You won't find a lot of slick dining choices in Thames, but Sealey Café, 109 Sealey St. (tel. 07/868-8641), in an old villa, offers light lunches and coffee, although Waiomu Beach Café, 622 Thames Coast Rd., Waiomu Bay (tel. 07/868-2554), comes with higher recommendations. They're just across the road from the beach and have a good range of light food to enjoy with coffee. Sola Café, 720B Pollen St. (tel. 07/868-8781), is probably your best good-coffee choice in Thames itself. They have a small vegetarian menu and are open daily 9am to 4pm and for dinner on Friday nights.
Driving Creek Café, 180 Driving Creek Rd. (tel. 07/866-7066), just north of town in an old villa, serves delicious meals using local and organic produce. It's open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:30am to 4pm and is the place to get a feel for local culture -- it's a laid-back venue set in the bush, with a piano planted in its center. The Success Café, 104 Kapanga Rd. (tel. 07/866-7100), is a nice place for a light lunch or a quiet evening meal. It serves local seafood in a relaxed environment; open summer daily from 9am to 6pm, with reduced hours in winter.
Peppertree Restaurant & Bar, 31 Kapanga Rd. (tel. 07/866-8211), is probably the best eatery in town, and its dinners present seafood, sushi, mussel fritters, local beef, and fresh vegetables in interesting combinations. It's open daily from 10:30am until late in summer, 11am to 9pm in winter. If you'd like a snack of fresh-smoked fish, mussels, scallops, salmon, or roe, then head for the Coromandel Smoking Company, 70 Tiki Rd. (tel. 07/866-8793; www.corosmoke.co.nz). It's open daily from 8am until 6pm with reduced winter hours. Coromandel Oyster Company, 1611 SH25, Tiki Rd., Coromandel (tel. 07/866-8028; firstname.lastname@example.org), is another good spot to get fresh premium oysters, local mussels, prawns, scallops, chowders, sauces, and smoked seafood at wholesale prices -- just the thing if you're considering a beach barbecue.
Whitianga has quite a range of fair-to-middling restaurants and cafes, so you won't go short of a meal. As in most provincial centers, service can be patchy and changes of ownership after printing can sometimes mean things aren't quite what they used to be. One of my favorite and most consistent Whitianga spots is Café Nina, 20 Victoria St. (tel. 07/866-5440), open daily in summer from 8am to 10:30pm and winter from 9am to 5:30pm. You'll get the best coffee and counter food in town at this 100-year-old miner's cottage tucked away in a small back street. It's hugely popular and always has a mixed, slightly alternative crowd.
The Fireplace, 9 The Esplanade (tel. 07/866-4828), is a great waterfront spot with a courtyard, good seafood, and wood-fired pizzas. They're open daily from 11am to late; be sure to make a reservation. The Eggsentric Café, 1047 Purangi Rd., Flaxmill Bay (tel. 07/866-0307), is near Cooks Beach and just a ferry ride from Whitianga itself. It has a great atmosphere and a chef who does inspiring and delicious things with fresh seafood. They're open Tuesday through Friday 10:30am till late, and weekends 9am until late. They'll even pick you up from the ferry if you wish. That's what I call service! Salt Bar and Restaurant, 1 Blacksmith Lane (tel. 07/866-5818; www.whitiangahotel.co.nz), has been revamped under new management and it's one of the best spots for fine dining. It's open daily from 11am until late. For good seafood and tapas, try Tuatua, 45 Albert St. (tel. 07/866-0952). They serve tapas all day and switch to an a la carte menu that focuses on seafood at night. Make sure you book ahead at night.
In Pauanui and Tairua
The one thing lacking in Pauanui is good eateries. You can go upmarket and have no regrets at Grand Mercure Puka Park Resort, or you can take the passenger ferry (NZ$5; hourly until 1am in summer) across to Tairua and dine at Manaia, 228 Main Rd. (tel. 07/864-9050), or at the Old Mill, 1 The Esplanade (tel. 07/864-7884), which is the more formal of the two.
Café Onemana, Onemana Drive, Onemana (tel. 07/865-7200), is open for lunch and dinner. They've got great ocean views and a friendly atmosphere. Bookings are recommended for evening dining.
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.