Indigo nights at Coromandel
Our trip in early October 2006 takes in two nights at Coromandel and the east coast of the peninsula as far as we can drive. It always a rush leaving home, so we look forward to a coffee stop not too far away. There’s not a lot to excite in this direction and we usually drop in to the nursery café a right turn a few hundred metres or so, once over the Kopu Bridge.
To our delight this time, at the Tauranga and Coromandel turnoff we see two new grey corrugated sheet metal buildings on the flat, looking out to soft hills and stone and water features. One houses a clean, friendly and spacious licensed café, the other a studio with works by sculptor Elizabeth Fyfe-Morgan, co-owner of the properties. Called the Abstract Café and Gallery, it’s only been running a week and is great location for a drive from Auckland or to break a trip. We wish it well. Unfortunately, on this later visit we find that Abstract did not continue and in 2013 another cafe - CornerStone - has taken its place. I am pleased to be able to say excellent coffee plus superior food choices. A useful mileage from Auckland for a stop. I guess resident sculptor, Elizabeth, has moved on too.
A passion we both share, is pottering in second hand bookshops. You never know what you will find. We stop briefly in the extensive main street strip shopping centre at Thames, where at least three shops sell old books and china.
It’s a much smarter look in Coromandel township, where the colonial flavour has been preserved with a collection of different businesses lining the main street. Useful shops like a chemist, small supermarket, stationer, butcher and fishmonger, function next to quality galleries selling the work of local artists, cafes and restaurants. My favourite is the generous sized delightfully time-wasting James and Turner Ltd general store. Shelves and display stands are laden with every type of gadget and household item you can imagine from garden and fishing paraphernalia, all sorts of hardware, including some hard to find tools, to china, aprons, novelty pegs and dozens of baking trays and tins. Some years ago I bought a top quality large round cake tin, bigger than I could find anywhere else, with a removable bottom. It’s still looks like new, even after lots of use. On another visit we discovered the wonderful, New Zealand made and incredibly sharp Victory knife range. The best and sharpest knife in the draw! Always a good stock of these at James & Turner.
We looked for somewhere a little different to stay and Travelbug brought up Indigo Bush Studios at 19 Flays Road, on the outskirts of Coromandel town. Run by local painter and potter Robyn Lewis, these are two stylish architecturally designed studio apartments with a Balinese theme, a Logaire, enclosed wood burner, little strip kitchen with elements, tall stemmed wine glasses and smart white china. Guests can take a candlelit bath on the front deck under the stars. Tucked into the bush, Tuis come to plunge their chests in a mini birdbath an arm’s length from the windows, while pheasants can be heard calling to each other. It’s not surprising visitors have filled a guest book with compliments. However, the property is described as a B & B and breakfast is an extra @ $18 a person. We returned in June 2013 and can report that Robyn has maintained the standard of the Indigo studios very well and be assured the pheasants are still calling! Our third visit in May 2015 confirmed Robyn's committment to high standards.
We eat out, enjoying superb coffee and a great bacon and eggs breakfast at Success Café, are disappointed in the casual attitude at Umu Café and return to Pepper Tree Restaurant & Bar on both evenings, where service and food - with mains of generous whitebait fritters and fresh sweet Gurnard in beer batter are outstanding. On this, 2015 visit Umu was much improved - happy staff, great fluffy croissants and tasty long blacks.
Before heading north east of Coromandel we drive past the old wharf to Wyuna Beach, a flat and sandy bay with a floating pontoon and row of letterboxes sitting all alone on the grass verge above the beach. Maybe 'Post Restante' for at sea boaties? The houses are all on the other side. Driving a little further, the no exit road ends at Long Bay Motorcamp.
We then cross the peninsular, heading up the coast through Kennedy Bay, Little Bay, Waikawau, Port Charles and Stony Bay. It’s very slow with many twists, a reasonable portion unsealed and the last 7kms not maintained by the council.
Stony Bay, at the very end of the mostly one-lane pitted lumpy access road, is beautiful. With just three motor homes and four cars parked, there is only one other person in sight, a young woman sitting facing the sea writing in a notebook. The only sound is gentle sea swishing over the rocks and pebbles. Two walks are signposted, both three hours plus long, to nearby by beaches on the other side of the hill.
Little Bay (about 46kms and 40 minutes from Coromandel) and Kuatanu a long beach right on the main road are the only two sandy shores we see.
The surprise of the stay and where we have lunch is an unexpected café/restaurant right in the middle of native bush near Port Charles. Tangiaro Kiwi Retreat combines smart stand-alone Alpine style chalets with a conference centre and café/restaurant. Described as an eco-tourist retreat, the natural surroundings and spotless presentation of this quality establishment, finished about seven years ago, has a helicopter landing pad and offers free transport for guests from Coromandel. It’s very special and we hope not always as quiet as the day we visit.
Coromandel is a very special part of New Zealand with lots of small picturesque bays, often with very few or no people at all. It's only drawback, especially in the northern section is very slow, narrow, windy and often single lane roads. The trick is - allow plenty of time, up to double what you may think.