By Experience Oz

Top 10 things to do in the Coromandel, New Zealand

By Brittney D · 05/09/2023 · 4 min read
A train line through a forest. Dramatic cave style beaches. When you’ve done all there is to do in Coromandel, you’ll just wanna do it all again.

As one of the North Island's favourite getaway destinations, The Coromandel is all about its wonderful coast that provides an idyllic beach environment that's perfect for simply soaking up the sun or getting involved of any of a number of enjoyable marine activities. With a vast coast that stretches out of a distance of roughly 400km, The Coromandel is rich in wildlife and boasts some truly impressive chances for coastal exploration, rock formations, and even wineries to round out its comprehensive array of offerings.

It's not all just golden, sandy beaches either; The Coromandel includes plenty of opportunities for those who love their history and culture to soak in some of New Zealand's traditions of the past with a number of spots that play a significant role in NZ's heritage. Combine this with some wonderful walking and hiking opportunities – with everything from short, coastal walkways up to more epic multi-day treks, the chance to get away from the coast and explore the vast forested areas inland is readily available. Capping it all off is the water-focused nature of the region which is conducive to the likes of fishing, kayaking, surfing and scuba diving and there's something to do here to fit people of nearly any interest.

If you're planning to take a trip to this sunny, vibrant and beautiful region of New Zealand, or simply a local looking for ideas of what to do, here's our list of the top 10 things to do in The Coromandel, NZ:

10. Combat Zone (Fun Zone) Whitianga

If you're looking for something to do in The Coromandel to keep the kids happy, and if you (and your family) are the active type, then this is one of the most comprehensive facilities for providing fun options of all kinds in the area – all while set amongst some of the beautiful forested greenery that is characteristic of the Coromandel region and NZ as a whole.

Just 10 minutes south of Whitianga, there's simply loads to do here; while the “paintball” part of the name does feature prominently, it's far from the only activity on offer – other diverse experiences such as quad bikes, clay shooting, laser tag, kids quad rides, archery and even Argo rides that take you on a trip to check out some of the area's incredible views are all on offer at Combat Zone Paintball and Fun Park.

Designed to offer something for kids and adults of all ages, the attraction is very well organised, and with better value offered by booking multiple activities in a single package, it's easy to spend half a day or more depending on how many activities you choose to take part in.

Set on a wide and expansive piece of land through which the Kaimarama River runs and rich in native bush and palms, there's a pleasantly calm atmosphere surrounding what is a very upbeat place and serves as a great showcase of true “Kiwi” countryside. Perhaps the best highlight on offer is the Argo ride, which is an extremely reasonably-priced way to take a thrilling trip out atop a ridge to see some spectacular views of the region's beautiful Mercury Bay, while providing a bump, fun journey through bush, splashing through streams and kicking up some mud – be prepared to get damp!

Younger kids are well catered for as well, with plenty of things oriented specifically towards the younger crowd; the “Kidz Quadz” miniature quad bikes are always a a favourite – designed for little ones between ages 6 and 11, they're able to pilot their own 4-wheeler and make their way around a fun little track that allows them to test their driving skills on a machine that has had its speed capped for safety reasons.

“Soccer Golf” is likewise popular and is exactly what it sounds like, as it offers an 18 hole course spread out over two acres of land where competitors try and kick the ball from point to point and get it in the hole at the end. Meanwhile Laser Tag allows kids to try their hand at shooting without any of the physical pain that paintball can bring, and is a great way to build teamwork with the family. Keeping the kids happy can be a mission on any trip afield, but if you're in The Coromandel and looking for something to do, Combat Zone Paintball and Fun Park should definitely put a smile on their dials.

9. Do some Stargazing

The famously clear skies and clean air of New Zealand make for an ideal window into space, and The Coromandel with its relative lack of built-up development is one of the best spots to do so.

While this can be done anywhere there's some open space and a night sky, the small, intimate observatory at Stargazer's Bed & Breakfast takes the viewing experience a step further by offering visitors and night sky enthusiasts with a chance to view the spectacular skies of the southern hemisphere under perfect dark-sky conditions that serves as the perfect introduction to views of the various planets, stars and galaxies that can be seen through its powerful telescope.

