We rounded a corner to the final stretch of the Coromandel Coastal Walkway, my mind drifting to the sandy beach ahead. Waves crashed against the sea cliffs below and a cool breeze shook the Manuka bushes behind us.
The sea sparkled all the way to the horizon.
Then I looked up from the trail and realized we weren’t alone: running toward me at a slightly alarming pace was a tiny, fluffy, surprisingly speedy little lamb.
It hit the brakes about a meter away and stared at me. I stared too, at its little pink ears and black nose. A minute into this face-off, just as I was debating whether to run away or reach over for a cuddle, it wagged a fluffy pink tail and bolted down the trail, with one word over its shoulder. I promise, the tiny lamb looked me in the eye and said “baaaa!”
The trail ahead crossed a paddock full of lambs and their mothers before descending to Fletcher Bay. It was a juxtaposition you’d find only in New Zealand: lambs frolicking in Manuka-edged fields with Pacific sea stacks and endless waves in the background.
At Fletcher Bay, our guide produced a coffee press and a gas burner for boiling water. I was blissfully unaware of everything except the perfect hot coffee, the cool sea breeze, the sound of waves and the fact that lambs who live in bright green fields atop sea cliffs really do say “baaaa.”
Springtime in the northern Coromandel is heaven.
Just about two hours from Auckland, this region is startlingly rugged and pristine with massive farms, forest parks, wild beaches and rainforest valleys. Its large-scale beauty has gone relatively unnoticed by travellers in part because its gravel roads are a no-go for many rental cars and the rest of the Coromandel is so gorgeous many don’t imagine it’s worth the effort to keep traveling north.
For those in search of something spectacular, the northern Coromandel is absolutely worth the gravel roads. As a sign at our lodge, Tangiaro Kiwi Retreat, put it: “Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.” And the truth is, our journey wasn’t that difficult. We ditched the car for the weekend and caught a shuttle in Auckland on Friday evening. We’d called ahead to arrange transport from the shuttle drop-off in Coromandel
Town and made our way to Tangiaro after dark. Our host Teresa pointed out the bird calls we heard on the short walk to our comfy cabin. I’d hoped to hear a kiwi but hadn’t expected it to be so loud, so close, or so soon after we arrived. I felt like a kid fighting sleep that night so I could listen for kiwi calls.
We woke up early to the sound of birds and enjoyed breakfast on the veranda of Tangiaro’s restaurant. Our Coromandel Adventures guide, Willie, picked us up and we were off to Stony Bay and the start of the walkway. Willie is a pro at navigating the winding roads and stopping for perfect photo opportunities. From his easy storytelling, we learned about the natural history and Maori culture that shaped this area.
The walk itself was as beautiful as any trail I’ve seen, wandering along sea cliffs and through forest to lookouts over the Pacific. I’d love to return to spend a few days at Fletcher Bay. This time, I was happy to climb on the Coromandel Adventures shuttle at the end of the trail for a ride back to our lodge. Teresa brought a lovely dinner to our cabin and we put our feet up by the roaring fire. But I still had one more goal: a soak under the stars in one of Tangiaro’s spa pools hidden in native forest. It was an ideal end to a spectacular day. I even heard the kiwi again, but this time had no trouble falling asleep.
The next morning, we dug into another hearty breakfast on the veranda and took the 15-minute walk to Tangiaro’s waterfall. I was sad to leave this valley, but excited about our next stop: a horse trek at Colville Farm Holidays’ White Star Station.
White Star Station is a 1,260-hectare farm in the heart of the northern Coromandel. We were met with a warm welcome from Belinda, whose family has run the farm for generations. It was love at first sight for me when I met my horse Chance and learned a few riding basics. I quickly realized that Chance was much smarter trekker than me and would carry me safely across streams and up hills without a second thought.
The amazing thing about trekking at White Star is that from your vantage point on a horse, you are completely surrounded by natural beauty: green fields unfold below you, bush-covered mountains jut up behind you and gentle animals with beautiful eyes saunter beside you. It was an exhilarating experience for some of the more experienced riders in our group who let their horses run through the open pastures. For me, it was purely relaxing and serene.
We covered just a small part of White Star Station’s vast terrain. It includes three waterfalls (which Belinda’s daughter told me are excellent for kid-approved swimming) plus glow worms in an old mine shaft and hours of walking tracks. When I saw guests helping with the springtime bottle-feeding of lambs and calves, I vowed to return next year for a longer visit.
We made our way back to Coromandel town in time to grab a late lunch of local green-lipped mussels from the Star & Garter, then caught the shuttle to our ferry across the Hauraki Gulf to Auckland. The sun began to set as we rounded the gulf’s islands and neared Auckland harbour. Returning to the city by boat -- as if we’d been on an overseas holiday -seemed appropriate. Though it’s not far away, the northern Coromandel is a refreshingly different world.