A family expedition on The Coromandel Coastal Walkway
Your journey on the Coromandel Coastal Walkway begins from the moment you start driving on the gravel road north of Colville. The 20km eastern route via Port Charles will bring you to the Stony Bay access point. The winding gravel roads are all part of the Coastal Walkway adventure. As your mobile phone loses cellular service and signs of other traffic slip away, you will start to appreciate the beauty of this remote Northern Coromandel landscape.
Undertaking the Coastal Walkway as a family excursion is a New Zealand Must-Do. Because of its rugged isolation, remote beauty and lack of distraction, the experience as a family is guaranteed to bond your group, making memories to last a lifetime.
Arrival at Stony Bay Campground provides welcome relief and a good opportunity for everyone to stretch their legs. There is a ford to cross, with some piggy-backing to save wet feet so early in the trip. The track is clearly sign-posted and we learn the Coastal Walkway can be linked with the Coromandel Mountain Bike Trail (turn left before the ford) for a circular trip. However this 8km track is steep, slippery and technically challenging, so today’s journey will be a there and back trip from Stony Bay to Fletchers Bay and then back the same way. Starting bright and early is recommended, as the hike is 10 km each way and encapsulates the best scenery The Coromandel has to offer.
The Coromandel Coastal Walkway borders the northern Coromandel coastline between Stony and Fletcher Bays, following an old bridle path formed by early pioneers. It is an easily achievable walk, even with two teenage sons in tow. There are frequent stops for snacks and plenty of skidding and splashing through the somewhat slippery track.
We walk for several kilometres through thick Kanuka and Manuka forest with peeks through the trees to the water below and hills beyond. A cheeky fantail fascinates even the most jaded teen, who stops to watch it flitting at his feet. The track eventually opens out onto farmland and rewards with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, Mt Moehau, Great Barrier Island (Aotea Island) to the north and Cuvier Island (Repanga Island) to the east.
The majority of the walk follows a gentle gradient, however there is a steep valley to conquer enroute to Poley Bay. As is usually the case with young ones, the descent is no problem, especially with the lure of morning tea at the bottom. Poley Bay is a picturesque spot for a picnic and a rock hop, however submerged rocks make it unsafe for swimming.
The beauty of the Coastal Walkway is the variety of terrain and scenery. This is particularly evident through the eyes of children. They relate the walk to the topography of the Coromandel Peninsula map. The clifftop lookouts give them the thrill (and their parent the panic) of looking down from the very edge of a familiar map landscape to the ocean below.
Because the area is so unpopulated and remote, the nature seems vast and at times ferocious. The winter wind and rain serve only to enhance the dramatic atmosphere of the northernmost Coromandel. However, the track itself is mild and trustworthy. Children run on ahead without you worrying they will get lost. Catching sight of Fletcher Bay from the wide expanse of farmland encourages the young hikers, as does the promise of a good break for a hearty packed lunch.
Even with occasional grumbles about sore legs and steep hills, the stunning environment offers up a peaceful and pleasant atmosphere, with plenty of space for everyone to do the walk at their own pace. It takes less than 4 hours each way to complete the hike, including a leisurely break for lunch at Fletchers Bay and rest stops at Poley Bay.
The sense of achievement you will collectively experience, having completed the Coromandel Coastal Walkway, will undoubtedly be the highlight of your trip. The splendid isolation of some of New Zealand’s most spectacular coastal scenery is enhanced when shared with the people you love.
As is always the case with hiking, good preparation will determine the success of your expedition. The Coromandel Coastal Walkway is no exception, especially with children. Make sure your backpacks are filled with plenty of food and fluid and don’t rely on cellular coverage for access to maps and other information, as it is patchy at best. This walk can be done in a variety of ways, so research and plan the most appropriate option for your family group.
There are Department of Conservation campgrounds at both Fletcher Bay and Stony Bay. Camping overnight will allow plenty of time to complete the 7 hour return trip without having a lengthy drive to the hike’s entry point before you begin. Alternatively, the walk can be done in 3.5 hours from point to point if you arrange transport pick-up at the other end. This is a recommended option if you are not sure how comfortable your family will be walking the entire day.
You can also begin the walk at Fletchers Bay by driving 30km north of Colville along the more scenic northeastern coastal road, through Fantail Bay and Port Jackson. If you prefer not to drive the remote unsealed roads of the Northern Coromandel, a guided tour by a local operator is an excellent option, offering transport and collection from either access point.
Wherever you choose to start the Coromandel Coastal Walkway, you can be assured of exquisite isolation and an unforgettable journey at the top end of the Coromandel Peninsula.