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If you’re in the Auckland area, have a 4WD and a weekend, Richard Soult of new trip-planning website 4X4Explorer.co.nz has an idea for you...
There are many types of 4WD owners. For instance, there are those who spend their weekends up to their necks in mud, reliant on friends and a winch to complete a short bush track, then there is the majority.
How many of us, for instance, own a truck and are itching to get out and get it dusty but have to consider the kids, the better half and don’t really want to get the paint scratched. Lots, I suspect...
This weekend trip is a real winner for everyone.
When I mention the Coromandel, most of my friends immediately think of Whitianga, Pauanui, Tairua, Hot Water Beach, Cathedral Cove and the usual, easily accessible and far too often crowded destinations that the Coromandel has to offer.
However, being a Canterbury boy currently based in Auckland, I’m always looking for the great, “end of the road” escape. To this end, and with a little bit of effort, the Coromandel has lot’s more to offer than most realise. There are fantastic views around every corner and the feeling of really being away from it all.
So, let’s go
Leaving Auckland, head down the coast road past Kawakawa and around the Firth of Thames. Make sure that you arrive at Kaiaua around lunchtime for a good feed of fish and chips at the “world famous in Kaiaua” fish and chip shop. Even better, get a takeaway and eat under the trees overlooking the sea and the mountains of the Coromandel.
A bit further down the road are the hot springs at Miranda. Basically a thermally heated swimming pool, but well worth it, particularly if it’s a cold winter’s day.
Following the road around you pass through Thames and an hour later you will be in Coromandel town. The first time I visited the township, I felt like I was in a museum. It’s beautiful with its old town buildings, a wide range of eateries, a supermarket and shops. This is your last real civilisation before heading north, so stock up.
About 40 minutes from Coromandel, you reach Colville and the last shop. Time to get anything that you’ve forgotten. From here, you leave the tarmac and the gravel starts. Signs tell you to switch your lights
on, even during daylight hours and to beware of blind corners.
You now have a choice. Fletcher Bay or Stony Bay? Whilst the two are only a few kilometres apart, the access is completely different.
To access Fletcher Bay, the road takes you up the Western side of the peninsula, following the coast road edged by Pohutakawa trees, past Port Jackson to the road end.
The campsite is small and the wardens are friendly. If you go there when the fire ban is not in place, you can buy firewood on-site and have a fire either in the campsite or on the beach. The views to Great Barrier Island are spectacular and make sure that you remembered the marshmallows for the campfire.
The access to Stony Bay is different. The gravel road takes you over the hills, winding through native bush, past a kiwi listening post, down into Port Charles and then onto Stony Bay.
Before starting the descent to Stony Bay, there is a turnoff on your right, which takes you a look out with fantastic views of Great Barrier and the Mercury Islands. The track looks steep but, as long as it’s dry, you’ll get up and back without difficulty.
Stony Bay is my “go to” weekend place and really offers so much for everyone. If you go early in the year, the resident ducks will have ducklings, and being used to campers, they will be all around campsite and not afraid to let the kids pick them up.
Speak to the camp wardens and find the friendly eels in the stream. They don’t bite and welcome visitors bearing nutritional gifts. They are like dogs and in exchange for food, love being stroked.
Venture down onto the beach on the left and you will find a natural shower where a stream runs over a small bluff. Great after a swim in the sea.
Plenty to explore
If you have a kayak or dinghy, then take it. There are lots of little bays within the bay and caves that can be explored.
Fishing is good at both destinations, so take your beach rod or kayak.
Wherever you decide to end up, you will have a great time. Always speak to the wardens to get the latest on what there is to do.
On the return journey, take the gravel road through Kennedy Bay, over the top and back down into Coromandel town.
If you have time, Route 309 offers a wild pig farm, a Kauri stand and fantastic views.
If you don’t have the time and are travelling back late in the day, the sunset views out over the Hauraki Gulf will take your breath away.
I normally don’t like the journey home after a weekend away, but these views will make you smile and forget that Monday is coming.
If you take the coast road back to Auckland, the fish and chip shop is open in the evening for that last feed.
For more information on this route and many more throughout New Zealand, join 4X4Explorer.co.nz
Dawn over Great Barrier Island from Fletcher Bay.
Sunset on the way back from a Classic Coromandel Weekend.
Feeding the eels at Stony Bay.
A short kayak to Shag Bay.
Arriving at Stony Bay.