Caution: In this article the author makes wildly general, mildly controversial, and borderline sexist remarks, none of which are meant to be offensive. Any abrasive remarks can be attributed to an obscene adrenaline rush derived from an extended period of time in the great outdoors. And maybe the feijoa juice.
Don’t get me wrong, the Coromandel Peninsula on the North Island of New Zealand is a place that can be enjoyed equally by both sexes. Clear ocean waters rife with marine life, dense jungles dotted with waterfalls and swimming holes, rural towns with country stores set beside single lane roads; these are qualities of the Coromandel which can be appreciated by men and women alike.
Nonetheless, in scouring the Coromandel from the confines of the campervan, there are elements of the sparsely populated peninsula which speak to the curious, nearly-Neanderthalic urges of adventurous young males. Climbing mountains, digging big holes, these are things we enjoy. Throw in a little local alcohol just for fun, and the Coromandel can make a case for one of the world’s best outdoor playgrounds.
Planning on visiting the area? Here’s a three-step itinerary for piecing together a “man-day” on New Zealand’s Coromandel peninsula.1. Climb a mountain
Although the Coromandel doesn’t have any mountains taller than 3,000 ft, the dense, forested interior of the peninsula is covered in walking tracks ranging from 20 minute loops to multi-day tests of wilderness navigation. In the Kauaeranga Valley alone there are 21 marked hiking trails which offer sweeping views of the entire Coromandel range, many of which offer access to isolated watering holes where thundering waterfalls are your only companion.
While all of the tracks on the Coromandel are worth a wander, none of them offer views as famously stunning as the challenging Pinnacles track. Departing from the top of the Kauaeranga Valley, the 16 km long Pinnacles track passes through sopping wet jungle that was once home to loggers harvesting massive kauri trees. From the sides of the muddy trail it’s still possible to make out the campsites cleared for early loggers, as well as the stone steps in the pathway carved so that pack horses could gain a better foothold.
At the top of the three hour climb lies a set of metal stairs and hand rails which lead to the greatest view in all of the Coromandel. Clambering to the summit of The Pinnacles offers the hiker a 360 degree view full of vertical rock faces and densely forested jungle as far as the eye can see. The entire gaze to the horizon is completely devoid of humanity, and from the tip of the craggy summit it’s still possible to feel that just for a moment you may actually be the only person on Earth.
After completing such a conquest it’s fair game to have sudden urge for a drink. After all, nothing screams victory like a celebratory stein full of grog. Luckily for Coromandel visitors there are a handful of local wineries and distilleries scattered along the eastern side of the peninsula, all of which are within close enough proximity to hit a few different spots over the course of an afternoon.
At Purangi winery, a funky, curious establishment set discreetly off the side of the highway, the visionary winemakers have actually experimented with creating a liqueur derived from the extract of the feijoa fruit, a little known citrus fruit which flourishes in New Zealand and is sometimes known as “pineapple guava”.
“All Kiwis love their feijoa mate”, claims the bartender, who I reckon has already had a few glasses by mid-afternoon.
“Most don’t know you can freeze it though. Keeps it good all year. We just like to make liquor out of it.”
With the type of sip that inevitably leads to a full body shiver, the feijoa juice alarmingly goes down potent but smooth. It’s just one of the myriad drinking opportunities which occupy the rural coastline, and whether it’s wine, local craft beer from Whitianga, or a generous quaff of feijoa juice, an afternoon spent imbibing the local swill can be a Coromandel afternoon exceptionally well spent.
3. Dig a Hole
Yes, that’s right. Dig a hole. As evidenced by young children at the beach, particularly boys, there is a certain fascination with digging big, deep, maybe-I’ll-get-to-China types of holes. Now take that fascination and combine it with the possibility of striking an upwelling of volcanically charged hot springs, and the digging mission takes on an entirely new level of excitement.
At the Coromandel’s insanely popular Hot Water Beach, amateur diggers descend in droves onto the golden brown sands during low tide, and for two hours on either end of low tide it’s possible to dig a massive hole in the sand to create your own hot tub fueled by the 140°F upwellings rising from the volcanic Earth.
Admittedly a bit overplayed (nearly every store in town sells shovels, for example), creating natural hot tubs on the beach at sunset is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the entire Coromandel.
Regardless of its popularity, comfortably situated in a recliner made of sand and immersed in the tepid natural spring, I strike up a conversation with Angus, an affable Kiwi who has brought his family up from Wellington on vacation. We talk of the Pinnacles, the hot springs, the kauri forests, and of course, the feijoa, its distilled juices still swimming in my head.
“Sounds like you’ve had quite an adventure day”, he remarks. “That’s why we come up here from the city, to get back into the outdoors. This whole Peninsula is an incredible playground.”
Cracking a smile and shooting a quick glance at his two young boys digging happily in the steaming waters, Angus nails the Coromandel right on the head.
“It’s a great place to just be a boy again.”
For 2 months Gadling blogger Kyle Ellison will be embedded in a campervan touring the country of New Zealand. Follow the rest of the adventure by reading his series, Freedom to Roam: Touring New Zealand by Campervan.