I thought I knew Coromandel. I’ve certainly been there enough times and for good reason too: if you’re a North Islander and summer is your season, then Coromandel will have never not been on your radar. When the warmer months roll around, either you’re going to Coromandel or someone you know or are related to, is.
It’s not a mystery either, with the Coromandel Peninsula famous for soft white-sand beaches and a mountainous interior of lush rainforests. And at just a couple of hours drive-time from the 1.6-million strong metropolis of Auckland, Coromandel is so entrenched on the domestic tourist trail that even in the era of Covid and zero international visitors, it was heaving last summer.
But sometimes even a place you’re certain you know throws up a surprise or two, something I realised a few months back when my wife and I stayed at a place called The Barn in Lonely Bay, Cooks Beach.
I’d heard of Cooks Beach, but not Lonely Bay, and despite being just 15-minutes by car from the world famous Hot Water Beach, this was a corner of Coromandel I’d somehow not explored.
To paint a picture, the Coromandel is Peninsula lies immediately to the east of Auckland, as separated by the Firth Of Thames and the Hauraki Gulf. It is approximately 85-kilometres long and 40-kilometres at its widest point. And whether driving the endless winding roads of the peninsula’s east or west coasts, there’s cove after cove, bay after bay. It’s beautiful no matter the time of year, but clearly this is a corner of Planet Earth intended for summer.
This also sums up Cooks Beach – a town of just 500 permanent residents that hugs a 3-kilometre stretch of sand. 500 barely qualifies as a “town”, but come December to February, expect that number to quadruple. That’s conservatively speaking too.
The same applies for the neighbouring Whitianga – a comparative big smoke at 5000 people in winter, though more like 20,000 over summer. Most Kiwis will have at least a vague idea of where Whitianga is on the map, so if that’s you, know that Cooks Beach is literally less than five minutes away by ferry.
Perhaps more crucially, it’s over half an hour by car, hence why a ferry service has operated here for longer than anyone can remember. Geographic pinpoint established, let’s talk about Lonely Bay, and more specifically, the Carolinas-recalling two-storey property known as ‘The Barn’.
Gigantic coloured vases greet you when you open the front doors, and help set the scene. From the Grandfather clocks and the decorative crockery to the Picasso prints hanging on the wall, the high-ceiling central atrium of The Barn tells you this isn’t just any old nice place to stay.
Still not convinced?
I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a house with a bigger internal sliding door than at The Barn – a truly spectacular white-framed, glass-paned partition that separates the central atrium from a second living room, which in turn gives way to the mezzanine’s staircase. Add to that the presence of a library/living room, a full kitchen, two standalone bathtubs, a comprehensive underfloor heating system, a rip-roaring outdoor fireplace with garden… well, you’ve got yourself the kind of luxury and attention to detail that lingers long in the mind.
And if somehow that still leaves you teetering, then check out these pics of Lonely Bay – as perfectly-formed a hidden beach as I’ve seen in many a year. Obscured past the western headland of Cooks Beach that forms the Shakespeare Cliff Scenic and Historic Reserve, Lonely Bay is accessible only by foot.
With chalk-coloured cliffs draped in native bush behind you, white sand underfoot and views out to Mercury Bay in front, it’s a magic spot. It’s also the kind of place so story-book serene that you’ll be plotting your return as soon as you’ve left. And given it’s only 20-minutes from The Barn, expect this to be a daily pilgrimage.
Click here to read my full NZ Herald article. Prepared to be swayed! Enjoy the photos.