Camping in style in Coromandel’s best beaches – Land Rover Defender roadtrip

by Harry Perachi

Those in Auckland (and maybe those outside too) know how wet winters can be here. So when your friend throws your way the keys to a Land Rover Defender hours before a long weekend, you know it’s roadtrip time.

And, to celebrate the first observation of Matariki, Coromandel was our destination. Aboard of the recent reinterpretation of the legendary British SUV, we wanted to scratch the travel itch revisiting some of the region’s best beaches by doing a full tour of the peninsula across three days, following the route below.

Land Rover Te ATA

Booking places to stay was never a concern as not only is the Land Rover a great car for the road, but it was also going to be our motel room. Equipped with a camping setup composed of a rooftop tent, a 270 degree awning, kitchen and a generator, accommodation was sorted.

Land Rover Te ATA
Land Rover Te ATA

Leaving Auckland, we faced all the usual traffic, which on the straight stretches of road invited the use of adaptive cruise control. However, the frequent stop and go made the car both accelerate and brake in a jarring and uncomfortable way. Not very luxury-feeling if you ask me, so back to old school pedal action, I guess.

Land Rover Te ATA

Two and a half hours later, out first stop was Whangamata, which was covered by a moody, cloudy weather. This beautiful town is a great stop whenever covering this side of the peninsula, as there’s plenty to see and do. If you are into hotrods and classic cars, you definitely have to stop by around November when the town hosts the Beach Hop event. People dress up and it feels like a tunnel to 70 years back in time.

Land Rover Te ATA
Land Rover Te ATA

As we were doing some beach hopping ourselves, so the next stop was Opoutere, where the weather was slightly better. Coromandel has plenty of small beaches that you can basically have for yourself outside of high season, so we made the most out of it with a long walk through its white sands.

Land Rover Te ATA

The final destination for the day was Tairua, to the north of our previous destinations. We went straight to a campersite right in the centre of the township to try and assemble the tent before it got dark. Turns out the tent works as a clamshell and can really be put up or down in as little as three minutes, even with our little experience. Given the car was visible from the street, we had quite an audience and reactions were plentiful and very positive.

Land Rover Te ATA

Traveling in June means short days, and because of that we had to make the most out of the hours of light we had, so we left early to see the sunrise from Hot Water Beach. As the name implies, the springs underneath the beach sands are quite hot and are super popular with residents and tourists alike, which will bring shovels to dig their own hot baths. Another beach we had all for ourselves, but in the high season real estate there is at a premium!

Land Rover Te ATA

Just a short drive away is Hahei, and our stay there was almost as short. This is another very important destination for petrolheads, as one of the most amazing car events in the whole country, the Leadfoot Festival, is hosted nearby. Think of it as the kiwi Goodwood Festival of Speed, and a celebration of everything car related.

Probably the most famous beach in the region, Cathedral Cove is minutes away from Hahei and is always a treat. I’ve been here a handful of times and Nature has always blessed us with beautiful and warm days. You have to follow a 30-40 minute trail to get to the beach and, as soon as you do, you are welcomed by wonderful views of the rock formations, and those in the know will recognise them from the Chronicles of Narnia movies.

Just keep in mind that during the summer months, the parking lot at the start of the track is closed, which adds the hunt for a space and a big climb to the beginning of the track. Perks of travelling during winter!

Land Rover Te ATA
Land Rover Te ATA

No travel story is complete without a food recommendation, so you positively must stop by Colenso café to enjoy their nice scenery and try their delicious smoked fish pie. It’s a guaranteed spot in our Coromandel trips and it always delivers. From there, we drove to Cooks Beach, more specifically to the Shakespeare Reserve lookout, where you have a lovely view from the beaches nearby, including Whitianga which can be accessed through a ferry.

Land Rover Te ATA
Land Rover Te ATA

That’s where we stopped for the night, in another campground full of other fellow travelers in motorhomes, caravans, and even the odd Cayenne GTS. Our parking spot was on a slope so being able to raise the rear end’s air suspension meant we had a level “floor” for the tent. I could even use the infotainment screen for a real-time indication of it. Score!

Land Rover Te ATA
Land Rover Te ATA

In this last day of the trip, we had a bit more of driving, where the Defender genuinely impressed me with its road manners. For an SUV that weighs as much as a shed, it seemed not to mind too much Coromandel’s windy roads, and luxuries like the heated steering wheel, the great Meridian stereo and the air suspension made the drive even more enjoyable. The indicated range on a full tank was over 900km and I reckon I could still be relaxed when the reserve light came on with how well this car eats kilometres.

Land Rover Te ATA

New Chums Beach was the last in our itinerary, which is also accessed through a track. The first part of the walk is composed of “river stones”, so I advise wearing shoes. The second part is a bush walk that was muddy and slippery due to the recent rain, so overall we took 35 minutes from car to beach.

When you finally get there, you are faced with a small and cozy beach with rock faces on both sides. This might be my favourite beach in the whole peninsula, so we only left when fears of the high tide started to creep in (it covers parts of the track making the return trip more difficult).

Land Rover Te ATA

And after all of that, it was time to wrap up and come back home. The west coast of the peninsula has more curves than the whole rest of the trip, so you get a bit of everything. After 700km overall, saying farewell to the Defender was no easy task, this swiss-army knife of a car can almost do it all. Next time you are looking for a quick get away from the big city, consider this route – nice windy roads, good food and beautiful vistas. What more could you ask for?

Land Rover Te ATA
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