Tours that are run by BnB owners Alastair and Harriette Brickell are an informative and interesting way to learn about the wider universe and see the likes of Saturn's rings, Jupiter's Great Red Spot and various other highlights of the solar system from a wonderfully-clear vantage point.

The host's passion for all-things-space is infectious, and even if you've only got a passing interest in all-things-space you'll likely soon find yourself greatly enjoying the experience. Located a 15 minute drive north of Whitianga and last around 1.5 hours, so if you're wanting a more in-depth stargazing experience it's well worth booking.

The Coromandel's overall lack of rainfall and cloud cover also make taking in the stars with the naked eye very impressive, and during camping trips out in the open or while walking along one of the many secluded beaches, it's easy to simply look up and get a spectacular panorama of stars blanketing the sky on clear nights. Stargazing in New Zealand is at its best during the clearer summer months, so if you're aiming for the highest-quality viewing experience, December through April make for ideal target months for enjoying the wonders of the Milky Way.

8. Rangihau Ranh Horse Riding

The rugged ranges and lush native bush of the inner parts of the Coromandel region that dot the various hills and valleys of its terrain may play second-fiddle to its coast, however they are spectacular and there are few better and more truly-natural ways to explore their beauty than on horseback. Rangihau Ranch, which sits halfway between the towns of Tairua and Whitianga, is the best commercially available place to do so and provides a wide range of different treks and trails that will take visitors to great vantage points to take in some of the Coromandel Peninsula's epic scenery.

The facility is famous for the patience and friendliness of its staff, who are more than happy to accommodate first-timers and those who may be skittish about climbing on horse back without having done so before, while the horses themselves are both well-trained and cared for – with horses being allocated to their riders based on skill level.

Once you've been given a safety briefing, you'll join the guides for a ride that makes for one of the best horse rides as far as scenery goes in all of New Zealand.

Beginning amongst the greenery of farmland, the ride heads out to sections of the higher country surrounding the area where the rolling hills provide great views of expansive valleys spread out below, as well as views out to Whitianga and the coast and waterline in the distance that does a great job of summing up the scenery of the Coromandel nicely. Seeing some of the best beaches in the world from afar - with their golden sands contrasting beautifully with the blue of the ocean – helps to grant another level of appreciation for the overall beauty of this area.

The Rangihau Ranch facility also offers accommodation should you wish to stay in a spot that truly exemplifies the meaning of the phrase “getting away from it all” - it's a full-blown farm environment run by vary gracious hosts and has all the quirks and charms one might expect from such a place. Chickens can be found pecking on the lawns, parrots chirp happily in the trees, and fresh vegetables are harvested directly from the garden, while the surrounding bush makes for a great walk and the nearby river perfect for a quick dip if staying in the warmer months.

For a true slice of unfettered Coromandel countryside, you can't go wrong with a trip to Rangihau Ranch.

7. Mercury Bay Estate

Those with a taste for the finer things in life can make their way to the Coromandel's highly-regarded Mercury Bay Estate – home of all things culinary in the region and offering some spectacular views to top it all off.

The estate sits on a hill overlooking the vivid blue waters of Mercury Bay itself and offers a spectacle that is simply breathtaking on a clear afternoon, as the green expanse of its vineyard stretches out towards the nearby quaint township alongside the water for an outlook that's the only one of its kind in the region. It's a picturesque location and an idyllic setting, to be sure, however the views alone aren't the only highlight here; as the only spot in the greater Coromandel region that offers wine tastings, it's also the destination of choice for those with a taste for a drop of the good stuff.

Wine aficionados will be in their element here, as the estate boasts a prodigious lineup of wines of universally high quality – Pinot Noir is a specialty, while various Merlots and Sauvignon Blancs also feature prominently, showing expert craftsmanship from various grapemakers utilising produce from vineyards in the likes of Hawke's Bay and Cook's Beach. Guests are able to enjoy a tasting of four distinctly different wines for the reasonable sum of $10, and the estate's friendly hosts are highly willing to go into greater detail about the production and growing techniques involved in producing each one.

The flavours of the wines are augmented nicely by the range of foods on offer – platters consisting of various fresh cold meats, seafood samplers, cheeses, breads and fruits are specially designed to complement wine are delicious, and sitting back, relaxing and enjoying the food and drink while overlooking the panorama is particularly satisfying.

