Lazy Hazy Coromandel Holiday -2020


A picturesque, bush-clad Peninsula in northern New Zealand. Jutting into the Pacific Ocean on the east and protecting the Firth of Thames and Hauraki Gulf to the west, its coastline is dotted with sandy white beaches and Pohutukawa trees smothered in resplendent fluffy red flowers in summer. Local folklore says that if these “Kiwi Xmas Trees” bloom before Christmas, we are in for a long, hot summer.

You would be hard-pressed to meet a North Island New Zealander who hasn’t holidayed at some time in “Coromandel” (as it’s euphemistically called). Especially over Christmas time. The peninsula is dotted with generational family baches and holiday homes, along with a multitude of camping sites.

It is also a very popular destination for overseas travellers escaping their Northern Hemisphere winter. These visitors are commonly spotted travelling, snail-like in rented camper vans, swaying slowly along Coromandel’s winding country roads.


This story captures a 10-day summer holiday we took In Tairua, Coromandel at the end of 2020.

 What was to be a family reunion, cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, turned into an unexpected vintage NZ summer holiday for the two of us.

My partner has spent many happy holidays in Tairua, where his parents had built their retirement home on the harbourside of Tairua.  It is an idyllic spot, and he treasures memories of warm, happy days surrounded by extended family. 

My own teenage and adult summer holidays were often spent adventuring around Coromandel spots but never Tairua. 

Whitianga, yes.  Nights spent tiki touring the whole peninsula and arriving at camping grounds in the farthest flung sites such as Port Jackson, Fantail Bay, and Flax Mill Bay, (south on the eastern side), yes.  Tairua. No.

So, arriving at our motel that sits across the road from a private little harbour beach and a 5-minute walk into the town centre was exciting and somehow familiar but also not. 

Familiar because Coromandel’s various little hamlets have a similar laid-back vibe, and of course, most of the time, the sun shines, and peeps of white sand and blue seas are never far away.

Not familiar as well, because Tairua possesses its own identity.  Apart from its beaches, it is also renowned for its fishing, charming golf course, and funky eateries. I was looking forward to exploring and discovering its charms.

Settled in, we ambled down to the town centre, where visitors can enjoy the “cool” cafes, restaurants, and bars.

Strolling into a wide, covered veranda, casual restaurant serving chilled wine and beer with sides of local seafood, we immediately, in response to the laid-back vibe, felt ourselves “dial down.”

This easy-going ambience pervades even when the streets, like they were on this day, are humming with summer visitors in all varieties of life stages.   Toddlers in pushchairs licking melting ice creams, dogs on leashes looking like freshly washed-up beach flotsam, sun-tired babies’ heads bobbing in a parent’s arms, spent, after a day of sea air and saltwater, and strolling couples looking like they wished life was always lived at this pace.

Sitting between the Pacific Ocean in the north, a tidal harbour and a lovely, calm, lagoon-style estuary in the south, Tairua offers families safe swimming and plenty of Pohutukawa trees scattered throughout the flat, generous grass reserve for shelter.

 The one-lane “Pepe Stream” bridge, joining the main road, from the South, with the township, invites older children and intrepid adults to leap with abandon from its edge, into the warm estuary waters below. Providing lots of entertainment if you happen to be stuck in a summer queue of cars waiting for the oncoming traffic to clear before you can cross.

To the east, across the estuary (walkable at low tide), stands the famous Mount Paku. With homes dotted on this hillside of native bush, it is a particularly picturesque place. With panoramic views overlooking the ocean to the north and the harbour and estuary, to the south.

We took a hike to the peak to enjoy the sweeping views. Then made our way down to a welcome alfresco lunch and beer at the Tairua Fishing Club situated on the harbour at the bottom of Paku.

With 10 days of summer to enjoy, I felt like I was back in my teenaged youth when each day stretched out forever.  Long hot days spent swimming, afternoon naps in a breezy little room, bird song, and distant traffic noise provided a rhythm by which to relax. Evenings were spent eating, chatting, walking, and maybe some more swimming. And always a visit to a local eatery for dinner.

 Our favourite spot was Manaia Café and Bar. With a great range of food, happy, friendly staff, and outside dining, we always felt welcome and relaxed.  They also put on a special New Year’s Eve party with live music for everyone in town. (Tickets could be purchased over the counter). 

But we had other plans for this particular New Year’s Eve. My niece and her partner, a music festival organiser, gifted us with tickets to join them at their Nikau Rhythm outdoor concert, featuring an irresistible lineup that included the rocking L.A.B. and hip hop/rap star Tom Scott with his band “Avantdale Bowling Club”.  The best kind of New Year with family, good music, and stars twinkling in the clear skies, we danced and sang the night away to the wee small hours. The dramatic Coromandel Hills, silhouetted against the darkening sky, sheltered the venue.

In the morning, a New Year’s Day swim in the ocean at Opotere Beach and a catch-up with my niece in their Teepee campsite amongst grasses and trees, was a very “Coromandel” start to the new year.

 Having secured tickets to a Trinity Roots and Holly Fullbrook concert at the Coroglen Tavern later in the day, we headed back to our motel.

After gathering up our beach gear drove north we spent a couple of golden hours swimming and sunbathing at Sailor’s Grave. (Te Karo Bay). A beautiful soft sandy bay 10 minutes from Tairua. We watched a few young lads preparing to go spearfishing as we enjoyed the remoteness of this wee beach.  

The bay is named “Sailor’s Grave” because it is where the tree-filled reserve, fringing the bay, houses what is thought to be the oldest sailor’s grave in New Zealand.  

Departing our lazy summer afternoon we made our way along the dusty road to ready ourselves for our night of music at the Coroglen Tavern.

Nestled amongst rural beauty, the tavern is a superb venue for a small outdoor concert.  We arrived after a 25-minute typical windy Coromandel drive, parked the car in a paddock provided for $10 by a local farmer, and enjoyed a night listening to more amazing Kiwi musicians. Hanging out with locals and other visitors while munching on hamburgers and chips.  What a treat.

 We were impressed by the local support for the concert and the number of people spending an evening spoilt by talented musicians as we gazed trance-like at the view of long grasses, blue skies, and, later on, a stunning red sky softened by golden fluffy clouds of a summer sunset.

Mytravelroom tips

  • Take your time. The roads are winding and there’s often a lot of traffic.
  • Drive the round trip from Thames to Whangamata. As you head north, you’ll experience stunning canopies of Pohutukawa and views of the Firth of Thames.
  • Use DOC Camping Grounds if possible.
  • Book early for Airbnb accommodation
  • Try a dinky motel.  There’s something about nostalgia in a nostalgic place like Coromandel.
  • Expect the unexpected.
  • Enjoy the views.

Māori word translations:

Tairua -Two tides.

Manaia – of Māori and Samoan origin – guardian, messenger; beautiful, nice.

Paku – (to make a sudden sound) explode. Paku is a volcanic peak.

Te Karo – Te -here   Karo – (verb) avoid.

The writer stayed at Blue Water Motel Tairua Ph 07 864 8537

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