With its pinnacles, canyons, beaches and forests the Coromandel Peninsula is a true outdoor adventure playground, popular with both tourists and locals alike. This does of course mean that you need to be prepared for crowds in summer, particularly at some of the favourite tourist hotspots like Hot Water Beach (which is literally hot) and Cathedral Cove.
But if you’re not one for crowds, don’t be put off because the further north you head along this gradually narrowing peninsula, the more isolated it becomes, and although it’s a little way to travel, on windy and often times narrow gravel roads, the Coromandel Walkway makes it all worthwhile. This 10 km (6 miles) walking track and cycle path offers spectacular views of the Coromandel coastline with rocky cliffs and azure blue bays, together with views of Great Barrier Island ‘just across’ the Colville Channel.
Where to start – Stony Bay or Fletcher Bay?
The walkway runs between the Department of Conservation (DOC) campsites at Stony Bay on the east coast and Fletcher Bay on the northernmost tip. Getting to either end involves a 1.5 hour drive from Coromandel Town which itself is about an hour north of Thames. So which is the best end to start from? Our suggestion, and this is how we chose to do it, is to start in Stony Bay. Not only is Stony Bay more scenic (at least we think so) but it’s also a good place to end your walk or cycle if you choose to do the route both ways as this is not a loop walk.
And in case you’re thinking that a 20 km return walk or cycle is your only option, don’t worry, there are tour operators that will drop you off and collect you again at the other end. More details on those at the end of this article.
Walk or Cycle – You Decide
The walk is rated by DOC as easy, with a return time of 7 hours, making it a perfect day walk, especially since you’ll be stopping many times along the way to take in the amazing views. It’s also a great cycle path, but not to be confused with the Coromandel Mountain Bike Track that also starts/finishes in Stony Bay. More on that later.
Starting from the Stony Bay end, the well formed walkway climbs gradually and then gently undulates along the coast. There is however a bit of a sting in the tail. Have a look at this elevation profile and you’ll see what we mean. That little ‘dip’ around 3.5 km out from Fletcher Bay is where the path makes its way down to a scenic spot called Poley Bay. We challenge anyone but the most superhumanly fit to cycle this section of the route so chances are, like us, you’ll be pushing some of the way down and all of the way back up… twice. It’s a bit of a tough slog but it’s worth it.
If you’re walking, at about an hour out from Stony Bay you’ll reach a sign pointing to a lookout. You’re not going to want to miss this as a few minutes walk will lead you to a viewpoint that offers spectacular views north towards Sugar Loaf and south over Shag Bay and beyond. For us, this really was the highlight, and if you’re short on time and don’t want to do the full walk all the way to Fletcher Bay, this makes a good point to turn around.
We of course had yet to encounter Poley Bay so after enjoying the view from the lookout, we continued on our way in blissful ignorance.
Fortunately, after Poley Bay it’s mostly downhill so, enjoying the effects of gravity, and after a brief encounter with a few friendly cows (the path crosses farmland) we made our way to Fletcher Bay where we stopped for a well earned lunch break.
The first half of the ride back from Fletcher Bay is obviously the toughest. There’s a slow and steady climb followed of course by the joy that is Poley Bay round two. But at around the 6 km mark you reach the highest point on the walkway and from there it really is pretty much a 4 km gentle downhill run back to Stony Bay. The other nice thing about finishing in this direction is that this downhill run is mostly in shade, something you’ll appreciate on a hot summer’s day.
After 20 km and having worked up a good sweat, we headed down to the water for a refreshing dip and then relaxed in the shade of a Pōhutukawa tree to contemplate another day well spent on the Coromandel Peninsula.
Coromandel Mountain Bike Track
Depending on which direction you’re tackling it from, the Coromandel Mountain Bike Track also starts and finishes in Stony Bay. DOC describes it as ‘more challenging’ than the Coromandel Walkway itself and that was confirmed by the local ranger who we spoke to before heading out. On our ride, we actually met two other mountain bikers who, like us, had cycled along the walkway from Stony Bay but chose to return via the mountain bike track. We met them back in Stony Bay later in the day and they confirmed that this track is steep and you really don’t want to start from the Stony Bay end unless you like pushing. They seemed pretty fit and experienced to us so we’ll take them at their word. Don’t say we didn’t warn you ?
Coromandel Walkway Tour and Shuttle Services
If you can’t or don’t want to take the drive all the way out to Stony or Fletcher Bays, there are two local operators that can get you there:
Looking for more ideas on things to do and places to see when visiting the Coromandel region? Have a look at our guide, Top things to do in Coromandel.