Dxif0H6d Coromandel

Coromandel Cruisin’ on Such a Summer’s Day

Car: Ford Mustang EcoBoost

Drive: Thames to Thames, New Zealand (190km)


Coromandel Peninsula – it’s a drive I’d heard nothing but much to-do about from Kiwis and foreigners alike.

So, with February fast approaching (the optimum time to visit NZ), we set about booking flights, accommodation and hire car – convertible, of course, to max out the great scenery and celebrate driving roads for which Godzone’s country is so special.

Make that a Ford Mustang convertible. But, before you start congratulating me on my erstwhile choice, a confession – this is not the well-hung GT as you would expect, but its less muscle-bound little brother.

Now, if ever there’s a car that lives in the shadow of another, it’s half-a-Mustang.

Not only does the V8-powered GT way, way outsell it, but immediate and ongoing comparison by those who have driven both (and many who haven’t) has dismissed the EcoBoost four-pot as inferior in just about every way possible. 

But, having not steered either, I’m jetting across the Tasman with a little objectivity and open-mindedness among my carry-on. To be honest, I need to – there is no GT in Auckland for hire.

From the historic gold mining town of Thames, we have some 200km of twisting, scenic delight to look forward to.

It’s a warm, sunny day as I point the white Tang, top down, north on SH25.

The road hugs the coastline to the left, with drops down to a rocky volcanic beach and views across the tranquil waters of the Firth of Thames; on the right are forest-covered hills. 

Best of all, unlike many tourist routes, the speed limit remains as per open road – 100km/h.

My view ahead through the raked windscreen is pretty cool – long, twin-creased bonnet; guards pumped with intent.

Behind the wheel, sitting low out of the wind and snug in the well-proportioned bucket seats, things are pleasantly amenable too.

About half an hour out of Thames, we turn inland on the Tapu-Coroglen Road. Destination, the Rapaura Watergardens.

As the name suggests, this is a well-cultivated combo of waterfalls and water features set among hectares of natural landscape and gardens. 

But there’s more – an X factor, of sorts. Funky artworks surprise as much as they delight, along with the odd, old motor vehicle half-hidden among the undergrowth.

Key it in to your itinerary. 

It’s worth noting that, with the road gravelled from hereon into the interior, Rapaura is also the furthest hire cars are allowed to be taken. So, we backtrack to SH25 and once more head north.

The going gets tight and narrow, with occasional dips and potholes making things interesting, before the road widens a tad and turns inland, climbing into the mountains just before Coromandel Town — our overnight stop. 

But before we do, a roadside oyster shack, just metres from the water’s edge, proves impossible to drive by. We do the obvious – stop and tuck in to the freshest and tastiest crustaceans imaginable. 

Like Thames, Coromandel Town’s early settled days are steeped in gold mining history.

It’s there for visitors to discover, but outwardly this is a slightly gentrified place these days.

We arrive to a warm welcome at our B&B on the outskirts of town, before dining out and settling down to a good night’s sleep. 

After breakfast, our genial hostess is about to farewell us when she notices the Mustang.

“My husband has had a lot to do with Fords,” she enlightens us. “He used to work for Roush Racing in the States when we lived there.” 

Hubby, as it turns out, is away fettling one of the NZ-born Hollywood director Peter Jackson’s collection — none less than the amazing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang from the 1968 movie of the same name.

Still, she shows us through the workshop, a veritable Aladdin’s Cave which gives a true insight to a mighty interesting life working on some of the most successful NASCAR and Champ Car teams.

We have to tear ourselves away, beckoning is some of the best of the drive.

Immediately upon leaving Coromandel Town, SH25 climbs spectacularly through rainforest and one awesome bend after another to a lookout atop the mountain range.

We stop, of course, and are rewarded with a stunning vista of the town and foaming coastline below.

Back into the Tang. Then follows curve after curve on to more open going as we make our way across the peninsula to the surfside coast.

The road continues like this, up and down the hills, all the way to Whitianga, main town on Mercury Bay. 

It’s a good test for the junior Mustang’s turbocharged 2.3-litre, inline longitudinally-mounted four-cylinder.

It might be down some 73kW and 100Nm on its big bro’s 5.0-litre V8 muscle, but 233kW at 5500 rpm and 423Nm of torque at 3000 rpm is still pretty useful. 

After a momentary lag as the turbo spools up, a limited-slip diff helps gets the power down with authority — and Ford’s claim of 0-100km/h in 5.8 seconds feels about right.

More to the point is the overall driveability; the six-speed auto working well in extracting a sufficiency of urge across the rev range. 

When native forests were being harvested on the peninsula in the 1800s and early 1900s, Whitianga bustled as a port.

Ships from Europe sailed in to the deep-water harbour to load up with valuable kauri hardwood.

Today, the town depends on fishing, farming and tourism for its income. 

Here is also a good spot to detour to the surf beach of Hahei and take a memorable walk to what is the jewel in Coromandel’s crown, Cathedral Cove.

The trek takes us along a cliff top and down to a huge, arched cavern which passes through a white rock headland to join two secluded coves.

The cathedral-like arch is nature at its most spectacular.

The sandy beach, lined with shady Pohutukawa trees along the foreshore, makes an ideal place to picnic, swim or chill.

Just off shore is a large pinnacle of pumice breccia rock known as ‘Te Hoho’ which, over centuries, has been sculpted by wind and wave to a point where it resembles the prow of a large ship steaming ahead. 

Next stop is Hot Water Beach where, at low tide, you can dig a hole in the sand and bathe in the warm stuff leaching from below.

Had to admire the enterprise of a local resident advertising shovels for rent!

Back on SH25, continuing south, the road becomes prolific again with twists and turns, climbs and descents.

The EcoBoost steps up. Having 75kg less weight than its V8 sibling over the front axle, a keenness to turn-in is evident, along with an ability to corner hard and flat.

Stiffer front springs, thicker rear sway bar and extra bracing all make their contribution and, even on 19-inch rims (same as the GT), the EcoBoost rides more than acceptably.

Eventually, we return to sea level and arrive in Tairua, a small harbourside town, where 98 RON premium unleaded is dispensed as well as a good flat white.

Refuelled and re-caffeinated, we continue on and, just after Hikuai, turn right onto SH25A. 

The fun isn’t over yet, though. There are more mountains to exploit the Tang’s torque, along with twists and turns to test the handling dynamics.

At Kopu, you can turn right on to the SH25 and complete the drive loop at Thames, or – like we did – head straight-on (also the 25) to Auckland. 

Sometimes a drive falls short under the weight of expectation, but not the Coromandel; especially top down under broad, blue skies and the road continuing to unravel as it courses the crumpled coastline.


2017 Ford Mustang EcoBoost

Basic price new: $45,990

Engine: 2.3-litre DOHC turbo inline 4-cyl

Power: 233kW @ 5500 rpm

Torque: 432Nm @ 3000 rpm

Transmission: 6-spd auto ($2625 option)

Weight: 1685kg

Drive: Rear-wheel

0-100km/h: 5.8 secs



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