We left Auckland for the seaside town of Hahei on the Coromandel Peninsula, after stocking up the vans with camera gear and enough snacks to get us through the day. The drive to Hahei from Auckland takes about two and a half hours if you’re taking it easy, and stopping for scenic views along the way. Morgan and Akhil communicated via walky talky as we drove, and we made steady progress towards the Coromandel in the morning. Morgan drove - my job was to be chief navigator and the on-road DJ. On his orders, we started the first of what would be many rounds of Frank Ocean’s new album, played via the van’s speaker system. We reached our first stop when we came to a beautiful gorge about an hour out from the Coromandel. The weather was a bit overcast but it didn’t mask the beauty of the grove we stopped at, where a river ran clean through a valley of fern and scrub. The road narrowed to admit only one car - or van - at a time. Once satisfied with having taking the perfect shot, we carried on, along the road to Hahei.
The road from Auckland winds around the Firth of Thames, where there are numerous parks and rest areas for admiring the wide-ranging views. The nearby town of Miranda is known for the hot mineral pools there; a great place to stop for a soak and to enjoy the 70’s-era decor and family vibes. The gate of the Coromandel is the town of Thames, which is about a further 30 minutes on from Miranda. We stopped here to refuel the vans and ourselves, grabbing a bite to eat at Cafe Sola. We were glad to get a rest in before hitting the winding road through Coromandel Forest Park. This road again exhibits more beautiful native bush, and the occasional view out over the Pacific. Tairua especially offers a great view, and with a population of just over 1,000 residents, it is a typical ‘off-the-beaten-track’ New Zealand town. Summiting Pumpkin Hill easily with our vans, our next turn-off was at Whenuakite. Here, you can take Hot Water Beach Road down to either Hahei or Hot Water Beach. Hot Water Beach is a real treat - when the tides permit, visitors can dig their own hot pool in the sandy beach. No pool fees, and right on the ocean, with an open view of the Pacific. The Top 10 Holiday Park here also offers cheap spots to park a camper for the night, or the option to stay in a unit.
For now, though, we continued on to reach Hahei. Once there, we checked in at the Hahei Holiday Resort. Here, they have a good range of overnight options, whether staying in a camper or a van, a tent, or one of their self-contained units. The resort is right on the beach, and we immediately kicked off our shoes and wandered down to the sea. We got chatting to some friendly locals on the beach, and took in the sunset over the picturesque bay, before returning to the vans to cook up some dinner. The vans had everything we needed to cook up a feast, and before long we were satisfied by a big meal of spaghetti and meatballs in our tums.
After dinner, we went out to shoot some night photography. The quick drive from Hahei to the Cathedral Cove Carpark allowed us to get a great vantage point to ogle at the Milky Way. Out here, the night sky is a world away from the views you get in the city. The stunning view of the stars and the Milky Way was complemented for us by silhouettes of cabbage trees, to capture iconic New Zealand at night. Eventually, we headed back to Hahei and knocked the day off, exhausted but excited for the next day of our North Island adventure.
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