Pretty WHITIANGA clusters where Whitianga Harbour meets Buffalo Beach, a long curve of surf-pounded white sand on the broad sweep of Mercury Bay.

The town is a relaxed place to chill for a day or two, perhaps trying bone carving or getting pampered at The Lost Spring hot pools. It also makes a central base from which to make a series of half-day and day-trips to some of the Coromandel’s top spots. A short passenger ferry ride across the narrow harbour mouth to Ferry Landing opens up a bunch of gorgeous beaches such as Lonely Bay. They’re often deserted out of season, though from December to February you’ll have to work harder to find tranquillity. By taking a bus from Ferry Landing (or driving south via Whenuakite) you can access Cathedral Cove, a stunning geological formation with great swimming, and magical Hot Water Beach, where natural hot springs bubble up through the sand.

Offshore, the protected waters of Te Whanganui-A-Hei (Cathedral Cove) Marine Reserve offer superb snorkelling and scuba diving. Cathedral Cove, the marine reserve and the extraordinary array of volcanic island and sea caves offshore are the main focus of a range of boat tours and kayak trips from Hahei and Whitianga. Bottlenose dolphins and orca are often seen.