Despite being a popular attraction in the Coromandel region, Mercury Bay Estate manages to maintain and intimate and personalised feel largely due to the friendly and inviting owner and staff, and a visit here makes for a great lunch venue when coupled with a visit to local highlight Hot Water Beach (detailed further below).

The estate takes around half an hour's drive to reach from the centre of Whitianga on a route that is scenic in its own right, so if you're looking to indulge your tastebuds while making for a decent day trip, Mercury Bay Estate is a great place to both dine and come away with some impressive photo opportunities of the green-and-blue blend.

6. Mill Creek and Animal Encounters

As far as wildlife goes in the Coromandel region, this attraction is something of a hidden gem; part zoo, part farm, part wildlife park, it's one of the most quaint and charming places to see and interact with animals that you've likely never heard about.

The almost utter lack of commercialisation helps a lot in this regard, as Mill Creek Bird and Animal Encounters is very much a family-run facility that still manages to serve as home to an amazing variety of animals. Set amongst a tranquil rural valley on the outskirts of Whitianga, there are literally hundreds of animals here covering a wide range of species – more common, farm-type animals such as pigs, horses, goats and ducks intermingle with the likes of Blue-Tongue Lizards, Bearded Dragons, emus and alpacas to create a varied and entertaining menagerie that both kids and adults will love – particularly if you've got an affinity for birds.

Birds can be found in huge numbers, with over 400 individual birds spread out over 45 different aviaries covering all colours and sizes, including a huge walk-in aviary that allows both a closer look at the birds along with the chance to interact and hand-feed them.

It's this interaction and friendly atmosphere that sets Mill Creek Bird and Animal Encounters apart from most large zoos – letting kids pet, cuddle and feed the animals without excessive crowds is always a hit, and having the ever-social Rainbow Lorikeets come and perch on your arms, shoulders or even head is pure wildlife fun.

All the animals are incredibly well looked after – a testament to the passion and enthusiasm of the owners – in a place that also serves as rescue sanctuary for injured birds to help them recuperate before being re-released back into the wild. Kids can also take the chance to ride on the back of one of the ponies around the paddock which can serve as a charming introduction to horse riding for the little ones.

Capping things off, there's even a miniature train ride the children will love, and when combined with the lovely country setting and the option to spend several days camping here, it's an experience that can be stretched out as a base for further adventures in the Coromandel region. Boasting excellent facilities, a serene location, great people and, above all, tons of interesting animals, if you're wanting a diverse wildlife experience on the Peninsula then you'll want to head here – particularly if you're visiting NZ with kids.

5. Driving Creek Railway

One of the best ways to get a dose of inland Coromandel sightseeing, the Driving Creek Railway is a long-running staple of the region that takes passengers on a scenic journey through varied bush and native Kauri forest that provides an up-close glimpse at some of NZ's verdant fauna.

A wonderful feat of engineering and ingenuity, over the course of an hour, the train ascends to its mountain top station and showcases a variety of views both up close and afar. The experience harks back to the days of steam power and makes for a quirky and entertaining experience that has real charm; ironically, it's the lack of tourist-y polish that make the Driving Creek Railway special, and there's nothing really like it elsewhere in New Zealand, especially for the price given the amount of personal effort that's gone into its construction and planning by local Barry Brickell.

The train winds its way through a vibrant array of replanted native forest that is as remarkable for its conservation efforts as it is its scenery, with silver ferns – an icon of New Zealand – intermingled with a range of quirky sculptures, pottery and other sights along its roughly 3km length.

While glimpses of the Coromandel coast can be seen throughout, it's at the top where they truly open up and come into their own – the waters of the Haruaki Gulf and its various islands look marvellous from the vantage point of its specially-constructed “Eyefull Tower” viewing terminus, and on clearer days the view stretches all the way out to Auckland and beyond. A truly postcard-worthy sight, the view is everything that people expect when imagining the Coromandel coast – a blend of greenery, sea and even the nearby town of Coromandel itself can all be seen here.

Commentary detailing the history and geography of the surroundings as well as the railway's construction is provided by the driver throughout the course of the trip that's both informative and entertaining, and although it might be too complex for younger kids to take in they'll still no doubt get a kick out of the train ride as is. The Driving Creek Railway is located just a few minutes outside the town of Coromandel and runs twice per day, and during busier seasons can be quite crowded due to its popularity so booking in advance is generally a good idea.

