When you think of the Coromandel you usually think of stunning beaches and they are definitely worth a visit but we recently found two fun family activities not involving sand.
It’s a while since I’ve been to the Coromandel Peninsula and I had forgotten how stunning the drive of the Firth of Thames was – hair raising and stunning. The road is quite narrow and was definitely built before big trucks and big cars were ever thought of. Watching the gannets diving in to the sea took my mind off just how close we were to diving of the edge of the road ourselves.
Our first stop was Waterworks, a place built with children in mind by someone with an amazing imagination. There were lots of interactive water features and what kid doesn’t love playing with water. It wasn’t just for the kids though and there was lots of interesting facts along the way to keep the adults entertained. We spent a fun filled afternoon enjoying the many activities at Waterworks.
We stayed overnight in Coromandel and then next day explored The Driving Creek Railway. And it turns out that the Coromandel is not home to one amazing imaginative individual but two ( well probably a whole host of creative individuals ) Barry Bricknell originally developed the narrow gauge railway to get clay out of the hills for his pottery.
Today, the railway carries more passengers than materials. Its not ordinary railway though; its New Zealand’s only narrow gauge railway with examples of Barry Bricknells pottery and artistic flair dotted along the journey as you climb the mountain to enjoy stunning vistas over the Hauraki Gulf.
The beaches of the Coromandel are always worth a visit and we headed over to explore Whangapoa with the intent of walking to new Chums Beach but the tide was in and we couldn’t safely cross the stream which gives us the perfect excuse to return.
My Uncle has explored nearly every nook and cranny in New Zealand and rates the Tarawera Waterfall track from the Tarawera Outlet campground as one of his all time favourites and I think he might be right.
Its one of those walks where the trail has as much to see as the final destination; stunning Indiana Jones style native bush, walking beside the gorgeous Tarawera River with waterfalls along the way and then watching the river disappear into rock crevices to emerge out of the side of a cliff a little further down.
We have driven passed the Wairere Falls in the Kamai ranges many times, so when we had a bonus extra day at Easter we decided to stop in on the way back from Rotorua and explore. Its only about 10 minutes off State Highway 2, just out of Waharoa. We were surprised to find the car park nearly full and hoping it emptied by the time we walked the track so we could turn the car around with the camper on.
It’s a beautiful walk straight up the Kamais for 45 minutes through gorgeous bush, beside a river swirling down around boulders, to the base of the waterfall. Then another half hour straight up to the origin of the waterfall and some spectacular views over the expansive plains.
Department of Conservation rates this as an easy walk but I would say its anything but – its lots of climbing at times using tree roots as steps and right to the top was about 1 and ½ hours straight up. We did see some people with young children and 2 ladies with babies in front packs but it wouldn’t be at the top of my list for a track suitable for young children.
I have experienced Abel Tasman National Park by kayak many years ago and as a day trip in more recent times with the kids but never hiked the trail so was excited to get to experience it with a school trip. Ok I will be honest there was a little trepidation about hiking 60km over 4 nights staying in Department of Conservation huts which are to say the least quite basic, with 12 children aged 11-13 but mostly I was excited.
Abel Tasman is New Zealand’s smallest national park located at the top of the South Island. There are actually two tracks; coastal and inland, through the national park which I didn’t know until I looked up Abel Tasman when I was writing this blog so suffice to say the coastal track is the most popular. And that’s not just in my opinion Wikipedia says that too.
So chances are if you decide to walk/tramp/hike ( depending in where you come from as to how you describe getting along a trail on two feet) in the Abel Tasman National Park you will be on the coastal trail and I promise you wont be disappointed. This trail is so popular that the huts are booked 6 months in advance so planning your route, as always, is a good place to start. Be aware that Awaroa Inlet can only be crossed within 1 hour 30 minutes before and 2 hours after low tide so you may want to plan that in to your bookings.
Our group stayed at Anchorage the first night, then Bark Bay, Awaroa and Whariwharangi. The walks in between these huts were very achievable, in fact as we were up early to catch the low tide crossing from Anchorage to bark bay and shaved 3km off our walk we actually had an afternoon relaxing at Bark Bay .
The accommodation on the trail is either in a tent that you have carried in along with everything else you need or a hut with shared sleeping rooms, a toilet and the cooking equipment that you have carried in so yes its quite a lot of gear that you are carrying.
So you have your accommodation booked, what now? Well in my case I started training, some people like to just wing it but I like to train to insure I get maximum enjoyment from the experience. So my daughter and I started walking short ( 5-6km ) distances with a 5-6 kg weighted backpack and slowly increased the distance to 10-12 kms with a 10-12kg backpack ( don’t feel that the distance needs to match your backpack weight just get out there and train )
So now you have your accommodation booked and you have done your training what’s next? Get out there and enjoy it. Before you go will read about Cleopatra’s pool and the beautiful golden sand beaches but I wasn’t prepared for the complete delight when the day trippers leave and you are one of about 30 people in the bay and then the next morning you get to watch the sun rise over a bay in almost complete solitude. At that point carrying all of your gear on your back to walk in to the wilderness makes perfect sense and I was pleased that it was a 4 day hike so I could experience that delight over and over.
The other thing I love about Abel Tasman is that there are so many different ways to experience it; by kayak which I highly recommend also, by foot, as day trippers in a bay or tramping between bays via water taxi or a combination. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to kayak on this trip as the waters around Abel Tasman are home to seals and dolphins.
In fact at one of my lunch time swims I thought I saw seals out on the headland but wasn’t sure as from a distance they do look like rocks, so imagine my surprise when soon after I got out a couple of seals turned up to give us a show.
