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New Zealand: Coromandel Peninsula

Natural Jacuzzis, human hamster wheels, smoked eel.

Hot Water Beach  

Crowded Beach, Quiet Beach
Coromandel is crawling with sandy hot spots, but there are plenty of calm alternatives, too.

The Scene: Hahei and Cathedral Cove are havens for snorkeling thanks to the psychedelic array of gem-colored anemones, polka-dotted clown nudibranchs, and electric-blue maomao fish.
The Serene: Opito Bay, reachable only after driving on a gravel road, is an isolated beach with great fishing off the rocks at both ends of the two-mile bay, plus snorkeling, diving, and views galore of stingrays, dolphins, and even the occasional orca.

The Scene: Hot Water Beach is where hordes flock for the underground hot springs—before or after low tide, you can dig a hole to sunbathe in your own Jacuzzi.
The Serene: New Chums Beach is accessible strictly by foot, and the 40-minute trek tends to put tourists off. The intrepid will be rewarded with a mile-long stretch of golden sand where you can lie out undisturbed.

The Scene: Waihi Beach, a five-mile stretch in southern Coromandel, is popular for its annual sand-castle competition and early-morning people-watching, when locals walk their dogs along the beach.
The Serene: The unspoiled, white-sand Opoutere is protected by a three-mile forested reserve; explore the bird life and scope out cockles, pipis, and tuatara (New Zealand reptiles) at the northern end of the beach.

The Scene: The Whangamata beach town gets wild during the summer because of the left-hand surf break—considered the best in the Southern Hemisphere, and home to Ella Williams, the current world junior champion.
The Serene: Waikawau can get busy at the south end, but the beach is so expansive that you often feel as if you had it to yourself. The sand is flanked by protected dunes; the sea is wild with good surf breaks and the odd local kid doing extreme boogie boarding.

Pick Your Macadamia Nuts—and Eat Them, Too
Four foodie adventures courtesy of Ian Kerry, chef and owner of Motu Kitchen (2 Mill Rd.).

Pick nuts: “Visit the macadamia orchards at Cathedral Cove (335 Lees Rd.), a Coromandel institution, which looks out onto Mercury Bay.”
Eat nuts: “At Mercury Bay Estate winery’s Cellar Door (761A Purangi Rd.; 866-4066), the Cathedral Cove macadamia nuts come on a great mixed platter with smoked kingfish and Coromandel mussels, venison salami, cheeses, olives, chutney, dukkah, macadamia oil, and freshly baked breads.”

Curd cheese: “Cheese-making veteran Katherine Mowbray heads a range of different classes, each focusing on specific cheeses like mascarpone and Camembert, at the Cheese Barn ($55 per person; corner of State Hwy. 26 and 4 Wainui Rd.; 868-1284).”
Eat cheese: Pepper Tree Restaurant (31 Kapanga Rd., Coromandel Township; 866-8211) serves offerings from the Barn like cumin-seed Gouda and Killarney Blue. We like sitting with our dog under the trees.”

Brew beer: “All the beer is brewed and canned on site at the Hot Water Brewing Company (1043 Tairua Whitianga Rd.; 866-3830). Watch the brewers at work, and if it’s a quiet day, the owners will happily take you on a tour.”
Drink beer: “Pair one of these cold brews with a meal at Luke’s Kitchen (20 Blackjack Rd.; 866-4480) from local surfer Luke Reilly. It has a beach-shack vibe with live music and open fires; the wood-fired pizzas have names like Little Hippie.”

Smoke fish: “Take a seafood-shopping trip to the Coromandel Smoking Co. (70 Tiki Rd.; 866-8793). The retail store houses the smoking facilities, so you can see the smoking in action, on anything from salmon to eel.”
Eat fish: The Smoking Co.’s fish is served at the bustling Squids Bar and Restaurant (15 Blacksmith Ln., Whitianga; 867-1710). Get the selection that includes Kahawai, tuna, and salmon.”

New Zealand’s Route 66
Road 309—stretching 13 miles from Whitianga to Coromandel Township—is a windy ride past horsetail waterfalls, pine forests, pig farmers, and a 965-foot summit. Here, essential stops along the way.

1. Start from Coromandel town and head to Coromandel Mussel Kitchen (Corner of SH25 Manaia Rd. and 309 Rd.) At this mussel-processing plant, you can devour fresh pots of steamed mussels steeped in exotic sauces laced with Kaffir lime or chorizo, though don’t miss the famous mussel-fritter burger. The owners brew their own pilsner and ginger beer.

2. Stuart’s Pigs Just before the Waterworks (see below), find Stuart—309’s resident swine lover—and his herd of more than 100 pet pigs (old hogs, piglets, and everything in between). Bring scraps to feed them.

3. The Waterworks (471 309 Rd.) This outdoor museum has dozens of water-powered sculptures (many wrought with recycled materials). Highlights include a music box made from Sheffield steel knives and a 30-foot-high water-powered clock. There’s also a human-size hamster wheel.

4. Castle Rock (Turn off 309 Rd. just after the Waterworks) Drive through a pine forest, then abandon your vehicle for a hike up rocks formed from once-molten volcano magma. It’s a treacherous journey but worth it for spectacular views of Moehau, a sacred mountain that is home to the rare (and endangered) Archey’s frog.

5. Waiau Falls (Four miles up 309 Rd.) This small horsetail waterfall has a crystal-clear swimming hole framed by fluorescent-green ferns and other natural flora.

6. Kauri Grove (Drive two miles south from Coromandel town, turn left on 309 Rd. Drive five more miles and look for the signs) An acid trip for arboreal admirers: Cross bridges and trek through native bush while you gaze at these beastly native trees, many of which are more than 100 years old. Don’t miss the sci-fi-worthy Siamese Kauri tree.

7. 309 Honey (1644 309 Rd.) Stock up at Andrew and Sue Williams’s “hive to pot” honey store. The owners maintain a total DIY affair from distributing the hives to spinning, filtering, and potting the medicinal Manuka honey.

Where the Locals Would Stay

“The cabins at Hush Boutique Accommodation (above; from $100; are a short drive from Coromandel’s eastern beaches. You’ll wake to the sounds of wood pigeons.” —Raewyn Penrose, designer

“Te Puia Lodge (from $150; is a traditional Kiwi holiday house close to the beach, with a covered outdoor area so you can BBQ alfresco.” —Simon Buchanan, owner, Moko Artspace

“Everyone raves about 970 Lonely Bay (from $670; All suites have views of native bush and the Cooks Beach white sands.” —Rachel Olsen, artist