Whangamata Beach in New Zealand – @ElanaLoo Fine Art Print

New Zealand Travel Guide: North Island & Coromandel Peninsula

January 24, 2019
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Things To Know Before Traveling to New Zealand

  • Change your phone plan before going! Make sure you have an international plan. We have AT&T and only used our plan a handful of days (to call family on the holidays and to catch up on work) but the rest of the time we just relied on WiFi!
  • EFTPOS is an abbreviation. It stands for Electronic Funds Transfer at Point Of Sale. EFTPOS is a method of payment for goods and services and if you’re going to use a credit card while in the country, get used to kiwis asking “EFTPOS?” at the register – answer “yes” – and if you’re from the US, expect that you’ll sign a receipt everywhere you go!
  • Bring a cooler — buy your necessities in Auckland before heading over to the Coromandel Peninsula or up towards the Bay of Islands!
  • Their plugs are different than the US, UK, etc. so plan on purchasing a converter if you didn’t beforehand online! Also, if you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the car, I recommend getting a power adaptor so you can charge on the go!
  • You will drive on the left side in New Zealand, which is the opposite side of the road from the US and through us for a loop the first few days!
  • If you’re exploring both islands and are renting a car, don’t book your Interislander ferry tickets with a car. They make you drop off your car to the rental terminal and pick up a new one in Picton. Save yourself time in line changing your reservation and just keep that in mind from the get go!

Arriving in Auckland

We flew with Hawaiian Airlines (KOA – HNL – AKL) and it was a super easy route with thankfully smooth flights! We always love flying with Hawaiian. Arriving around 10pm in Auckland, we took the shuttle bus to the Holiday Inn near the airport. Surprisingly, the hotel was AWESOME. Newly renovated, modern design + my favorite thing? A juicer for guest use meaning I had a fresh juice to start off our trip the next morning!

First Stop: Piha Beach

The beach shown above is Piha Beach! It’s about an hour drive from Auckland and when we go back, we’ll definitely spend more time in this area exploring the big surf beaches.

This was the beach Aaron was looking forward to the most on the North Island – it reminded me of Cannon Beach in Oregon. Such a gorgeous, enormous beach with rock formations towering out of the sand.

We worked with the time we had and ended up there mid-morning. It was beautiful but I know it would be EPIC for sunset – so when you’re planning your trip there, keep that in mind! After we spent the morning here, we made the drive back into Auckland to meet my cousin for lunch. We hadn’t seen each other since we were kids so this was really special! After lunch, we drove the windy, country roads out to the Coromandel Peninsula.

Total drive time the first day: APPROX 3 HRS 45 MINS

Exploring Coromandel Peninsula

The drive was GORGEOUS (so many sheep and cows!) and we arrived at the Grand Mercure Puka Park in the evening. This resort is in the residential area of Pauanui. There are about 30 little cottages on the property and it’s about 5 minutes from Pauanui Beach. Pauanui the town doesn’t have much besides a small grocery and gas station so plan to head elsewhere for anything else.

Exhausted from a long and fun day, we opted for room service and relaxation time but in the morning, we went down to reception and asked about the best areas to explore. We had done so much research for the South Island (blogpost coming soon) that we didn’t really plan our first week on the North Island out. We had a few spots we wanted to hit but intended for this time to be relaxing and exploratory. The areas recommended were: Tairua, Raglan + Hahei. 


We decided to head up to Tairua (about 5 mins away if there were a bridge, but a 25 minute drive since there isn’t one!). It’s a really cute little beach town. Not much shopping but there are a few cute shops and some fun cafes. We drove around the area to get a lay of the land and Aaron droned a bit.

Here are some places I recommend in Tairua:

Tairua Beach Club
Slow movement food, GMO free, locally sourced awesome menu, great cocktails. Gluten free. Vegan/vegetarian options. Dinner on Thursday and Friday 5:30-late, 12-3 and 5:30-late on saturdays 12-3 on sundays. Hours may vary, check before you go! 

Flock Kitchen + Bar
The Old Mill Cafe
All Things Organic


The following day, we made our way over to Thames (pronounced Tims). It’s a small town but with more shops than Pauanui. If you end up in this area, the Melbourne Cafe was our saving grace — delicious coffee, tasty gourmet food, vegan options. Coco Coffee Bar looked cute! And also check out the Green Grocer for fresh produce (surprisingly hard to find!)


Now to our favorite spot in the Coromandel, Whangamata! Pronounced “fangamata,” this little beach town is darling. After leaving Thames, we missed our turn back to Pauanui and ended up taking the looooong way home! We’re the ‘everything happens for a reason’ kind of people, so we just went with it, took in the scenery (the rolling hills and miles of sheep are mesmerizing). We finally got back on the main highway we needed to be on and say that Whangamata Beach was on the way! We were welcomed by another huge beach with islands dotting the coastline. So stunning.

We both were so thankful to be out of the car and walked almost the entire length of the beach (there are 18 different beach access points to give you an idea of how long it is), played in the chilly waves, looked for shells and even made a little sand dollar friend. It was life-giving and so special spending our afternoon there. We made our way to Smoky Pallet in town for a beer. Loved this spot – fun vibe, live music, nice people.

