Coromandel Coastal Walkway
What is it?
After a relaxing two-hour ferry cruise from Auckland city to Coromandel, one of the most enjoyable ways to get up close with the peninsula’s scenery is to follow this historic ten-kilometer coastal path between Stony Bay and Fletcher Bay.
Graded easy by the Department of Conservation, and open to both bikers and walkers, it can be followed in either direction, and there are DOC campsites at each end.
For day-trippers, it’s recommended to use local tour operators who will take you from Coromandel town to do the walk, and pick you up afterward. The drive between town and either bay is a slow one along unsealed roads, making the walk a day-long expedition, but the driver’s commentary — history, geology, geography, gossip — is interesting and entertaining, and the scenery always lovely.
Heading up the west coast to Fletcher Bay from Coromandel town, you get your first taste of what is to come, with the blue sea breaking white on the rocks to your left beyond a fringe of flax, while bush-clad hills rise to your right behind green farmland.
The quirky little settlement of Colville is your last chance for a coffee at Hereford ‘n a Pickle, where you might also want to buy some treats for lunch. Be sure to have a browse through the barn-red General Store, which sells everything from mung beans to nails.
As you continue the drive up the coast, you’ll pass the granite wharf at Parity, where the rock was hauled from the interior to be loaded onto scows, for the construction of Auckland’s War Memorial Museum and Post Office, and Wellington’s Houses of Parliament.
More velvety ribbed hillsides follow, dotted with sheep, cattle, and wild turkeys, and the road is one long avenue with gnarled pohutukawa hanging overhead. They are spectacular when in glorious red flower in December but are always majestic, framing blue sea, green islands, and stony beaches. After bumping through some rocky fords, you arrive at the end of the road, and the start of the well-marked walkway, to begin your hike.
On the track
Crossing farmland through manuka scrub, and encountering the first of many laid-back Angus cattle, you get views of inviting sandy beaches below. When you reach the top of a ridge you will see ahead of you the distinctive hump of the 220 meter Sugar Loaf hill, with the Sugar Loaf Rocks and Pinnacles below it, and Great Barrier Island a looming presence not far away across the sea. You’ll take a break here at the old shepherd’s
hut, getting on for a century old and a reminder that the track you are following started as a bridle path for both Māori and early settlers.
The mature native forest comes next, lush with nikau palms, puriri, and pohutukawa, and full of noisy birdlife before there’s a short, but steep, drop down to Poley Bay. Here are interesting pancake rocks which are reminders, like the Sugar Loaf pinnacles, of the peninsula’s volcanic past. The stony beach isn’t recommended for swimming, but the submerged rocks here don’t put off the gannets, which can be seen diving like arrows
into the water — a reminder, if you need it, that it’s about lunchtime.
Puffing afterward back up to the ridgeline, you have a pleasurable amble through the forest along towards Stony Bay. Glimpses of sea and cliffs give you the impetus you need to take the steep but short side-track up out of the forest to the observation point, from where you’ll get a glorious 360- degree view of the peninsula’s hills both bare and forested, the sea, and Little and Great Barrier Islands. You might also be tempted to take the nearby detour down to Shag Bay.
From here it’s a gentle descent down to the finish of the walkway at Stony Bay, where a creek is a home to tame eels and you’ll find yourself again at the end of a road. You’ll either meet your pick-up back to Coromandel town or settle into your well-earned rest for the night at the DOC campsite.
The more intrepid and energetic though will head to the start of an alternative route to walk back to Fletcher Bay, along the steeper and more challenging Stony Bay Mountain Bike track.
Take the Fullers360 ferry from the city center to Coromandel via Rotoroa Island. It currently runs on Fridays and weekends: www.fullers.co.nz
There are several local operators who will transport you to and from the Coastal Walkway. For their details and the various accommodation options available on the peninsula, as well as suggestions for the many other activities to be enjoyed in the area, go to www.thecoromandel.com