Two hours from Auckland lie sleepy seaside villages, world-class art galleries and movie-star beaches, all packaged up in one small peninsula. You can drive from the north to south of the Coromandel peninsula in roughly two hours, but in reality the trip will take you days – you'll want to stop every 10 kilometres or so to see something new. 

To help you narrow down the long list of things to see, here a few of the best places to visit in the Coromandel. 

1. Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove is one of the most iconic spots in all of New Zealand – even if you've never heard the name, you've probably seen photos of the rock arch standing against a backdrop of glittering blue. This beach also featured in the movie 'The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian' and Macklemore's video clip for his song 'Can't Hold Us', so it has a strong claim to fame.

You will have cliff-top views most of the 40-minute walk to the beach. The area is stunning, with small islands dotting the coast, and white-sand beaches tucked into crevices in the cliffs. 

It's better to go in early or late summer to avoid the Christmas and New Year crowds, when the path turns into a highway.

2. Hot Water Beach

Everything you need to know is in the name – this is a beach with natural hot springs. Geothermal activity underground heats the water as it bubbles up from the sand, meaning visitors can dig holes to make natural spa pools. 

You will need to plan your visit according to the tides, as you can only get to the area of the beach where the hot water is found two hours either side of low tide. Take a shovel to make your hole in the sand, or rent one at the cafe by the beach. Alternatively, just jump into someone else's pool once they vacate it!

The water can be extremely hot, so be careful. It's tempting to hop into the surf to cool off after steaming away for a while, but Hot Water Beach is known for dangerous riptides, so stay between the flags and don't go out too far. 

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Mar 23, 2017 at 1:53am PDT

3. New Chum Beach

You will have to drive for a while to get to New Chum, but we promise it will be worth it. To get to the beach, ditch your car at Whangapoua village and take the walking track through lush native bush. As you crest the hill you will get a spectacular view of the beach laid out before you.

It's hard to pin down exactly what makes New Chum such a spectacular beach. It might be the pohutakawa trees that drape their branches lazily over the sand, the hills that rise up at either end and obscure any signs of civilisation from view, or the fact that you will only be sharing the beach with a handful of other visitors. Whatever it is, this is one of the best beaches to visit on the Coromandel. 

4. Driving Creek Railway

Just outside of Coromandel town is one of the quirkiest attractions in the area. The Driving Creek Railway is a small train that chugs through bush and mountains. The railway was originally built to deliver clay for pottery, as well as wood to fire the kilns. Founder Barry Brickell was a keen potter and one of New Zealand's most important ceramicists.

Now, it transports tourists on a scenic jaunt that gives you a look at kauri forests as well as Brickell's unique sculptures positioned alongside the tracks. The rail experience is about one hour long and takes you through tunnels, viaducts and spirals, before reaching the Eyefull Tower at the top, which has panoramic views of the Hauraki Gulf.

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Apr 7, 2017 at 10:15am PDT

5. Tairua

There are small towns all over the Coromandel and each one of them has its own unique charm. One of the friendliest is Tairua, a small surfing village where shoes are strictly optional.

Enjoy good vibes all around, with local eateries, op-shops and organic stores along the main street. You have the option of swimming at the surf beach or splashing around in the estuary at high tide. Keep an eye out for local kids as they leap off the one-lane bridge into town in daredevil fashion. 

Although the main activities in town are lounging on the beach or sipping flat whites at one of the cafes, you can also climb Mount Paku when you get a burst of energy. You will be rewarded for the walk to the top with 360-degree views of the area.

The easiest way for visitors to get to the Coromandel is to hire a car at Auckland airport, then head south to find these unforgettable locations!