WHAT TO SEE & DO
Quiz a Kiwi on their favourite beach, and chances are it will be a Pacific Coaster. The Coromandel’s roll call includes Cathedral Cove, famed for its huge rock arch, and nearby Hot Water Beach where geothermal waters seep up from underground springs. There are surf beaches galore, with Mount Maunganui one of the most famous closely rivaled by other goodies such Whangamata and Wainui.
Eastland has many beautiful, empty beaches, often steeped in history and lined with gnarled pohutukawa trees, while down in Hawke’s Bay water babies can make a splash at Waipatiki to the north, or Ocean Beach and Waimarama to the south.
Walkways around hills and headlands offer ample opportunity to survey the Pacific Coast from on high. It’s a 30-minute hoof to the summit of Mauao (Mt Maunganui), overlooking Tauranga harbour and surrounds, while around the coast is East Cape Lighthouse, first in the world to see the sun rise each day.
Te Mata Peak is the dramatic 399m pinnacle overlooking Hawke Bay and the Heretaunga Plains. A walkway ambles around the peak and its hilly surrounds, although it’s also possible to drive to the top. The bay is bookended by imposing Cape Kidnappers, home to a gannet colony accessible via a walkway or crazy tractor tour.
Bike hire and shuttle services enable exploration of three national cycle trails. The Karangahake Gorge section of the Hauraki Rail Trail is a real crowd-pleaser, being an easy return trip taking in a quaint railway station, peculiar mining relics and a long, spooky tunnel. The Hawke’s Bay Trails offer fun-time with minimal puff as they loop widely through flat town and country sporting pretty coast and riverbanks, wineries and other visitor attractions. The Motu Trails, in the eastern Bay of Plenty, include a cruisy 11km coastal section with beaches and dunes.
Architecture, art & culture
In the aftermath of the devastating 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake, Napier city emerged as an internationally renowned art deco precinct. Walking tours survey its glories, while the new MGT museum provides comprehensive background alongside other cultural and art exhibits. Gisborne’s Tairawhiti Museum also illuminates local history, laden with Maori culture and tales of Captain Cook.
With award-winning architecture, Tauranga Art Gallery is a modern public facility hosting varied programmes, strong on contemporary exhibitions. The Coromandel is a hotbed of homespun arts, with Driving Creek Railway at its heart. This unique medley of pottery workshop, gallery and forest railway well deserves is crown as the Coromandel’s most popular attraction.
Food & Wine
While Tauranga, Gisborne and Napier have the most sophisticated culinary scenes, quieter spots serve up all sorts of delicious surprises with a keen focus on seasonal ingredients. The Britz campervan kitchen can easily be stocked up with local products such as smoked meats, farmhouse cheese and chocolate, but it is roadside stalls full of fruit and vegetables that make travelling through these parts such a treat.
Hastings’ Sunday Farmers’ Market is one of the nation’s best. Two major wine regions – Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay – boast refined vineyard dining as well as tasting rooms and tours. Remote taverns double as endearing community hubs, such as Te Puka in Eastland’s Tokomaru Bay, and the Pukemanu near Napier.
Of all the surprises along Eastland’s coast road, few are as photogenic as the historic wharf at Tolaga Bay/Uawa, the longest in the Southern Hemisphere. The holiday park alongside is a relaxed little spot, just along from Cooks Cove Walkway where information panels recount tales of discovery and settlement.
New Chums Beach
This swathe of sand, lapped by turquoise waters and fringed with native forest, is often touted as one of the country’s most beautiful beaches. It’s all the more so for its isolation – the 30-minute walk to reach it from Whangapoua (off the road between Coromandel Town and Whitianga) keeps visitor numbers in check.
A short drive from Thames, this verdant valley is suffused with natural and human history, as introduced at the excellent visitor centre. Various forest walks pass pioneer relics and swimming holes, and reach memorable viewpoints. Campervans can park up in eight basic campsites nestled into the bush. Eastwoodhill Arboretum New Zealand’s national arboretum is tucked into the hills behind Gisborne. The significant and handsome plant collections here can be admired on a network of easily navigable, themed trails.
- Campervan travel is easy around this region, with clear road signage, spacious parking and
excellent visitor services.
- There are stacks of holiday parks throughout this part of the country, the majority of which
are on or near the beach and foster a sociable, family-friendly atmosphere.
- With the exception of January and Easter when New Zealand holidaymakers are out in force,
campsite bookings are usually not required so campervan travellers are free to follow a
- Along quieter stretches of the Pacific Coastal Highway – Eastland and northern Hawke’s
Bay – visitor facilities are thinner on the ground so it will pay to plan ahead for overnight
stops, fuel and groceries.
- Outside of remote Urewera National Park and the extreme tip of the Coromandel (out of
bounds for Britz travel due to road conditions) there are only a handful of DOC campsites.
- Freedom camping is permitted in some places; i-SITE visitor centres can advise where and
what rules apply.
- Hot springs can be found throughout the Bay of Plenty; several holiday parks have pools on
site or nearby, including Athenree and Omokoroa
- Northland’s Twin Coast Discovery [add link]
- Auckland to the Coromandel [add link]
- Auckland to New Plymouth [add link]
- Thermal Explorer Highway [add link]
- Waitomo–Rotorua Loop [add link]
- Central Volcanic Plateau [add link]