On previous trips to Abel Tasman we have also seen dolphins so if you get the chance do jump in a kayak. The water taxi operators have various options of walking and kayaking and I even meet a group of people who were doing the track in a variety of ways; some walking, some kayaking and carrying the gear in the kayaks and then they would meet up at the hut each night.
Because water taxis do service the trail you will find quite a lot of day trippers at some of the beaches and walking the trail so in terms of solitude you definitely wont be the only person on the track. However, the water taxis do make the trail more achievable for people to do parts of the trail or a combination and can even shuttle in food and drop it further along the trail for you. Do talk to them about his before you book as the water taxis only go so far along the trail so again you need to get your logistics sorted.
All in all walking/tramping/hiking the Abel Tasman with my daughter’s school outdoor adventure club was one of the best adventures I have ever had and I cant wait to take my family back to experience the delights of truly experiencing the beauty and solitude of Abel Tasman National Park.
Just to clarify the low tide crossings, there are several spots where you can do a low or high tide option with the low tide option saving you a few kms but if its high tide you just walk the high tide route. This is NOT the case at Awaroa – there is only one way across and the inlet can only be crossed within 1 hour 30 minutes before and 2 hours after low tide so you want to know the tide before you book.
Department of Conservation who manage the trails and huts don’t guarantee the water is drinkable at the huts but it was when we were there.
Anchorage has lights in the kitchen/dining area and phone chargers. Two of the other huts we stayed in had lights in the kitchen/dining areas.
There are no shops along the way so make sure you take everything with you.
There is a café/restaurant at Awaroa but its a steep hill out of there so you might want to consider how much you want that flat white.
The Pou Herenga Tai Twin Coast Trail is one of the last of the 22 NZ cycle trails to be opened so when we got the chance to ride it right through in one day (without the kids) we jumped at it.…well, actually we cycled for 87km.
The trail ride was part of our summer holiday (including 12 days of camping) so the logistics, packing and planning for the kids to be looked after by my in-laws wore me out so much I was wondering whether I could do the whole ride in one day. However after we arrived at the Horeke Hotel in the early afternoon and relaxed on the deck, had a delicious meal and a great nights sleep I was ready to go.
Before I talk about the trail the Horeke area is worth a mention. Horeke is at the tip of the Hokianga Harbour and just a 45 minute drive from Paihia. Its New Zealand’s oldest town and boasted the second oldest pub – does that mean New Zealand had a pub before it had a town? Jonny from Paihia mountain bike and shuttles drove us over and we talked about all things mountain biking. He is also very knowledgeable on the area so it was a very interesting drive.
We arrived at Horeke about 4pm. The Horeke Hotel wont be the flashest hotel you ever stay in but it could be the coolest. Its also home to an abundance of local history in the living form of the owners storytelling and old painting collection. There is even an original local Treaty signed just after the Treaty of Waitangi.
The trail officially starts at the Māngungu Mission so we decided to check it out. Its only a 3km ride down a gravel road and a very picturesque wee spot with views over the Hokianga Harbour.
And 3km down another side road is the Wairere Boulders. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit but I hear its well worth the trip to see the stunning rock formations and wander around the boulders.
So after exploring the area near Horeke we returned to the pub to enjoy the views from the expansive deck. The menu for dinner looked simple, steak or fish option, maybe a little too simple I thought but it turns out the hotelier is a whizz in the kitchen and we had the most delicious dinner as the sun set over the Hokianga. The steak and fish were great and the accompanying vegetable dishes and thrice cooked fries were amazing.
The hotel has 3 rooms, two downstairs (one with harbour views) and one upstairs with 2 double and 2 single beds and the best views. Luckily a friend of ours has stayed here before and recommended the upstairs room so we had stunning views and loads of space.
After a good nights sleep we were up early to start the trail. And this is when I wish I had known to chat to the hotelier about the history of the area the night before. Once he gets started with the maori and early settler history and NZ history too its way to amazing and interesting to leave, so our ride start may have been a little delayed but our knowledge of local history was greatly enhanced.
So we set off about 8.30am along the road and across the board walk. I always find it hard when I start off on a long ride to pace myself and this was no different especially as it was just my husband and I riding so no group shenanigans to distract me.
Thankfully after about 5km I overcame my mental block about the distance and got distracted by my surroundings which were very picturesque and varied as we cycled along streams, through native bush and through countryside.
The first half of the ride is mostly gradual climbing but it is well graded and not too tough. There is only one quite steep hill climbing out of the valley up to Okaihau and I ended up pushing my bike. We made Okaihau for a perfectly timed morning tea as the owner was about to shut up shop for a catering job. The towns on this trail are few and far between (as they are on most of the New Zealand cycle trails) so make sure you bring your own supplies or plan ahead to make sure cafes are open when you get there.
From Okaihau you more or less follow the old railway line all the way to Kawakawa then Opua across bridges and through a couple of tunnels. The highest point of the ride is just north of Kaikohe then its pretty much all down hill riding to the coast. We arrived in Opua about 4pm and were pleased that Jonny had suggested to ride from the West to East Coast. Going this way you get almost all the climbing out of the way early on. The trail is very well built and not at all technical. It has good surface conditions and the overall gradient is not tough.
Of course, if riding the whole trail in one day sounds a bit much, you can always check out the accommodation along the way.
This trail would suit older children or younger children in trailers or tag-a-longs.
There are a lot of barriers on the trail and I have read that if you have panniers you end up lifting your bike a lot. For us it just meant a lot of getting on and off.
Sharing family fun & adventures from the kitchen to the great outdoors