3rd September 2014
The 309 Road is a 22.0 km, narrow, winding, gravel road between Whitianga and the town of Coromandel. In fact, it's the shortest route between Mercury Bay's Whitianga and the Hauraki Gulf's Coromandel township. This scenic route follows the meandering Mahakirau Stream up the Mercury Bay side, over the 306 metre summit and along the Waiau River as it descends through pine forest, native bush, scrub and to the farmlands just south of Coromandel. It presents no problem to the motorist who drives steadily and stays well to the left around the corners.
From the Mercury Bay side, the road is paved to the quarry, 1.7 km from State Highway 25 only one hundred metres (if that) is paved at the Coromandel end.
The first place of interest is 309 Honey at 4.6 km. 309 Honey is known throughout the region for the variety of honeys that it produces: Manuka, Pohutakawa and Clover. The entrance is well marked though you will have to cross the Mahakirau Stream and bear right to the small building presenting you with the honey and associated products.
Egan Park, at 6.4 km, is a large grass and treed area beside the Mahakirau Stream a good place for a picnic and a swim.
After driving through native bush reminiscent of a rainforest, you reach the summit at 12.3 km.
The 309 Kauri Grove at 14.1 km is noted by a turnout parking area. Remembering that the Coromandel Peninsula was once covered by these magnificent kauri trees, it is well worth the walk along the old coach road, which is now a gravel path, and boardwalks to stand next to these few remaining giants protected from before the turn of the century. The walk takes about 10 minutes but you need 15 - 45 minutes to appreciate the beauty. These trees are magnificent so don't miss this stop!
Waiau Falls is right beside the road at 14.8 km. It is a beautiful bush glade where the Waiau Stream crashes over a rock face into the pool below. There are access tracks both upstream and down another place for a swim!
The little National Park at 16.5 km is called Chiltern Reserve. There is a delightful picnic area just over the bridge and out of sight of the road. A rough track continues up the stream to a cascade down the bedrock through regenerating bush. Plan on a walk of 30 - 45 minutes.
Castle Rock is the core of an old volcano that rises above the bush on the backbone of the peninsula. To climb it, you leave the 309 Road at 17.0 km and drive about 2 km up through the pine forest. Leave your car and set off on foot up a clay road then a walking track in the native bush. Some places can be muddy after a rain so appropriate footwear is advised! The last few metres is a scramble using rocks and tree roots to assist your climb. As these pictures show, the panoramic view makes it all worth the effort! The walk takes about 45 minutes up and 30 minutes down so allow at least two hours so you can enjoy the view! No problems for any fit adult or child.
Waiau Waterworks, just beyond the road to Castle Rock at 17.1 km, features a whimsical display of water-powered sculptures. There is a huge clock, a pedal powered pump, waterwheels, ram pumps, kinetic art and many other displays in this peaceful, two acre park. There is even a playground for adults with an exciting flying fox (cable slide), a picnic area and a tree fringed swimming hole in the river. The Waterworks includes a shop and toilet a great place for an hour or two of unusual entertainment with something for everyone. There is a small charge and it is open daily throughout the summer from 9AM to 5PM.
Harmony Gardens, at 20.5 km, is a unique, exquisite private garden in a beautiful riverbank setting. There is a small charge and it is open daily throughout the summer from 9AM to 5PM. Allow at least 45 minutes.
I've had a report that Harmony Gardens has been closed. I hope that it's only a seasonal thing ...
Now that you're on the other side of the Peninsula, take time to visit Coromandel Township. It's only another 1.5 km to SH25 where you turn right and proceed 3.7 km into town. Afterward, you can return on the 309 Road or via State Highway 25 over a paved road and along the beautiful Kuaotunu coast.