A trip to the top of the Coromandel

To me, the true Coromandel is only reached once you have passed through, well, Coromandel - actually - even higher - with Colville (northernmost town of any note on the peninsula) representing a homecoming of sorts.

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I spent a lot of time up the top of the peninsula as a kid. We had a batch right up towards the top of Port Charles – Little Sandy Bay we called it – I don’t think it actually has an ‘official’ name on the maps, but it’s Little Sandy to me.

I hadn’t been up there since the kids, which meant 5 years – so it was well overtime for a pilgrimage – and I thought I would take the big girl with me on the trip.

Planning. Google My Maps still sucks.

Actually, it seems to have gotten marginally better – but it still seems to be a dead-end project for google and still has a really obvious and deal-breaking issue with it – it doesn’t work offline!

You would think, a system that helps you plan out a trip would still work when on the trip and the cell service wasn’t available. Or at least be able to be offlined like the google maps themselves are. But no.

Didn’t really matter – I knew exactly where I was going – but for some of the more adventurous future trips in planning – I am going to have to find another solution.

And off we go…

Claudia and I started, and first stop, well, was coffee – and an attempt to get her to start learning to read a map. Or at least, to get her to begin to understand a little bit more about maps and navigation. As it turns out, turning google maps into a game got her interest. Following the blue line and pointing out the next turn like a rally car driver seemed to work.

, A trip to the top of the Coromandel
See that – that’s an actual paper map! Had to go hunting for one of those!

The key to travelling with kids is piles of toys, treats (nibbles) and distractions – and the best ‘distraction’ is – shock horror – talking to them!

You can only expect a little kid to appreciate the scenery for so long – we also played many games of spot the animal, spot the colour and, as she is learning maths at the moment – ‘what does x plus y equal’?

We headed down south, around the curve and into Thames. The plan was to head up the west side of the peninsula but loosely head back down on the east.

We headed through Thames township as the Saturday Markets were on – a very traditional style of market with piles of nick-knacks, doilies, knitted goods, plants, books and things to eat. Several people busking, lots of people and characters about, generally a nice, ‘old-world’ feel to it all. We stopped for snacks in one of the many cafes in Thames and headed up the coast.

The Coromandel Coast Road is as stunning as I remember it. Windy, narrow in spots, but with heaps of spots to pull over, take some photos and absorb the view.

The further north you get, the narrower the roads. Narrow, gravel roads are not for everyone. While I didn’t come across anywhere that most cars couldn’t venture – there are spots that would be a bit of a challenge after a decent rain. You could see evidence of previous wash-outs, and don’t expect to come out of it with a clean vehicle!

Also, please, the roads are not the opportunity to test out your rally skills. There are plenty of blind corners up there. Blind, narrow corners.

We made plenty of stops along the way – with Claudia getting a little bit of travel sickness – nothing major – I kept on checking in with her and stopped before it got to bad.

We got up to Colville – and to my surprise, and a little sadness found that the old cafe that has always been up there (since I was a kid) was now closed with no information as to when they might reopen. However, I was directed by a helpful local to a new cafe ‘in town’ – Hereford ‘n’ a Pickle – just down the road – been there for two years, great coffee, good burgers – nice folks. And pulled in next to another Defender 110 – so that was that!

Just a little beyond Colville is the t-junction that heads up either to Port Jackson or Port Charles. This weekends plan was Port Charles and a bit of reminiscing, so right it was!


Well, Little Sandy was a bit emotional. I figured it would be. Dad passed away just over a year ago, and obviously this place carries a lot of memories of him for me. He put up the swing that Claudia played on. It’s likely the same bit of rope that I swung on as a kid as well. The giant rubber plant on the beach – he planted that as well. That, mingled with childhood memories of the place caused me to pause more than once.

Stoney Bay Campground

Ah. Good old Stoney Bay. Right up the top of the pinincula, Port Charles side – is another of my favourites places on this planet.

In fact, I would also say that I prefer this place in the colder, wetter times of year. For two reasons –

  • We were the only people there
  • You get to truly feel the power of nature

We didn’t have a storm, which, for the sake of the little girl, was probably for the best – but – you can not mistake the raw feeling of being in a very old and majestic place. It’s not a sandy beach (hence the name) – and you can actually see the process of the sea slowly reclaiming and breaking down the land.

Well. Need to work on the mobile kitchen – but – the Hot Chocolate making kit was on point! Several overly friendly (borderline aggressive) Ducks made Claudia’s day, and we settled into the chairs, wrapped up in blankets to watch the stars come out.

After a good night sleep, Claudia decided 5 am was a good time to get up and get going. So we had some breakfast, splashed around in some puddles for a bit, and packed up and set off, nicely, just as it started to rain.

On the way back past Little Sandy we also stopped at the wharf. Another place I spent a lot of time in my youth. Caught a lot of sprats off there!

Heading back another way

I decided to head back an alternative way to how we came up – instead of coming via Colville, we headed back down on the right side of the peninsula – through Kennedy Bay – another phenomenal piece of NZ coastline.

It was now raining fairly steadily – so I didn’t subject the girl to the rain tramps I would likely have done it by myself – and we eventually came back out at Coromandel. Where we stopped for a bit of brunch before heading away, turning off at the 309 Road.

I don’t have any more photos – it was raining, the little girl was warm in the truck. I am planning on heading back down there soon, so will endeavour to get more!

Final thoughts

Great, simple trip – and glad I found a different way to come back – there is a lot of gravel – but most of it was in good condition – just be aware – as I have said above – take your time, go slow, there is no rush. If you want to race – get on a track, not on a road where there are fathers and daughters enjoying a trip around one of NZ’s gems.

, A trip to the top of the Coromandel

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