If you look east from the City of Sails across the sparkling Hauraki Gulf, you will get a glimpse of Auckland’s best-loved holiday destination.

The long, humped, misty blue line of the Coromandel Range on the eastern horizon, may seem unprepossessing at a distance. But to many outdoor lovers it signifies red-letter days in the sun, coastal views to sigh for and balmy evenings around the barbecue and wine cask.

‘Coro’ is only 1.5 hour’s drive away for Aucklanders but, somehow, once you cross the narrow Waihou River bridge, you are in another world. The slower, relaxed lifestyle here has an irresistible pull. The delightful small towns and holiday resorts, the golden surf beaches, coastal walkways and forest-clad hills, are all part of the magic.

Highlights that spring to mind are; the joys of bird-watching on the Firth of Thames, the hard-won heritage of mining and kauri milling in places like Thames and Coromandel, the pristine isolation of Port Jackson and Fletcher’s Bay in the north. Some of ‘New Zealand’s Finest’ beaches are at Hahei, Hotwater Beach, Matarangi and Whangamata.

A most appealing feature of the peninsula is the stark difference between the two coastlines. The west is characterised by steep hills plunging onto a narrow winding coast road, ablaze with crimson pohutukawa blossoms in early summer – our very own Christmas tree. The east is renowned for sweeping white sand beaches pounded by Pacific surf. Equally fashionable are the hidden coves and sheltered harbours, ideal for swimming, snorkelling, diving, boating and fishing.

Coromandel history is written on the land in many ways. Ancient Maori pa sites, kauri logging dams, gold mining relics, colonial hotels and miners cottages in the towns. Coromandel and Thames stand out for the charming colonial architecture and historic buildings. Stamper battery foundations in Karangahake Gorge testify to the massive scale of gold mining operations. It seems miraculous that the peninsula has been able to recover from the all out assault on its hills, valleys and forests.

The rugged, volcanic peninsula is a walker’s dream, combining sightseeing, tramping, hunting, angling, fossicking, rock hounding and an absorbing heritage, history and ecology. Tracks are well defined and huts are placed at strategic intervals for multi-day tramps.

The Coromandel Craft Trail opens up possibilities for many enjoyable visits to artist’s studios and galleries, ‘Coro’ people are relaxed and welcoming and interaction with artists and craftspeople add a colourful dimension to peninsula life.

Millions of years were needed to form the ruggedly beautiful Coromandel Peninsula. Why not take a few days to enjoy its pleasures. The new gold rush is recreational tourism. Go for gold in these lush green hills.