On each tour, we share a private Facebook group where we can swap photo’s and keep our friends and family updated as to the amazing things we are doing. On it, I also keep a daily diary. This is my Tour Diary for the COROMANDEL EXPLORER tour that departed in January 2022.
Day 1: Mon 17th Jan22
We four departed Whangarei at 9am, under the cover of serene blue skies, headed for a coffee stop at Cafe Eutopia. Always a great stop, the art cafe of Kaiwaka didn’t fail to impress again. Before departing, I took the opportunity to pop next door and grab some trip supplies from Kaiwaka Cheese. The creamy Cumin is always a winner, and the Maasdam is delicious. My third cheese is always a random choice – this time nettle. We met Heather & Joy at Mairangi Bay then went to Browns Bay for lunch. “The Stoned Cow” cafe was a great recommendation from Heather. Another Art cafe, the whole place is filled with art, much of it by the artists employed to cook and wait tables by the cafe. Sales manager Micky, and owner Shaun were great fun as they came out and interacted with our group.
Heading south, we stopped at the Bombay Autobahn, with a mandatory shop at “Made in Italy” – home of beautiful handbags and racks of summer dresses.
We arrived at our motel, Tuscany of Thames at 4.30pm with time for a swim in the pool, before wine & cheese at the motel, then dinner at Gastronomics restaurant – one of the best in Thames.
A short twilight walk though the township ended a day of much laughter and enjoyment.
Day 2: Tue 18th Jan22
We headed out by van to the centre of Thames to our breakfast destination – Cafe Melbourne. There was a great range on the breakfast menu, and we unanimously agreed it was one of the best cafe breakfasts we have ever had.
Our first stop is the day was the Thames Goldmine Experience. Our guide Peter was a passionate amateur historian of the area. He first guided us through the underground tunnels made by the Cornish miners, then he showed us through the workings of the Replica stamper and sluice.
At 11.15am we left the old mine and drove the 3 minutes to the Thames School of Mines. Our young guide at the School had a degree in History and a sound knowledge of New Zealand mining. The school was once the epi-centre for technical learning in the North Island, back when Thames was the centre of the Gold rush.
We left Thames, and headed inland for 20 minutes of winding Road to Kauaeranga Valley National Park.
Lunch was a picnic by the Visitor centre, then we watched a 30 min video of the history of the valley. From the visitor centre we set out on a 20 min walk to a partial size replica of a timber dam which the old bush men used to help transport the logs to the coast. The day was sweltering hot, so before heading back to the Motel, we couldn’t resist a paddle in the Kauaeranga River.
Dinner that evening was at the Grahamstown Bar & Diner at the Old Junction Hotel. The Junction is one of the last standing of the original 120 hotels that serviced the population of 18,000 during the Gold Rush days.
A History of Thames & Coromandel
Day 3: Wed 19th Jan22
We left Thames and headed up the coast to the always popular Waiomu Cafe on the coast.
The cafe is nestled on the main road in Waiomu across the road from ancient Pohutakawa trees on a grass park that stretched to the ocean. The food at the cafe is great, with plenty of choice.
We drove a few minutes further along the coast then headed inland on the windy road to Rapuaru water Gardens.
The gardens are the realisation of the vision and creativity of two very dedicated people. Fritz and Josephine Loennig purchased 64 acres of regenerating bush and grazing land in the Tapu Valley in the early 1960s with the intention of creating their own private water lilly garden, and is now a manicured walk for the public to visit.
A few minutes from the water gardens we met Heather at Mahara Sculpture Gardens. Heather has spent the last 14 years developing the lawn and bush around her pottery studio into a sculpture walk that also features a hedge maze and a food forest.
Our time in Tapu ended with a lunch at the Tapu Pub, then we struck out north, stopping for coffee and views at the Manaia Saddle, then afternoon tea at The Coromandel Oyster Company. We shared a dozen fresh Oysters, and a plate of delicious battered Oysters and Mussels.
Coromandel township was only a few minutes further, then we arrived at our hotel – The Coromandel Court. Dave and Janeen were great hosts, and met us with a bottle of wine for our stay.
Dinner at Pepper Tree ended a great third day of the tour.
Day 4: Thu 20th Jan22
Breakfast in the morning was a J. A. K’s. We chose from the working man’s breakfast menu which included full steaks and an early morning fisherman’s special.
Our first stop of the day was Driving Creek Railway, and definitely a highlight of the tour. We climbed on board for an entertaining one-hour and fifteen minute railway journey. The driver told us the story of Barry Brickell’s lifetime passion to bring Art, Conservation and Engineering together to create Driving Creek. Our tram wound its way up to the EyeFull Tower lookout, traveling through a regenerating native forest filled with sculptures and artistic creations.
Leaving Driving Creek, we struck out for the far north to the Colville Store, and had a light lunch next door at The Foragers Kitchen, then we doubled back to take The windy 309 Road the cuts across the peninsular.
As the tarseal gave way to gravel, our first stop was Stuart & the Pigs. There was no sign of Stuart, but the pigs were lounging amongst the derelict lichen covered caravans and vehicles which was clearly their homes.
Our next stop on the 309 was The Waterworks Water Park. Here over 70 individual water based attractions were available to play on, or interact with. A quirky sense of humour lurked around every corner as we got lost in the “stuffed toy maze”, marvelled at the Water Clock, and shrieked when every innovative display soaked us with spray. Our final stop was “Honey on 309“. Up a long country drive, we found Sue ready and waiting for us to sample the 8 different flora’s that they produced on the farm.
We arrived in Whitianga, dined at Salt by the Sea, then settled in for the night at The Blue Marlin Apartments.
Day 5: Fri 21st Jan22
We started our morning with an early breakfast at the fabulous café – French Fig, then we made our way to Whitianga Wharf.
Here we board our Glass Bottom Boat Cruise that was to take us out to Cathedral Cave. The two hour trip took us all around the marine reserve, stopping arguing the small islands to view of the sea life below. We even had a chance for a swim from the boat and the water was surprisingly warm! It was great to be out on the water on this beautifully calm day.
After our boat trip, we spent a few hours wandering the trendy township of Whitianga, then departed for Hot Water Beach.
We had timed our arrival right, just as the tide was starting to recede. A life guard pointed out the sandy area, where, only a few inches below, two x 4 metre wide veins of heated water flow underneath and out to sea. A hundred or so tourists were there, staking out there claims, digging out pools of heat.
Leaving Hot Water Beach, we made our way to Whangamata for a fish & chips (and wine) picnic dinner, before arriving into Waihi just before dark.
Day 6: Sat 22nd Jan22
Our last day of the tour started with a lovely breakfast at the Ti Tree cafe, then off to the Waihi Gold Discovery Centre.
The Gold centre is a highly interactive museum, featuring a holographic movie theatre telling the story of the miner strikes, a 6ft tall Lego recreation of the underground workings of a gold mine, and you can even try out a pneumatic tunnel drill!
Straight after the museum, our experience continued as we boarded the bus with Eddie our guide to the Martha Mine. Eddie took us to the rim of the mine and explained in detail the work that was currently going on in the tunnels far below the huge crater.
Afterwards, it was time to head home, with a quick shopping stop in Paeroa, then back to Mairangi Bay & Whangarei.
I loved the whole Coromandel trip and look forward to doing it again next year!