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Destination: Coromandel

Mo’Vanning through Coromandel

Danielle Wright
1 February 2011

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The forecast is for tropical cyclones, heavy rain and floods. None of this matters as we head out on the 360 discovery cruise to Coromandel peninsula, a glorious two hour Gulf Harbour cruise from downtown Auckland.

The sun shimmers on the still water as we laugh at the forecast. “Never let the weather report ruin your day,” is a Kiwi mantra. It seems if rain is forecast, the opposite will happen in a country famed for its four seasons in one day.

Karen from Coastal Campers meets us at the Coromandel jetty after an easy passage and takes us through the necessary familiarisation with our six-berth holiday home. Her boys fish on the wharf and enjoy the views as she tells us of her decision to start the lifestyle business from her base in Whitianga.

It’s a good feeling being able to contribute finances to her dream, rather than giving our family’s money to a larger chain and the clean and compact campervan ends up as the main attraction of the holiday for our children as they enjoy poking their heads out of the upper bunk sleeping area and saying hello to fellow campers.

Fully briefed, we buckle up and head to The Waterworks playground, a quick fifteen-minute drive through the bush past burnt out cars and pig farms in a classic Kiwi version of redneck countryside.

Almost there, we notice a long line of cars backed up behind us as we get used to driving the wobbly van up unsealed roads – pulling over to let other drivers past is par for the course in a campervan so you can almost double time estimates from locals on how long a journey will take.

The Waterworks is reminiscent of playgrounds in Germany, where the friendly staff are from and where my husband spent some of his childhood. We find plenty of shaded seats to sit on while we watch our kids enjoy water-themed inventions, flying bicycles, a human mouse wheel and plenty of fun water play to cool down for the afternoon.

After a lunch of over-sized oysters, garlic mussels and chunky seafood chowder from one of the many seafood kitchens set up on the side of the road into town, we head to Driving Creek Railway for an afternoon tour on New Zealand’s only narrow-gauge mountain railway, also featuring a working pottery and wildlife sanctuary.

The trip takes us to the ‘eye-ful tower’ overlooking the beautiful island-studded Hauraki Gulf with forested valley and mountains behind. The centre is one man’s vision, started in 1973 when Barry Brickell bought the land for a mere $8,000. Much love and hard work has gone into the quaint and colourful complex and it’s enjoyable at any age – just keep your elbows and heads inside the carriage!

Our first night in the Coastal Camper begins at the Coromandel Holiday Park three minutes from the centre of Coromandel Township, which features many art shops, restaurants and the usual overpriced minimarts.

Everything we could need is already supplied in the van, from mini-bottles of washing up liquid to a first-aid kit. We notice that it’s a lot easier than camping in a tent and bringing everything with you, which wouldn’t have been an option on a small ferry.

The Coromandel Holiday Park is one of a group of holiday parks under the trusted Family Parks banner. There’s a play park, swimming pool, trampoline and games room, as well as DVDs for hire and family accommodation in cabins or self-contained motel units, as well as plots for campervans or tents.

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Heading for Hot Water

The next day we head to the quaint coastal town of Whitianga, past tiny baches swamped by dozens of sheep in front yards, motorcycle shaped letterboxes and spectacular views through the ranges.

We’re headed for the glass bottom boat tour to Cathedral Cove, but the trip is called off because of the blustery weather that has raised its inevitable ‘second day on holiday’ head. We amble at the kid’s play park situated on the waterfront and chat to other confused campers with their kids, no one sure what to do with a washed out weekend forecast.

Luckily, the helpful staff at the local iSite points us in the direction of CombatZone, a family adventure park about 20 minutes drive from the Whitianga wharf. Famous for its ARGO all-terrain vehicle ride, a thrill seeking fifteen minutes hooning up mountains and through streams for those who dare.

Paintball target shooting unleashes a new side to our normally sweet two-year-old daughter as she delights in making big splotches with a gun as big as she is on the target, a goofy looking Elmer Fudd-type cartoon character.

The real-life digger challenge entertains our five-year-old son (and his dad) as they find out a builder’s job isn’t so easy after all. Then it’s time for a few rounds of mini-golf with soccer balls for a fun afternoon.