We ended up coming back to Whangamata two or three other days because we loved the vibe so much. We kayaked to Whenuakura Island (deemed Donut Island) one morning after grabbing coffee at Little Latte. Aaron surfed. I journaled a lot here.

Here are my recommendations in Whangamata:

Smoky Pallet
Six Forty Six
great for breakfast or lunch 
Whanga Bar
Mizzoni Pizza & Espresso

At this point, we had seen a bunny, a hedgehog heaps of cows and sheep and a pheasant! It was so fun driving on these country roads. The Coromandel is so beautiful.

Cathedral Cove + The Town of Hahei:

If you’ve seen photos of the North Island of New Zealand, I bet you’ve seen Cathedral Cove. As you may know, I am a protector of sacred, lesser-known places and definitely believe in sustainable tourism. But I can say without a doubt that Cathedral Cove is no secret. We went at sunrise to avoid people and for softer light. It’s totally magical and everything I expected. THe photos we captured at that beach are easily some of my facorites of the trip. It’s surreal that places like this exist! But keep in mind, because it’s absolutely beautiful it’s also a total madhouse with lots of people once the clock strikes 8 or 9 AM.

Also, leave the seagulls alone. Humans have the hardest time knowing how to interact with wildlife. The best rule of thumb, unless you’re trained on their behavior and know how to help, let them be.

It’s quite the hike from Hahei and there is no parking at the top in the summertime. I would guess it’s a 45 minute walk from the parking lot (if you are there in the spring, fall or winter) and probably an 1.5 hour walk from town. Some residents have taken advantage of the business opportunity and allow you to park on their lawn for $10 NZ half way up the road which shortened our walk a bit. The trail is paved, flat and well maintained.  You can also access Hahei Beach and Stingray Bay from this “bush walk.”

Bring water, a snack and a towel. There are bathrooms at the top in the parking lot and down at the bottom on the beach (best view I’ve ever had in a bathroom!)

Here are my recommendations in Hahei:

Tatahi Lodge Beach Resort
Near Hahei Beach — within walking distance of Cathedral Cove and short drive from the volcanic wonders of Hot Water Beach. 

Hahei Beach Cafe
The Pourhouse 
Hot Waves Cafe

Cook’s Beach Area:

After our morning in Hahei exploring Cathedral Cove, we decided to make our way up the coast a bit to check out Cooks Beach. We talked to a gal at the Hot Waves Cafe that recommended Shakespeare’s Cliff. It overlooks Flaxmill Bay and Maramaratotara Bay. The view was breathtaking!

After taking in the views from the top, we headed to Mercury Bay Estate for a wine tasting and ended our evening at The Vessel for dinner! We loved this area.

Here are my recommendations in Cook’s Beach:

The Vessel — bbq joint with great happy hour 
Ferry Landing Store 

Mercury Bay Estate


Sadly, our time in the Coromandel Peninsula had to come to a close, we were going to begin our journey down to the south island. First stop: Rotorua! We honestly weren’t here long enough for me to give an itinerary (only stayed one night) but here are a few darling places I found:

Atticus Finch
Terrace Cafe
Picnic Cafe


Next stop was Taupo, we came to this area because there was a really spectacular hike Aaron had found and there was a place available through our timeshare here.

Taupo Market on Saturday Mornings 
Storehouse Taupo
Thing I’m Sad We Missed: Sailing to the Maori Carvings

Hiking Tongariro Alpine Crossing

After settling into our spot for the next few nights and laying out our gear for the next day, we set our alarms for 5 AM. We would be hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing the next morning! Our early wake up call gave us enought time to eat, dress and drive to the shuttle pick up location.

Tongariro National Park is New Zealand’s oldest national park and a dual World Heritage Site. The 19.4-kilometer trek was steep and challenging and the weather unpredictable, though I believe it’s worth it in every aspect. We really lucked out with weather the day we hiked! The day before and the day following were cloudy and rainy so we were beyond thankful for the clarity we got!

Tips for hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing:

Prepare for the elements: bring layers and a rain coat. Don’t forget plenty of water, lunch and hiking poles (check if your shuttle company provides them). Coordinate transportation to drop you at the trailhead and pick you up at the end of the day.

We booked with Backyard Tours and they were awesome. Easy drop off and pick up, loved that they started our day with a traditional Maori blessing and the cold beer they offer at the end of your hike is like the cherry on top!


We ended our North Island portion of the trip in Wellington for Christmas Eve. It’s the capital city of New Zealand and reminds me of San Francisco.

We ate dinner at Forage Kitchen & Bar and stayed at the Double Tree by Hilton Wellington which was so lovely. Sadly, we only experienced this city in transit but here + here are two great blogposts about things to do in the city!

When we come back, I want to check out:

The Arborist Rooftop Bar 
Cafe Neo 
Coco Wellington
Lulu Bar
Cuba Street, specifically Fidel’s

Christmas morning we boarded the Interislander Ferry headed for the South Island of New Zealand! The Interislander sails between Wellington and Picton. Marlborough Sound was beautiful in the rain and the three and a half hour journey went by quickly. Stay tuned for my second blogpost about the second portion of our trip exploring the South Island! We explored so much in our short time there + I am ecstatic to share!

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Thanks for reading! I'm a photographer, writer & environmental advocate excited to be sharing regenerative solutions, ideas & concepts for our lives & businesses with you. 


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