Beautiful sandy beaches, lush native forests, and some steamy geothermal activity make the Coromandel and Bay of Plenty quite a departure from urban Auckland. Many residents live in fishing villages or small rural towns, with the occasional artsy or alternative-lifestyle community thrown in, particularly in the Coromandel.
Both areas bask in more than their fair share of sun for much of the year, so avocado, citrus, kiwifruit, nuts, and even subtropical fruits flourish here, and many growers adopt organic practices. Keep an eye out for the ubiquitous unmanned fruit stands accompanied by "honesty boxes."
Both regions are hugely popular holiday spots for New Zealanders, the beaches and bays, the fishing, surfing, and kayaking on the water and the land-based bush and coastal walks and cycle trails draw people, especially in the summer holidays in January. Join them, or perhaps more wisely, time your trip to avoid the crowds–-the weather will still be good.
Follow State Highway 25—the Pacific Coast Highway—as it meanders up the west coast and down the east coast of the peninsula. Traffic can build up on this road, particularly in the busy summer months or weekends. As you drive south down the peninsula's east coast, the Pacific Highway stretches out to the coastal plains and forests of the Bay of Plenty.
From the Bay of Plenty's northern gateway of Katikati as far as Whakatane and Ohope Beach, the coastline consists of huge stretches of sand, interrupted by rivers, estuaries, and sandbars. Inland, the soil is rich and fertile; this is horticulture territory with sprawling canopies of kiwifruit vines, fields of corn and other produce, and pockets of dense native forest. You'll see people fishing in some of the bays, but others have strict conservation rules; signs in the shape of a fish outline whether you can fish.
Bay of Plenty was one of the country's first areas settled by Māori. In Whakatane look for the landing site of the Mataatua, one of the great migratory waka (canoes), and visit the beautiful Mataatua meetinghouse.