Updated August 11, 2020.
When we decided to head back to New Zealand to explore its North Island, we had a hard time deciding where to spend our limited time. New Zealand relies heavily on road tripping, and it seemed like all the things we were interested in were at least 2-3 hours apart. Until we settled on Whitianga.
Day 1: Travel Day
If you’re like us, you’re flying into Auckland before driving to Whitianga, so I urge you to take advantage of that and see a few things Auckland has to offer.
One Tree Hill Hike
We knew we would need to stay outside and get some sunshine in our lives after our long flight, so we decided to hike One Tree Hill first thing! It is a hill, so be ready for a bit of a climb, but the views are spectacular the whole way. Bring sunglass, a hat, and definitely some water. Not only will you be dehydrated from your flight, you’ll also be hot on the hike, especially in summer! Also, there are bathrooms at the beginning of the hike, so take advantage of that.
More here: What to Know Before You Visit New Zealand
Next stop, The Auckland Skytower! It’s 1,076 feet tall, and you can bungee jump off of it! Not that bungee jumping from the tallest building in New Zealand was on our list of things to do, but you can if you want to! For the still-adventurous-but-not-freefall-adventurous, you can stand on the (very thick and strong) glass flooring instead!
We parked in the Skytower’s parking garage because we didn’t want to be driving around looking for parking too long. It was around $10 USD, and we were there just an hour and felt like we saw everything. Next stop: road trip!
Road Trip and Lunch at Bugger Cafe
Now that you’ve had some big-city fun, start your trek to the Coromandel Peninsula. New Zealand was made for road tripping, and while that’s not my favorite way to travel, driving in New Zealand is pretty easy once you get the hang of driving on the left. So don’t stress! Just remember that the blinker switch is on the left, and by all means: if there are cars behind you, please let them pass!
You won’t find too many places to stop for lunch, but the Bugger Cafe is conveniently located about half way through your trip, and they have a great selection!
Hungry for more? What to Eat on New Zealand’s North Island
Make sure to use the restroom here before you go. The road gets very windy from here! You will have about an hour and a half left to go.
Once you get to Witianga and check into your hotel (we highly recommend the Beachfront Resort), head into “downtown” Whitianga and take a look around. It’s truly beautiful! The Esplanade will take you right by some popular restaurants, the ferry, and, of course, Mercury Bay. Stop by the Whitianga i-Site for some friendly help figuring out where to eat and what to do on your visit if you’re not quite sure yet. There are many tours and activities to choose from, and they can help you sift through to find your best options!
We picked up a Hawaiian pizza–quite possibly the best Hawaiian pizza I’ve ever had–at Mr. Pizza and stopped off at the grocery for some fruit and a few supplies for supper, but there are plenty of options to choose from! Just be aware that most restaurants close around 2:30 or 3:00pm and re-open around 5:00 or 5:30, so if you start to get hugry at 4:00, your options will be limited!
More here: The Best Food in the World
Day 2: Beach Day
After a couple of days of traveling (well, really three days since we were forced to miss our connecing flight to New Zealand!), we needed a lazy, relaxing beach day! We woke up at our leisure, went for a run, grabbed breakfast at one of the bakeries in town, and took our time walking back to our accommodation for some beach time.
But we weren’t totally lazy, I promise! Our resort offered free access to kayaks and other beach toys, so we took advantage of that and got out on the water!
Lunch and Relaxation
We cleaned ourselves up and went to lunch at the Espy Cafe. If ever you want a shrimp salad smothered in butter, you’ll find it here! The rest of our day was spent reading, getting in the water, getting out of the water to read, and getting back in the water. Summertime in Whitianga is about as good as it gets!
To prepare yourself for tomorrow, grab a shovel (in New Zealand, they call it a “spade”) and a bucket and toss them in the back of your car, then check the tide schedule for tomorrow. You’re headed to Hot Water Beach!
Day 3: Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove
Now that you’re rested up, plan to get up early and get a head start to two of the top Coromandel Peninsula attractions. Your exact schedule for this day will depend on the tides, so bear that in mind! Check out my post about Things to Know Before You Visit the Coromandel for all the nitty gritty details, but for now, here’s a quick overview:
Hot Water Beach
The tide is most important for Hot Water Beach. You will have two hours on either side of the tide to dig your own hot tub and enjoy sitting in the natural hot spring! Outside of that 4-hour window, the water will cover the area where you have to dig!
