It’s a grey and grisly winter day, with at times a touch of rain. But a touch of rain should never stop you in search of good real New Zealand food. And, let’s face it, that rain creates the splendour of lush native green forests that come into view as you cross the Firth of Thames. Welcome to the Coromandel.
This region is filled with impressive seaside locations. It’s incredibly popular in the summer, but its beauty continues through the winter. And the seafood on offer, a warming winter chowder, when eaten so close to the sea, is proof of the joy you can find in the New Zealand winter.
Driving the Thames Coast
The Coromandel, this North Island eastern peninsula, is an easy distance from many main centres. Once there, you’ll find extraordinarily beautiful coastline all year round. On the western side, it’s known as the Pōhutakawa Coast. In the summer, stunning crimson flowers lead the drive north up the coast. In the winter, the trees are equally majestic, framing the view out to sea and providing a treat of a view around each corner.
There’s a rich population of local creatives and, with that, oodles of New Zealand’s recent history of kauri logging and mining on show. And tremendous seafood.
Striking early gold
Pulling into Thames main street, it’s clearly a town steeped in heritage and character. If only some of those building walls could talk….Speaking of history and food, an appropriate early stop is the heritage bus depot building, now aptly called The Depot, home to a collection of small but perfectly formed shop-fronts. The courtyard entrance, with a garden of edible greens and loads of lemons, signals the way.
Stop at Savour & Spice for delightful conversation, and a sensory treat - the smell of truly freshly-ground (right there) spices and curry powders. It’s also home to Mustardmakers, more about the fantastic horseradish mustard later…..In a gold-rush town, the little spice jars lining the shelves are today’s version of the little gold nuggets of years gone by. Take some home to treasure.
Sea to your port-side
The other side of the Firth of Thames is renowned for seabirds, but at times there is a spectacular number of them here too. Driving north, it takes around an hour to Coromandel Town with the sea port-side, to your left, all the way. It’s a quaint and pretty town, with an obvious colonial past.
Once in the town, it’s a short but rewarding climb to the top of the Coromandel P, with plenty of New Zealand bush and birdlife. Some days there’s undoubtedly a stunning 360 degree view of the area. On other days it’s just nice to stick your head in some real New Zealand cloud.
And the Coromandel Town seafood
The sea has been there all the way north. Indeed the sea gives rise to the peninsula’s name. Coromandel was named for HMS Coromandel, a British ship which called into the harbour to purchase kauri. There’s an Indian connection too. HMS Coromandel was itself named after India’s Coromandel Coast.
What a treat, then, to now be able to buy some of the bounty of the sea, so close to the coastline. Stop in at The Coromandel Smoking Company on the main road into town, for smoked fish of all types - salmon, mackerel, tuna, orange roughy, kahawai, and eel - and the famous mussels. Take away a true souvenir of the area.
By then you’ll be ready to sample the seafood. On a winter’s lunchtime, join the crowd of locals pulling in to the Coromandel Oyster Company, a few minutes south of the town, for cooked oysters and delicious warming chowder. Some days it’s oyster, some days mussel. So good.
There’s many a spot to perch and take in the great sea view. Listen to the locals praising what’s on offer, and thumb the visitors’ book, as others have clearly done. It’s full of compliments from travellers near and far. The oyster shucker is hard at work, electric tool, not knife, in hand. There sure are a lot of oysters to shuck. This is real New Zealand food at its finest, a real treat. And the hearty gusts of wind remind that you are coast-side, just in case you might have forgotten.
Across the Firth
If you get curious about the other side of the Firth, travel up that side and stop in to the Miranda Farm and Cafe. It’s a barn filled with home-made treats, and of course organic produce, honey and preserves to take home. And they’re all there under hanging strands of dried garlic. You’re close to the big cities, but definitely on the farm.
Make sure to take the Coromandel’s seafood away with you. With the Coromandel Smoking Company smoked fish, along with Mustardmaker mustard (from Thames) and dairy from The Cheese Barn at Matatoki (just out of Thames), you can enjoy it all again at home. If you want to see our simple smoked fish pate, a perfect supper at the end of a travelling day, click here.