Back on the road, we head to Coromandel’s famous Hot Water Beach after picking up supplies in Whitianga – if you see a big supermarket in the Coromandel, stop, there might not be any more for a few towns and the tiny mini-marts aren’t so fresh and are double the price of a supermarket in a bigger town.

As we pull around the corner into Hot Water Beach Holiday Park we see throngs of tourists with large spades heading for the beach to dig up thermal water holes to sit in.

Bad weather always looks worse through a window, so we put on raincoats and gumboots, put up umbrellas and head for the beach, a giant puddle to splash in. Lifeguards in a branded retro caravan point us in the direction of an area about the size of a small bedroom with around 50 people congregated.

Not so much a hot water beach as a hot water patch. Some of the hot pools are too hot to put your feet in so try them out before you let your children’s tiny feet touch them. Others are too cold. In true Goldilocks fashion we test each until the perfect - just right - hole is found.

Hot Water Beach Holiday Park is well set up with a corner store and fish and chips shop onsite. Its family bathroom has continuous hot water and you don’t need any 50c or $1 coins to keep it going. Much to our children’s delight, it also has a little bath. They have a good old splash and get cleaned up after 24 hours of roughing it in the campervan.

The heavy rain wakes us early and we set off for the next stop, Wentworth Valley campsite, which is a family-run Department of Conservation campsite.

Where some of the campsites have seemed like large carparks near nice beaches, this one is the main attraction and a total retreat. It’s beautiful, and like staying in a serene bushland environment but with the added security of onsite managers (a lovely family), a barbecue, toilet facilities and a number of walks through the regenerating native forest including to mines, waterfalls and pet eels. Onsite glow worm tour can even be arranged after dark.

Remnants of a Maori gathering lay next to our campsite, flax weaving and pieces of charred wood sit scattered under the large trees – testament to quality family time spent over the last 24 hours.
Another large family gathering of around twenty-five arrives as we head up through a well-managed path to the waterfall with the purest water - it’s as if the New Zealand 100% Pure campaign was thought up on this very walk.

This is true back to nature camping with no power or mod cons but definitely a must-see stop, and if it gets too much, a few minutes down the road is the four-star Wentworth Lodge complete with a helicopter perched on the front lawn.

Unfortunately, our power supply is on low and with the prospect of an afternoon and evening spent in torrential rain inside a dark campervan with small children, we opt to end the holiday and head back early. Just before the holiday turns miserable.

We get to the Coromandel Holiday Park late at night and are relieved to find a vacancy and rearrange our return ferry for the next day. With no indoor leisure centre or other indoor activities in the area for kids, it’s the best option.

As we settle in, we hear a siren go off in the centre of town for a few minutes. We check the met service, which shows severe flood warnings for Coromandel Peninsula. We ask at the local petrol station what the siren is for, but no one in town seems to know. Later we find out it was probably calling for the volunteer fire service to head into town in case of emergencies.

Without knowing where to go for advice, we decide not to wait for the afternoon ferry to be cancelled in gale force winds and head back to Auckland by campervan early the next morning – Coastal Campers are very accommodating and we arrange for collection at Auckland Airport for an extra fee. After seeing the briskness of the Queensland floods, we’re not taking any risks with small children.

As we drive through the beautiful coast road through to Thames there are many slips and road closures will come later in the day as non-essential travel along these parts is strongly advised against.

Back in Auckland, the main Quay Street along the wharf is also closed due to floods and we pass marinas with wharfs submerged and streets closed due to overflows from rising seas. A text arrives, “Sorry your ferry is cancelled for this afternoon.” We know we made the right decision to come home early, rather than be stranded for a few more days.

With such an ominous forecast, maybe we should have postponed the trip altogether. But then again, if you spend your whole life waiting for the storm, you’ll never enjoy the sunshine, and what sunshine we did see poking through the clouds, was glorious. What’s more, the kids returned home excited and full of holiday talk, in spite of the rain.

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A severe weather warning status map is available from the met service and the precautions you should take to keep safe in severe weather are at Get Thru (click for flood or storm), or for schools, as What’s The Plan Stan.

For more information about the Coromandel visit


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