This week’s travel dream: New Zealand’s low-key paradise
City dwellers head to the Coromandel Peninsula every chance they get.
New Zealand’s Coromandel Peninsula “personifies what the world envies about the Kiwi lifestyle,” said Amanda Jones in the Los Angeles Times. With its “craggy shorelines, golden beaches, velvety pastures, and coniferous forests,” it is “postcard New Zealand.” What’s more, the people are “bizarrely kind,” the living is easy, and the prices are affordable. You won’t find any fancy hotels here, but that’s how the Coromandel has kept tourist hordes away and weekenders coming back again and again. A two-hour drive east from Auckland is all it takes to reach this “pastoral and peaceful” cape. City dwellers head here every chance they get.
To experience the Coromandel as Kiwis do, you need to rent a “bach.” The term, it’s said, comes from “bachelor pad,” but every New Zealand family and couple seems to have one. Baches all used to be cheap shacks—the kind of places you’d find “poker-playing-dog paintings.” But that’s changing. Front Beach in Mercury Bay has become the “Hamptons of the Coromandel” with its beautiful homes and beachfront promenade. Yet, despite new developments, there are baches for most any budget on the peninsula. In fact, you may want to rent a series of these places and then bounce from one tiny township to the next. Our first bach had Ikea-style furniture, but it also offered an “uninterrupted panorama of waves” and the opportunity to roam barefoot across rolling dunes that had no other footprints.
After that, we jumped from bach to bach. In Hahei, we experienced one of New Zealand’s most famously picturesque beaches, Cathedral Cove. Reachable only by foot, the stunning beach features “creamy sand,” Maori rock carvings, and a limestone monolith created by erosion. At Hot Water Beach, where the sand is warm and the water thermal, we participated in a local custom by digging a hole and then sitting in it while sharing drinks and stories with strangers until the tide came in again. Our final destination was the Karangahake Gorge trail, outside Waihi Beach. We crossed a “raging river on a swing bridge,” then trekked through the forest, up an old railway track, and into abandoned gold-mine tunnels. Even today, you can scoop gold out of the rivers. I didn’t find any, but in Coromandel, who needs it?