Parts of The Coromandel invoke an atmosphere of timelessness. The 309 Road is one such place. Twenty two kilometres of unsealed road cut a serpentine path through the scenic Coromandel forest, linking the eastern seaboard to the west. Ideally suited to those who enjoy a self-guided road trip, the 309 Road delivers a taste of New Zealand nature at its untouched best.
The 309 Road presents a largely unpeopled landscape, bordered by river, backdropped with birdsong. It is a place to slow down and soak up the sensory experience of a subtropical rainforest, with plenty of places to pause along the way.
For a stand-out start to your ‘309’ road trip, a trip to The Waterworks is a must. The Waterworks is an extraordinary eco-amusement park near the start of the western Coromandel end of the road. It is a place where nature and innovation combine to create wonder, laughter and learning for people of all ages. Quintessentially Coromandel, The Waterworks features more than 70 interactive water-powered inventions and attractions. The park’s many inventions are made using recyclable materials and upcycled equipment. As well as serving the environment, this aspect adds to the home-made charm of the park. Almost nothing is off-limits, everything is accessible, inviting and thought-provoking. The Waterworks is imbued with an atmosphere of playfulness and curiosity.
As a refreshing natural alternative to a traditional amusement park, The Waterworks offers a place for people to play and have fun in an uncontrived setting. Winding paths lead from one watery attraction to the next, before opening out on a vast grassy picnic area and a sturdy playground featuring equipment designed to be enjoyed by all ages. The playground is bound to be a highlight, as this is not your typical ‘swing and slide’ affair. Scramble onto a lofty platform to leap onto a flying fox and zipline through the bush. Go nowhere fast on the giant hamster wheel, or relive the stuff of homegrown childhood fantasies on the ‘flying bicycles’.
The on-site cafe offers a tasty lunch menu, coffee and icecream, or you can bring a picnic and use the free barbecues in the park. The Waiau Stream borders the park, with paths leading to a nearby waterhole for cooling off...if you’re not already saturated from playing with all the watery attractions.
Traveling east along the 309 Road, be sure to stop at Waiau Waterfall. The entrance is marked by a small sign and vehicle parking area not far from The Waterworks. A five minute walk down a gently sloping dirt track will bring you to a pristine waterhole surrounded by boulders, with the Waiau stream splashing over rocks from high above.
Next must-see stop is the Waiau Kauri Grove. Don’t be fooled by the unassuming signage. This is a spectacular short walk (20-30 minutes round trip). It is easy to overlook, but will surely become a highlight. The track has boardwalks, small staircases and gravel pathways lined with hand rails and informative signs. The Waiau Kauri was mysteriously spared from the 1880-1930 era of Kauri tree felling, however after World War Two the government wanted to use the timber to aid the war effort. The Waiau Kauri Grove was preserved by determined locals who had the foresight to resist the proposed Kauri logging. Their efforts mean the Kauri remain as New Zealand taonga for generations to come. There are 13 massive Kauri in the Waiau grove, including the fascinating ‘Siamese Kauri’.
Experience stunning vistas, winding bends and dense forest as you drive through the heart of the ‘309’ to Egan Park near the eastern end of the road. Egan Park is an idyllic nature reserve approximately 7km from the Waiau Kauri Grove. It is a serene picnic spot with parking space for freedom camping nestled against the hillside. Egan Park boasts a secluded Nikau grove with picnic tables ideally placed to provide shade from the summer sun. A tiny ‘beach’ and refreshing waterhole will provide hours of easy-going enjoyment as you swim, skim stones and try out the rope swing at the water’s edge.
A 309 road trip is a journey peppered with enchanting nature-based destinations. To maximise the experience, take a leisurely day to slow down and soak up the atmosphere of this iconic piece of The Coromandel.