The water coming up through the sand will be extremely hot, so the bucket you brought with you is for getting ocean water to mix with the hot water to get it to the right temperature! Caution: the ocean is very rough here with very dangerous currents. Please be careful! Don’t swim if you’re not used to strong ocean currents.
The tide is less important for Cathedral Cove. When the tide is high, you will be able to look at the famous arch but not walk through it. When the tide is low, you can walk through the arch to the other side, but honestly, there’s not much to see over there, and you can’t walk much farther anyway.
We parked at Hahei Beach, but there are closer places to walk to the trail. We chose Hahei Beach because this hike was part of our workout! More distance: more steps! The hike took about an hour and 15 minutes one-way from Hahei Beach, but it would only take 45 minute from the parking closer in. There is also a shuttle from an off-site parking lot. Ask the front desk at your accommodation for the latest info on that as things change according to season.
More here: The Ultimate List of Hiking Tips
The hike was absolutely beautiful, and while there’s a lot of up and down hills, plus some steep stairs along the way, it’s a mostly paved trail that is very clearly marked. There are some other coves just off the trail and a lovely lookout point that we enjoyed on the way back from Cathedral Cove, so allow plenty of time for those things as well!
You will certainly find the hike to be worthwhile! It was absolutely beautiful. And in fact, the restrooms at the beach have a pretty spectacular view, so take advantage of the facilities there! Oh, and bring a snack and water.
Do try to make this hike happen in the morning. The sun reflecting off the white rocks is stunning!
We grossly overestimated our energy level after our hike and Hot Water Beach. We were pooped! Inevitably, there are things I would have done differently every trip, and this is one of those things: Don’t rush either of these to do more in a day! There are a couple of restaurants or food stands in Hahei for lunch, but do bring a snack and water just in case. There are also some food options for lunch at Hot Water Beach, but bring a snack and water anyway. We suggest doing both of these in the morning and heading back to Whitianga for lunch. We loved The Harborside Cafe!
We tried to fit in a hike at Shakespeare Cliff and Scenic Reserve, but if we had to do it over, we would have waited until the next day. We suggest you do, too!
Day 4: Adventure Day
This is the day to really make the most of your dwindling time in beautiful Whitianga! By now you’ve probably decided what experiences you want to have: boat tours, maybe a trip to the nearby thermal spa for intense relaxation, dolphin and whale watching in the right season, snorkeling, the list goes on! The kind folks at the Whitianga i-Site can help you out if you haven’t stopped by already.
Shakespeare Cliff Hike
If you want to drive to the Shakespeare Cliff Lookout, you will be doing a lot of driving! It’s a 45-minute drive, or a 2-minute ferry ride (sorry, passengers only). If I had it to do over again, we would take the ferry across the small inlet to the other side, then take the scenic walk to Shakespeare Cliff and Scenic Reserve. There’s the Whitianga Rock Walk with beautiful views of the water, and then you’ll come upon the road and walking trail to the Shakespeare Cliff scenic lookout! Please take the trail, do not walk on the road. And don’t forget to bring water and a snack!
When you finish your hike, grab lunch at the Eggcentric Cafe or Cookes Cafe. Or if you prefer, take the 2-minute ferry back to Whitianga for more lunch options!
For the afternoon, go on a boat tour! Take a snorkeling tour! Go whale watching in the right season! Or just relax on the beach with a book. Choose your own adventure, and soak it up! We took a long walk on the beach, collected shells, and because it rained off and on our last day, we mostly enjoyed the view from our balcony and the sounds of the surf and rain.
The following morning we woke up, went for a run, packed our last few items and headed back to Auckland for our flight out. I highly suggest opting for an afternoon flight so you’ll have plenty of time to wind back around those roads without rushing. We flew home in United’s Polaris Business Class from Auckland to San Francosco!
Are you ready for your own relaxing Whitianga vacation? It is one of my most favorite trips to date!
Need more? Find everything you want on my New Zealand Page!
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