Pottery at Driving Creek Railway & Potteries in Coromandel, New Zealand. - Tim Clayton

The Coromandel Peninsula: Nature up close

Go slow

Try a change of pace on the Coromandel Peninsula. Board the truly unique Driving Creek Railway, originally built to ferry clay to the local pottery. Zigzag through dense bush as the dinky railcar climbs its perilous way skywards to a look-out point known locally as the Eyefull Tower. Get an eyeful of the Hauraki Gulf's sapphire-green islands, then chug back down and browse the craft shop for pottery fresh from the kiln.

Free or cheap

Grab a shovel and dig your own natural spa pool in the sands of Hot Water Beach. This wild strip between Tairua and Whitianga sits smack on top of a hot underground river. Time it carefully – two hours either side of low tide – then sink into your newly scooped pool and relax. The views will help; crashing surf, volcanic headlands and gnarled pohutukawa trees that cling to the cliffs.

Meet the locals

Time your holiday on Coromandel Peninsula to take in the annual Pohutukawa Festival. It kicks off mid November, when the scarlet flowers of New Zealand’s very own ‘Christmas tree’ are beginning to bloom. Join the locals celebrating summer’s arrival with – deep breath – live bands, market stalls, a dive festival, kite-flying, wine-tasting, poetry and picnics. There’s a full two weeks of it!

Eat and drink

You can taste the ocean wherever you are on the peninsula. Scan your menu for succulent paua (abalone), fat oysters and scallops, green-lipped mussels and sweet crayfish, most caught within 100km of your dining table. Follow the Homegrown Food Trail, showcasing locally grown yummies like macadamia nuts and mussels. Foodie fanatic? Try September's Whitianga Scallop Festival in September and the Port Charles Kiwi Spring Festival in October.

Fast facts

Where? Coromandel Peninsula sits on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island. It's just 90 minutes' drive from Auckland to the peninsula's southern end.

Population: Around 26,000 people live permanently on Coromandel Peninsula. Thames, New Zealand's largest town during the 19th-century gold rush (with over 100 pubs!), is now home to just 7,000 people.

Key dates: Gold was discovered on Coromandel Peninsula in 1867. Thames Mines produced more than two million ounces of bullion valued at $845 million – more than 500 times the cost of building the Eiffel Tower.

Did you know? The original name for the town of Whitianga was Te Whitianga-o-Kupe, meaning Kupe's crossing place. (Kupe was a famous Polynesian explorer).