Take a Ferry to the Coromandel

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The Coromandel peninsula makes a strong claim to be one of the most beautiful spots in New Zealand, and there is no doubt that it is one of the favourite holiday destinations for Kiwis and visitors alike. But if you have neither the time nor inclination to drive there, and you don’t know any friendly skippers to hitch a ride with, an option is to take a ferry from downtown Auckland. You’ll get a tour of the gorgeous Hauraki Gulf thrown in, with a running commentary if you’re lucky.

Coromandel Town is on the east coast of the Coromandel peninsula. The ferry operates on most days of the week, depending on the season. The one-way trip takes 2 hours, returning to Auckland at 6.30pm and giving you about 4 hours of free time. The ferry is popular with day trippers and crazy cyclists  and it is also a commuter service of sorts so it pays to book ahead, especially on sunny public holidays and weekends.

The ferry stops briefly at Orapiu at the bottom end of Waiheke Island and at Rotoroa Island for a quick drop off/ pick up and then it’s non stop to the Coromandel peninsula. The trip leaves behind the shelter of the Hauraki Gulf and heads into open ocean and  it pays to stay alert as dolphin sightings are not unusual.  At Hannafords Wharf, passengers board a bus (included in the price of your ferry ticket) for the 10 minute drive to the Coromandel township. Along the way, the bus driver will point out the green lip mussel farms and oyster beds, and tell  stories of the HMS Coromandel which sailed into the bay in the 19th century, gave its name to the area and began the decimation of the native Kauri forests which covered this part of New Zealand. Kauris have tall straight trunks which were ideal for ship masts and keels. The story goes that it was Kauri spars that gave Lord Nelson the winning edge in the Battle of Trafalgar.

Coromandel Town has a population of 1600 but this swells to 40 000 over the holiday period.  For its size it offers a good number of cafes and restaurants (try the seafood) and there’s a charming pub in one of the oldest historical buildings in the main street. It was re-opened in 2003, 100 years after the original was built, and today it offers fast internet, bar food, sport on TV, and cider and beer on tap. Be warned, it’s a cash bar but there’s an ATM if you’re caught short of cash, as I was.

There are bush walks, beaches and quirky shops to keep you entertained while you wait for the ferry home. If you decide to take the Driving Creek Railway tour (and I would recommend that you do) you will have just enough time to wander along the main street and grab some lunch before getting on the tour bus (tickets can be booked at the same time as booking your ferry ticket or you can get tickets on the bus).

Driving Creek Railway is the life work of Barry Brickell, one of New Zealand’s most famous potters who came to live in the Coromandel in the 60s. Barry owns a large chunk of the land that surrounds Coromandel Town and has re-planted it with native trees.  Barry is a train enthusiast and over many years he has built (with his own hands, and a few helpers) a complex narrow gauge rail system which switches back and forward up the hillside behind his pottery sheds past glass bottle retaining walls and works of art poking out of the bushes.  At the terminus passengers can climb the wooden ‘Eyeful tower’ for wide sea and bush views. The railway is a popular attraction but it was originally built so that Barry could easily transport clay and wood down the hill to his pottery. Be warned, while the train is suitable for all ages and abilities, heads and arms must be kept inside the train. When the driver says that vegetation grows close to the track he is not kidding.

After the tour you will rendevous with the bus back that will take you back to the ferry.  As you board, you might notice the words on the back of the crew’s jackets. “To paradise and back” they say and I think you’ll agree.

Things to know before you go:

Categories: New Zealand

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