Given that it's all the result of one man's hard work and vision, the Driving Creek Railway is impressive in both its scope and ambition, and is one of the most pleasant and relaxing ways to see the Coromandel from a completely different perspective.

4. Glass Bottom Boat Tour

The waters of the Coromandel Coast are one of its major attractions as they're not only beautiful but teeming with fish and a variety of other marine life.

Taking advantage of this while in the region is a must, and there are few better ways to do so than heading out on a glass-bottom boat that will provide you with the chance to look directly down into the crystal-clear waters below and see it all up close – without having to get wet. Gazing through the glass, you'll get a firsthand look at the likes of Triggerfish, Parore, Angelfish and Red Moki amongst others, and the fish's inquisitive nature is such that they'll often swim right up to the windows – making for an experience that's truly “face to face”.

These tours, conducted by a local operator set out to explore the wildlife-rich waters of the Te Whanganui a Hei marine reserve around iconic Cathedral Cove (see below for more detail on this), are also licensed with a marine mammal-watching permit which allows the vessel to get up close with some of the region's magical non-fishy inhabitants such as dolphins, penguins and even orcas (killer whales) that swim under and alongside the boat, as well as New Zealand Fur Seals can be seen in the water and sunning themselves on the rocks.

Taking the boat out to the cove also provides an alternative look at the impressive volcanic coastline with its various unique rock formations and rugged rock walls that give way to the green of the hills and promontories in the distance.

Cruising out to the sheltered and calm waters also affords opportunities for guests to take part in a bit of snorkelling – with equipment supplied free of charge – that allows for personal exploration of the marine reserve's many natural wonders, as there are informational marker-buoys in the area that detail which species can be found in each section of the waterway. The site's beauty can't be understated – it's been used as a backdrop and setting for big-budget Hollywood movies such as the Chronicles of Narnia for a reason, and you'll not only get to appreciate the area visually but also learn about its ecology and the surrounding rock formations in greater detail from the knowledgeable local guides who run the tour.

Whether you're looking to simply laze on the boat in the sunshine and appreciate the surroundings and marine life from on board or take the plunge and go for a snorkel yourself, glass-bottom boats offer a detailed look at what is one of the best havens for marine life in NZ's North Island.

3. Rapaura Watergardens

Carefully cultivated nature, impressive water displays, an incredible array of plants and ferns and some spectacular water features – that's Rapaura Watergardens in the Coromandel's Thames in a nutshell.

Labeled a Garden of Distinction by the Canterbury Horticultural Society and the subject of numerous photos, calendars and postcards, this horticultural hot spot is an absolute oasis that emits an undeniable aura of relaxation for all who visit. Just a short 6km detour along a narrow road off the highway at Tapu is all it takes to be immersed in this well-laid-out series of gardens that contains a series of interesting displays and new features to be encountered at every turn, with the overall garden separated into two distinct “sections” - the first of which is immaculately groomed, while the second opens up into more untamed native bush.

One of the most impressive aspects of the gardens is how seamlessly it integrates water into the proceedings; lily ponds, winding streams and various water sculptures abound, with the prize jewel in the attraction's crown being its wonderful cascading waterfall dubbed “The Seven Stairs to Heaven” that can be reached after a pleasant natural bush walk and even allows guests the chance at a quick dip which can be highly refreshing in the warmer months.

Doing the walking track that takes you through the entire garden can be done in around an hour, however you'll likely want to spend a longer time here – especially if you're wanting to enjoy a bite to eat at the surprisingly impressive little cafe that has a surprisingly extensive menu.

The gardens have been in existence for nearly 40 years, during which time they've gradually expanded and been further refined to the point that they now walk the delicate balance between grooming and allowing nature to run wild extremely well. Rapaura is also a haven for various kinds of bird life, whose songs can be heard echoing through the trees, including cute species such as Fantails, Tuis and Silver Eyes which make for some great photo opportunities when spied amongst the vibrant surrounds.

Add in the friendly staff who are always ready to have a chat and drop some gems of local knowledge, and there's little to fault Raupaura Gardens as an example of New Zealand horticulture and tranquility done right.

