Personally, I prefer Northland, but Coromandel has an intangible, rustic quality that makes it rather alluring. Certainly, from a purely physical point of view, there's nothing quite like the sight of New Zealand's famous pohutukawa in full scarlet bloom (Dec-Jan), against black rock and white beach, for mile after endless mile.

There are good walks around Paeroa (near the Karangahake Gorge), Waihi, Whangamata, Tairua, Whitianga, Colville, Coromandel, and Thames. Information on the Coromandel Forest Park is available at the Department of Conservation office in Thames. There's also a DOC office in Coromandel township at the i-SITE Visitor Centre.

In Thames, you'll find historic mining areas well signposted. For gold-mining tours in the Thames area, try Goldmine Experience, Main Road, State Highway 25 (tel./fax 07/868-8514; www.goldmine-experience.co.nz), which offers a guided tour through an operational, 19th-century Stamper Battery and into one of the richest gold mines of the time. They're open daily from 10am to 4pm in summer.

From 1885 over 30 schools of mining provided practical training for gold miners; the largest of those, the Thames School of Mines Museum, Brown and Cochrane streets (tel. 07/868-6227), is open daily from 11am to 3pm in summer (reduced winter hours). In complete contrast, you can escape into the Tropics with over 400 butterflies at the Butterfly and Orchid Garden, Dickson Holiday Park, Victoria Street (tel. 07/868-8080; www.butterfly.co.nz). They're 3km (1 3/4 miles) north of the town and are open daily 10am to 4pm. Admission is NZ$10. If you feel like a wander, pick up the Historic Grahamstown brochure and check out the town's past. Add in a visit to Thames Historical Museum, corner of Pollen and Cochrane streets, Grahamstown (tel. 07/868-8509), which is open daily 1 to 4pm. Admission is NZ$5 adults and NZ$3 for children.

As you head north, just beyond Tapu, turn east off State Highway 25 and go 6.5km (4 miles) to the spectacular Rapaura Watergardens, 586 Tapu-Coroglen Rd., Tapu, Thames Coast (tel. 07/868-4821; www.rapaura.com). Numerous paths meander through the 26 hectares (64 acres) of gardens and 14 waterlily ponds, which are open daily from 9am to 5pm. Admission is NZ$12 for adults and NZ$5 for children ages 5 to 15. They also have a cafe if you feel like refreshments. About 2.5km (1 1/2 miles) past Rapaura Gardens, stop at Tapu and ask directions to one of nature's oddities, the "square kauri," a 2,500-year-old kauri whose trunk is a perfect square. Te Mata Beach, also at Tapu, is a good hunting ground for specimens of carnelian-agate gemstones.

In Coromandel is the Driving Creek Railway and Potteries, 410 Driving Creek Rd. (tel. 07/866-8703; www.drivingcreekrailway.co.nz). Barry Brickell, an accomplished potter, owns the country's only narrow-gauge mountain railway, which passes through replanted native forest. There are usually at least two departures daily (10:15am and 2pm), costing from NZ$20 adults and NZ$50 families. The station is 2.5km (1 1/2 miles) from Coromandel town, and the 1-hour trip covers 3km (2 miles) of track, which took 27 years to build. A new glass-blowing studio operates over summer and you can view working potteries and kilns.

Pick up the Coromandel Craft Trail brochure, which details over 30 of the peninsula's craftspeople, or visit Weta Design, 46 Kapanga Rd., Coromandel Town (tel. 07/866-8823; www.wetadesign.co.nz), which shows work by New Zealand's top artists and craftspeople. It's open 10am to 5pm and organizes tax-free purchase and overseas mailing. Waitati Gardens, 485 Buffalo Rd., Coromandel Town (tel. 07/866-8659; www.waitatigardens.co.nz), are a pleasant horticultural diversion (admission is NZ$7); and make sure you visit the weird and whimsical at Waiau Waterworks, 309 Road, Coromandel (tel. 07/866-7191; www.waiauwaterworks.co.nz). This haven of strange, water-based sculptures and gadgets is a great place for kids -- as long as they're well supervised. It's open daily from 9am to 5pm; admission is NZ$10 for adults and NZ$5 for children ages 5 to 15.

On the east coast, Whitianga has the excellent Mercury Bay Museum, opposite the wharf (tel. 07/866-0730), open daily from 10am to 4pm (closed December 25), featuring exhibits dating from A.D. 800 to 950. For something entirely different, visit Mill Creek Lavender, 445 Mill Creek Rd. (tel. 07/866-0088; www.millcreeklavender.co.nz), a sweet-smelling haven open to visitors October to Easter on weekends from 10:30am to 5pm, or by appointment. At Bay Carving, The Esplanade, Whitianga (tel. 07/866-4021; www.baycarving.com), you can carve your own bone souvenir in 2 to 3 hours. They're open 10am to 4pm, daily in summer and closed winter Sundays. Carving costs from NZ$45 per person, per piece, depending on the design chosen.

A fun activity is taking the Whitianga Water Transport (tel. 07/866-5472; www.whitiangaferry.co.nz) passenger ferry to the Ferry Landing. It operates daily from 7:30am to 10:30pm (extended hours from Christmas Day to the end of Jan). Once at the Ferry Landing, you can link up with Hot Water Beach ConXtions (tel. 07/866-2478) and go to Hahei, Hot Water Beach, Cathedral Cove, and other area attractions. The bus costs NZ$25 per person for the day's outing. And if you want to unwind at the end of the day, visit the Lost Spring, 121A Cook Dr., Whitianga (tel. 07/866-0456; www.thelostspring.co.nz), which is one man's passion come to reality. Alan Hopping began drilling for hot water in 1989. Twenty years and two failed attempts later, he finally hit the spring, and the luscious hot pools and day spa opened in 2008. They've been beautifully landscaped and are well worth a visit. They're open 11am to 9:30pm daily and you pay NZ$20 per hour, or NZ$45 for a day pass. Children must be 14 and over.

Hot Bath at the Beach -- At Hot Water Beach, inquire about the time of the next low tide -- thermal water heats parts of this beach for 2 hours on either side of low tide. That's when you can dig a hole in the sand, settle in, and soak in the hot salt water that comes up from underground springs. The underground volcanic fissures issue water as hot as 147°F (64°C) at a rate of 15 liters per minute.

Waterfall Walk -- The Waiau Falls are 11km (7 miles) east of Coromandel. A 5-minute walk from the 309 Road ends at the foot of the falls. The 309 Kauris, 1km (1/2 mile) farther east, are the finest, easily accessible stand of kauri trees on the peninsula. It's a delightful 10-minute bush walk to see them.

Cathedral Cove -- This gorgeous sheltered cove is part of the Hahei Marine Reserve and famous for its large sea cave. The beach and cave are accessible by walkway from Hahei.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.