines, the surf bubbles on the beach, pohutukawa blossom and people’s minds turn to summer.
Like generations before them, people repeat the summer migration from urban sprawl to that place where priorities get re-ordered. Where meeting old friends is more important than meeting deadlines. It’s a place that has become part of family folklore and generation after generation, the families keep coming back.
Let’s have a look at the great opportunities that beckon from the click of a mouse.
Colville is an interesting place. Not long after you drive through this small settlement, the road turns to gravel, the cell phone drops out and you drive past the last place to get an ice cream! Mind you, there is a truck that does the rounds of the DOC campsites and ice cream is one of their staples.
A left turn, to continue up the western coastline leads to three stunning campsites. A right turn takes you over to the East Coast either up to Stony Bay, or on the circuit back past Waikawau Bay via Kennedy Bay to Coromandel.
This is the far eastern end of the line for the top of the Coromandel
After you leave Colville, the short climb over the hill to the eastern side of the peninsula leads to a fork in the road. The choice to turn right at the bottom of the hill is the path most taken towards Waikawau Bay. Turning left however, takes you further up the East Coast to the remote beach at Stony Bay.
Stony Bay is a deep inlet, flanked by the bush-clad hills of Mount Moehau. This is the far eastern end of the line for the top of the Coromandel. From the 5-hectare campground, you can drop down to the sea to go fishing or diving, otherwise follow the Coromandel Walkway to Fletcher Bay or loop high up the hill on the mountain bike track (grade: intermediate).
As a standard DOC campsite, Stony Bay has good facilities. There is water from the tap, toilets, a barbeque and even a cold shower. That’s a good excuse to take your solar shower.
Waikawau Bay campsite is DOC’s most popular site in the North Island and it’s not difficult to see why—a stunning beach, an open camp site and relative isolation.
In spite of its popularity, it is easy to get away from other campers, if that’s what you want, and the beach, which stretches to the north, is a great place to do just that—you might have to share the sand with NZ dotterels and oystercatchers, they are all busy with nesting around the summer period. Just remember, it’s no holiday for them!
Waikawau Bay campground has undergone a transformation in the last few years as flood prone areas in the camp are retired and others are brought into use to cope with the demand during the peak season.
The camp shop can keep you supplied with essentials.
Fantail Bay faces west onto the Hauraki Gulf under the giant pohutukawa trees that characterise the coastal vegetation in the Coromandel. The westerly aspect keeps the day warm, and dappled light through the trees keeps the tent sites cool in the hot midday sun.
The fishing must be good because last summer when I was there, some campers I met were throwing back the snapper under 10 pounds (why do fishers still talk in pounds? New Zealand went metric in about 1972).
It was a fishing competition among the camping families who have been coming back for four generations and it wasn’t just the oldies catching the big ones! Having a boat is a good idea.
Fantail Bay campsite has a toehold to a corner of the Coromandel Forest Park and the track behind the camp leads up towards Mount Moehau. In the evening you can climb up the steep hill track for about 30 minutes and hear kiwi. There are a few pairs up there and the pest control operations by MEG (Moehau Environment Group), local iwi, and DOC allow them to thrive.
Shoehorned onto the sandy strip between the beach and the road, this long thin campsite is very popular and it is easy to see why.
The safe beach is at the front of your tent, the pohutukawa and dunes are all around you and the northerly aspect means you have sunshine for most of the day. This makes it an idyllic spot to camp and to launch your boat. The sandy beach sweeps east to the Muriwai walkway that begins at the headland and travels along the coastal cliff towards Fletcher Bay. The views from up there are stunning in all directions and recent pest control work has seen the cliff-dwelling pohutukawa trees coming back strongly to provide a spectacular sight in the early summer.
The chances to paddle, swim and fish in this area are countless and with a family friendly atmosphere, Port Jackson makes a great summer camping site that’s away from the madding crowd. If you are missing your phone fix, the northern-most phone box in the Coromandel is outside the camp gate, but obviously you can’t text on it. Just carry on camping.
It’s the end of the line here. If you go any further east, it will have to be on foot or on a bike around the Coromandel Walkway to Stony Bay.
The old timers will tell you of the days of camping in a sheep paddock. These days, it’s a bit more organised, and a bit more popular. It’s still raw, but with intensive plantings over the last winter, and a bit of subtle landscape management, the place will be stunning in a very short time.
Hardly surprising, the fishing is still good and the location, looking out towards Great Barrier Island, is an image straight off the lid of an old biscuit tin. If you need more salubrious accommodation, there is the backpackers lodge at the back of the campground.
Ah, the Coromandel—summer kind of wonderful! Sun, sand, surf and sweet summer sounds; what more could a kiwi kid need?Take advantage of the numerous activities in the area while you’re in Whitianga for Coro Gold.
This 1.5 hour walk is popular over the summer; the loop track takes you through a puriri grove down to the beautiful Gemstone Bay where there’s a chilled, summer, ‘I’m right where I’m supposed to be’ mood. You can relax just turning pages, lie back, frolic around, explore the caves, and snack from a picnic lunch. Ain’t it good to be alive!
Once you've finished snorkelling, just relax on this rock
If you’re after a messy beach waves hairstyle, spending time here is the place to get one. There are some primo snorkelling opportunities in Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve, especially at Gemstone Bay and on the western side of Mahurangi Island. A snorkel trail with buoys indicate what kind of marine life you’ll find below, and you’ll see plenty—from the tail of the fish, to the top! You can also hire sea kayaks, and go diving!Leave your hair to dry naturally afterwards for salty summer curls.
Hot water beach
Bathe in your own private pool
Hot Water Beach is a few kilometres south of Hahei. For two hours either side of low tide you can dig into the sand, tap into the hot springs and lie back in bliss in your own handmade spa pool. When you think ‘cool me, cool me, cool me down’ then take a refreshing dip with Ko Tangaroa he Atua o te moana. Staying in the shallows is best, as there can be dangerous undercurrents.
A summer history lesson for a more educational holiday
Take a walk back in time and visit the Historic Whitianga Rock which holds remains of an impressive pa. A well fortified Ngati Hei stronghold; rock bluffs and water provided natural defences. Although long burnt and abandoned when Captain James Cook arrived in 1769, he was well impressed and said that the best engineer in Europe could not have choose’d a better place to defend from. Leave all adversity behind and walk up to the top of the headland for spectacular views of Mercury Bay and Whitianga. If you’re there before the tide rolls in, then check out the remains of a stone structure at Back Beach.
For more information on activities to include in your New Years holiday, check out the Parks and Recreation section on the DOC website. Have fun!