2. Whangamata Beach

Widely recognised as one of the most popular beach resorts in all of New Zealand, Whangamata is renowned for two things: the cleanliness of its sand, and the quality of its surf breaks. Stretching over a distance of 4km, the beach is one of the best examples of shoreline among the numerous that populate the Coromandel region, with a lush rainforest background and a variety of off-shore islands dotting the water to round out the spectacle.

The beach is divided into two main parts – with the northern half at the harbour end home to the top surf breaks, and the south featuring a sheltered estuary that provides some of the safest and most pleasant swimming conditions in all of NZ's North Island. Walking along its clean shores, it's easy to appreciate why the beach is held in such high regard – it's equally beautiful on hot, fine days as it is in colder and windier conditions, albeit in an entirely different way.

Whangamata Beach is kept extremely clean and tidy by the local residents and authorities who realise its significance and take great pride in its beauty, which keeps both the sand glistening and the waters free of litter or debris.

The water itself is pleasantly warm throughout most seasons, and is perfect for swimming, fishing, kayaking and enjoying a variety of other marine activities; at low tide, the close proximity of nearby Hauturu (Clark) Island even makes it possible to wade out to the island without ever feeling like you're going to be swept away. Combine all of these with the lack of overdevelopment that often plagues the shores of beaches of similar quality around the world, and Whangamata has been able to retain much of its quality despite increasing national and international recognition.

The area surrounding the beach is no slouch, either, as the blend of native and exotic forest just a stone's throw away presents plenty of opportunities for taking a leisurely walk or hopping on a bike and exploring one of many trails that wind their way through its greenery. The flora looks particularly impressive during the spring as the bright yellow of the local Agarapathana flowers in full bloom carpet the area in a tableau of bright, vivid colours.

The beach is also extremely convenient, as there are shops, cafes and restaurants all just a short 100m walk away, so you'll be able to enjoy a bite to eat while taking in the coastal views. For an uncrowded example of New Zealand's beaches at their finest, Whangamata does an exemplary job of carrying the card.

Hahei & Cathedral Cove

If there's any single spot that serves as the perfect icon of the Coromandel region as a whole, it's undoubtedly the golden, rocky and spectacular Cathedral Cove.

With its internationally-famous, naturally-formed stone archway that opens out into a wondrous beach environment that looks like something out of a magazine shoot, it's easily one of the most picturesque spots in the Coromandel as well as New Zealand as a whole, and defies international expectations of the country that many think is purely snow-capped mountains. Reaching the cove requires a fair walk – expect to spend about 45 minutes without rushing - from its nearest carpark (which unfortunately only offers limited parking which can be a pain in peak seasons), however upon first viewing the iconic archway any effort put in will immediately be seen as more than worth it.

The cove is the epitome of New Zealand “summer”, and is a hub of both activity and relaxation; it's as enjoyable to relax on and people-watch as it is to kayak, swim, snorkel or cruise.

As mentioned in our Glass-Bottom Boat section above, wildlife makes exploring the waters particularly interesting, as the 9 square kilometer Te Whanganui-a-Hei Marine Reserve is one of New Zealand's most abundant showcases of fish and marine mammals, which combine with the various massive sea caves and blow holes to make for one of the most distinct landscapes in the world. Orua Cave is a particularly dramatic example of the landscape at its finest – a massive natural limestone cavern which has been gradually moulded by the elements over the years and is of special significance to the native Maori people.

If there was one word to best sum up Cathedral Cove, “secluded” might be it; despite its popularity it still conveys a feeling of isolation and escapism that is hard to match anywhere else in the country; if you didn't know better, you'd likely sooner assume you're in some island in the South Pacific or Mediterranean instead of NZ. In order to maximise this atmosphere, however, you'll likely want to visit Cathedral Cove on a weekday (and, ideally, outside of school holidays) as its favourable reputation can sometimes lead to overcrowding which can disturb its “aura” somewhat.

With a scenic walk, pristine beach, incredible marine life and inspiring rock formations, if you've ever wanted to walk into a scene from a postcard, Cathedral Cove is your go-to destination of choice in the Coromandel region and a worthy natural icon for the area as a whole.

In addition, if you're looking for all the top things to see and do in and around The Coromandel including activities, attractions and more, be sure to check out our main region section to browse and book online!
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