1. The Goldmine Experience + Thames School of Mines + Small Gauge Trains
The Coromandel’s recent history is dusted in gold. It’s the reason settlements like Thames and Waihī became boom towns a century and a half ago.
At the Gold Mine Experience, feel the earth shake as the newly restored 19th-century stamper battery pounds to separate out gold. In the underground mineshaft, guides explain how the miners retrieved the gold and describe the dark and dangerous conditions in which they worked. You can also have a crack at gold-panning.
A short walk away is the Thames School of Mines. Here’s where those miners learned their trade in the 1880s. A guided tour takes you through classrooms, a laboratory and the museum where maps, instructions, minerals and fossils are on display. Kids love sifting through the boxes of semi-precious stones at The Rock Shop on site.
Next door on Beach Road is Thames Small Gauge Railway station where their lovely little trains run on Sundays – weather permitting – and during selected events.
2. The Waterworks, Coromandel
The Waterworks is a whole lotta upcycled fun on the 309 Road between Coromandel Town and Whitianga. This quirky theme park is all about water – spraying it, squirting it, watching it move around the wacky contraptions. Like the waterwheel which scoops up water in safety hats, or the stationary bikes you can pedal to fire water across a pond to soak your mates. There’s a good playground, a barbecue area and shady spots to eat your lunch. There’s a café on site too. In summer, you can take a dip in the swimming hole and spot the eels in the creek.
A few kilometres west of The Waterworks, slow to see the famous 309 Road pigs. Dozens of them roam freely across the gravel road and they’ve become a tourist attraction in their own right.
3. The Cheese Barn at Matatoki + The Wharf + Skatepark
The Hauraki Rail Trail runs through paddocks behind The Cheese Barn at Matātoki. It’s about 12 kilometres from Thames, so park there or in Kōpū and hit the track. The trail is Grade one, meaning it’s a gentle, mostly flat ride. Have a coffee and try the cheeses while the kids feed the bunnies and alpacas.
Then cycle through the fields and back to Thames, where you’ll have earned fish and chips at The Wharf. Order at the fish shop and they’re brought to you crisp and piping hot in the café next door.
Historic Shortland Wharf overlooks the mangroves as the Kauaeranga River spills into the Firth of Thames. If the kids still have energy to burn, there’s a playground and new skate park just down the road on Queen Street.
4. Bullswool Farm + Waikino Train
Get up close and feed the friendly llamas, ducks, goats and more at the Bullswool Farm in the Karangahake Gorge. There’s a big play paddock for kids to run, jump and generally race around. On the bush walk, you’ll learn about and likely see native birds. Pack a picnic.
From here, get back on SH2, and head to the Goldfields Railway station in Waihī. All aboard this delightful historic train to chug your way gently back to Waikino. Replenish yourself with scones and or a toastie at the cafe inside Waikino Station. If you fancy stretching your legs before returning to Waihī, there are walks and historic mining sites in the gorge. Do check the timetable before you go; it varies a lot depending on the season.
5. Hot Water Beach
It’s one of the best-known beaches on the Peninsula where you dig your own spa in the sand.
It gets extremely busy here, so a successful visit is all about timing. Go two hours either side of low tide. Preferably in the off-season when it’s quieter and the weather’s cooler. The water can be very hot in places, so take care, especially with little kids and babies.
Older children will love racing back and forth across the sand between their spa and the cold sea. Take spades. A bucket’s also handy as you might want to tip in some seawater to cool your pool. Now you’re all set to relax and watch the waves from your natural jacuzzi. All that digging's bound to have worked up an appetite so picnic under the pōhutukawa.
And if you’re swimming in the surf at Hot Water Beach, stay between the flags when lifeguards are on duty.