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Coromandel Walkway, Coromandel Forest Park

Image of the March 2020 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
March 2020 Issue

A top walk at peninsula’s tip

The Coromandel Peninsula has sadly become renowned for overflowing car parks and hordes of visitors, but take the time to drive to its northern reaches, and you’ll find a different world.

The overcrowded Cathedral Cove and golf cart culture of glitzy Pauanui feel light years away from the rugged beauty of the Coromandel Walkway.

The track begins at the northern end of Stony Bay – a trollish looking cove of rounded pebbles, driftwood, and curled pohutukawa. A DOC campsite provides shady accommodation if needed, water, and the last toilets you’ll encounter until Fletcher Bay, 10km away at the very tip of the peninsula.

Climb towards the bushline, pop over a stile, and get stuck into the first major climb of the north-bound route.

The track is wide and accommodating, gently rising to around 150m. Views in the first hour are sparse, limited mostly to glimpses of blue through dense flora. The forest is lively, however, with towering tunnels of mānuka providing shade, and patches of rangiora, nīkau and pohutukawa colouring the periphery.

Around the first headland, Shag Bay comes into view below – a sheltered inlet of turquoise, peppered by the occasional splash of diving gannets.

After nearly 90-minutes, a sign marks a sidetrack to a lookout five minutes away, and it’s not to be missed. The highpoint offers the first unimpeded view of the marvellous Sugar Loaf Rocks, shaped like the embellished head and snout of a dragon. The view also takes in the feet of the Moehau Range, richly forested from their peaks all the way to their salty toes.

From here, signage suggests another hour to Poley Bay, but the downhill gradient makes for an easy half-hour, with intermittent views.

The final 10 minutes to Poley Bay zigzags a steep line beneath enormous pohutukawa, before bottoming out at a stream that trickles lazily into the sea. Walkers can access Poley Bay here, but swimming isn’t advised because of submerged rocks.

The route’s final major climb ascends urgently from Poley Bay, winding quickly back to nearly 150m.

It’s a tough 10 minutes with a heavy overnight pack stuffed with a tent, but daywalkers shouldn’t find it too taxing.

As the track levels out, it emerges from bush into farmland, golden in the late afternoon.

The final hour is the most scenic, and the closer views of Sugar Loaf Rocks are hard to take your eyes away from – its perspective ever-shifting as the track heads north.

Beyond lies Aotea/Great Barrier Island, dominating the northern horizon.

Rock fishers and divers will be drooling at the underwater terrain, with alluring kelp forests and rocky shelves visible beneath the surface. I kept an eye out for dolphins and whales whenever I could afford to ignore my footing, but no luck.

Once past the Sugar Loaf Rocks, the track veers west across open farmland.

he lack of tree cover provides non-stop views, but walkers may struggle with the exposure on sunny, windless days.

Don’t be fooled into thinking the first beach you see is Fletcher Bay – it’s a longer walk than it first appears. A final climb over a headland reveals the destination of Fletcher Bay and another DOC campground.

It’s an excellent swimming beach, and there are plenty of sites and facilities available.

After a break here – or an overnight camp, as I did – you’ll need to return along the track to reach your vehicle.

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Distance
10km each way
Total Ascent
786m
Grade
Easy
Time
7h return
Accom.
Stony Bay or Fletcher Bay campsites
Access
Stony Bay or Fletcher Bay campsites
Map
AZ34

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