Rusty onboard for a dog-friendly Coromandel road trip. Photo by Kathryn Webster.

A dog-friendly Coromandel road trip


Deciding to take my dog on this road trip was easy. I’d felt so bad leaving him behind last time, I spent much of the trip checking for updates from the boarding kennel. Yes, I’m one of those dog people. So, this time he came too, joining us on a classic Coromandel roadie.

Our route was made a little longer by road closures: the Kopu-Hikuai (25A), and the Tapu to Coroglen routes both being taken out by storm damage last summer. All going to plan, 25A will be open by now, but we enjoyed the longer route – it presented more variety and exposed us to new places.

Leaving Auckland after the evening traffic had calmed down meant a fast drive to Thames; our Airbnb hosts knew to expect us late. Theirs was obviously a dog-friendly home but as we discovered, there is dog-friendly and there is dog-friendly. This one wasn’t fenced, which meant close supervision was required as Rusty explored unfamiliar surroundings.

People gather in Thames for the annual Steampunk Festival.

People gather in Thames for the annual Steampunk Festival. Photo by Kathryn Webster.

He kept up his extreme sniffing at the end of a leash while we walked Thames’ main street the next morning. Into op shops, a book shop, music, craft and even the vintage Crown Lynn shop. We may have pushed our luck leading him into what used to be a butcher, now a second-hand shop and still smelling a little meaty.

Thames was ideal for time-killing, and also people-watching, as crowds were arriving for a Steampunk weekend, wearing kilts, top hats festooned with ribbons and lace, brass plates fixed to waistcoats, goggles, gadgets attached by chain at the hip.

‘Are you here for the festival?’ people asked, despite our boring attire. We considered changing plans, especially when someone mentioned the ‘Punk My Pet’ event, but we were looking to escape the crowds, not join them.  

We drove for about a minute before the Goldmine Experience on the edge of town caught our eye. Just in time for a tour and yes, dogs allowed, we donned hard hats and followed our guide into an alarmingly low tunnel. Torch light revealed how heavily laden ore trucks were pushed along wooden tracks to stampers. We heard about the long shifts in complete darkness, about young miners doing hard and dangerous work. Around $250m worth of gold was pulled out of the Caledonian mine in just nine years, putting Thames on the gold bonanza map. At its peak, in 1871, Thames was New Zealand’s second-largest city. Apparently, people in Auckland could hear the noise of Thames’ gold stampers, such was the industry.

Visit the Thames Goldmine Experience

Visit the Thames Goldmine Experience to dig deeper into the area's history. Photo by Kathryn Webster.

It was an informative and fascinating visit, though Rusty was not impressed by the racket of the stampers. That’s the price for getting to tag along, buddy.

To make up for it, we stopped up the coast, parking under an almost-bursting-into-flower pōhutukawa which this stretch or road is famous for.

At Tapu we turned inland. The sign to Rapaura Water Gardens beckoned where, again, Rusty was welcome. We meandered along cool, tropical garden paths to shaded lily-ponds and fountains, through bush to a waterfall, past wide pools hedged in foliage. It was calming and inspiring, too. Much patience, energy and green-thumbed genius has gone into creating this oasis of serene and balanced beauty.

Tranquil forest walks at Rapaura Water Gardens.

Tranquil forest walks at Rapaura Water Gardens, Coromandel. Photo by Kathryn Webster.

Coromandel town was buzzing in the late afternoon sunshine. We’d stopped to get supplies but were waylaid, easily, by a vintage kitchenware shop, an exhibition of a local painter, a happy scene at a café, coffee in the sun.

Then to Colville, about half an hour north. This Airbnb was more Rusty-suited. A fenced section with a big lawn ideal for zoomies. Big fun, too, watching the farm dogs at work. Oh, and his humans liked the charmingly unpretentious farm cottage. It was too warm for a fire but we lit it anyway, indulgently, sending smoke plumes into the incredibly starry sky.

The house was a few kilometres short of Colville, which we explored the following morning – checking out the general store famous for selling everything, and the Himalaya Shop which on a level was a surprise but, considering the hippy history of here, not so much; I bought glass beads and incense.

Beyond Colville, lovely little bays with sandy beaches and curving, sheltering arms dotted the coast: Ōamaru Bay, Shelley Beach, Ōtautu Bay where we fantasised about buying a bach by the sea.

Creative clay works at Driving Creek in Coromandel.

Creative clay works at Driving Creek in Coromandel.

Back to Coromandel, we spent a happy couple of hours at Driving Creek. This impressive site, created by eminent potter Barry Brickell, bristles with energy and initiative. From railway tours and ziplining through the bush, to pottery lessons and pizza oven building workshops, there is tonnes of inspiration and generosity of spirit here.

The day was heating up, so we were glad to have a date with a beach.

Kūaotunu, a personal favourite over the hill from Coromandel, lets dogs join the fun, except in the height of summer. But we were near enough to it to swim and dry off in the warm sun.

Beautiful Kūaotunu beach is dog-friendly except in peak summer.

Beautiful Kūaotunu beach is dog-friendly except in peak summer.

Travelling with dogs can be a conversation-starter, especially when your dog runs straight from the back of the car into a motel unit that’s not the one you have the key for. This was across the road from the off-leash section at the southern end of Whitianga’s picturesque beach.

In the morning, Rusty rushed around with a couple of spaniels at low tide, expending energy before more time on the road.

But we were soon stopping again, for Coroglen’s Sunday morning farmers’ market. Huge heads of broccoli, bright fresh strawberries, potatoes still smelling of earth, beautifully knitted things, flowers, honey – it was hard to maintain a modicum of restraint. Then another pottery! We had to stop in at Alan Rhodes’ studio. Rusty was a little ill-mannered with excitement, miraculously avoiding connecting tail with knee-height displays of teapots, casserole dishes and mugs.

The find of the day was Sailor’s Grave, just north of Tairua. We took the road down, only because neither of us had been there before and behold! A stunning, off-leash beach! We swam and relaxed in the shade and poked around the shore for interesting rocks while Rusty made a new dog friend to chase and be chased by; tongues out, big grins.

Rusty relaxes at the beach in Coromandel.

Rusty relaxes at the beach in Coromandel. Photo by Kathryn Webster.

Even busy Whangamatā, where we stopped for sandwiches, had a slice of glorious beach available to leashed dogs. We stopped again at nearby Whiritoa, where people in the carpark watched a shark lolling about in waves close to shore.

From Paeroa, we joined the Auckland travellers journeying through Karangahake Gorge. Steep walls of rock rose high on one side of the road and sloped down to the river on the other. It’s an intriguing, dramatic canyon; we joined a throng of people crossing the river to historic mining relics, walking tracks and swimming holes.

The Southern motorway was hot and crawling, so we made one last stop, at Auckland Botanic Gardens in Manurewa. We were all pretty tuckered out. It felt good to lie on the grass in the shade and bide our time before re-joining the traffic for the last stretch, to home.


Story by Kathryn Webster for the Summer 2023 issue of AA Directions Magazine. Kathryn Webster is the Editor  AA Directions Magazine.

What do you think? Do you take your dog on road trips? What are your top tips for travelling with pets? Share your thoughts in a letter to the editor.

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