For all Coromandel’s beauty, it’s still close to Auckland – too close for some, especially on long weekends and during the holiday season. During the busiest periods, the surf at Whangamata boils with surfers, while cyclists, walkers and beachcombers all vie for a little bit of space. Further along the coastal highway, Pauanui oozes luxury with its marinas, big yachts, and million dollar mansions, while a little way down the road, Whitianga is a buzz of activity. The busy little town’s cafes fill up for breakfast and don’t close until dark. The bright lights of three-story beach front apartments blaze out onto the bay, and by day there is barely a parking spot in the main street. Yet for all Coromandel’s hustle and bustle, there is still a quiet spot where life is easy, and untouched nature is most definitely within reach. That gem is Opoutere.
The quiet village of Oputere is the former home of renowned historian and author Michael King. Along with its estuary and beach, it hugs the eastern shore of the Coromandel Peninsula between Whangamata and Pauanui, and is approached from Highway 25 along a narrow, winding but sealed road. Mangroves line the estuary while the hanging branches of mature pohutukawa trees, decked out in the skirts of the epiphyte kahakaha (Astelia hastata), brush the water.
The highlight of a visit to Otopoure is the reserve walk which leaves from the public car park, which is reached quite naturally 4km after taking the turn off from the main road. The track immediately crosses a substantial wooden walking bridge, through rather incongruous pine trees, and then arrives at the beach. Turn right as you exit onto the sand, and walk along the shore for 500m until you reach a sandspit which can be crossed on a board walk.
The spit is a haven for migratory and local birds, and is one of the last remaining habitats of the dotterel. This increasingly threatened species is especially vulnerable due to its sociable nature, and the spit offers it significant protection from people.
But Opoutere is more than nature alone, and it would be a pity to return to the beaten track without a visit to the studio of its local artist Guity Evelyn. Working from a studio with unique views over Wharekawa harbour and Opoutere Beach, this productive artist combines inspiration from her home environment with hints of her French past. Vivid colours, Pacific blues and sweeping figures adorn the natural wood walls of her studio. Whether your preference is for the figurative or the abstract, there is bound to be much to enjoy with a visit her ‘Topadahill Studio’.
If Opoutere steals your heart and you can’t bear to leave, there are just a handful of holiday rentals to choose from. However, a short drive from the public car park is a pretty private camping facility which offers tent and caravan spots and, for those who are less hardy, chalets and cabins.
When planning your visit to Opoutere, remember that, in Coromandel terms, you are coming to a relatively isolated spot. Be sure to pack stout walking shoes, and to stock up on supplies before you leave home. There is no shop or cafe in this unspoiled part of the peninsula.