New Zealand’s stunning Coromandel Coast – and how to make a delicious Spanish Omelette

Following on from my blog last week extoling the virtues of the Marlborough region I thought this week I would move north and give you a glimpse of what New Zealand’s North Island has to offer.

During my sister and brother-in-law’s visit we also took a road trip to the Coromandel and spent a couple of days there. I should mention at this point that despite the fabulous time we’d had in the South Island, the Coromandel was actually my sister-in-law’s favourite place.

Diversity is one of the things that makes New Zealand so unique and interesting. We have mountains and glaciers, rainforests, golden beaches, white beaches, rivers and lakes. Perhaps the only thing we’re lacking is a desert but I think I can live with that. Oh, and snakes. That’s right, no snakes. I can definitely live with that!

The first thing of note to happen on this short road trip – it’s only a two and half hour drive from Auckland to the Coromandel – was a refreshment stop in Tairua. Elevenses to be precise. If you’re unfamiliar with this term it is the very English tradition of a light morning snack, usually taken around eleven o’clock with tea or coffee. Considering the holiday thus far had consisted of eating, and then eating, and then more eating, we saw no reason to change things. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!

I ordered a Bacon and Gruyere omelette – an interesting choice for me as I usually shy away from ordering omelettes when I eat out. Too often they disappoint – too oily, too much filling, overcooked. But at the Manaia Kitchen and Bar in Tairua I had an omelette to die for. I have no idea if it’s still on the menu or perhaps it was a special of the day. But I remember it as one of the most surprising and delicious eating experiences of the holiday. Go Tairua!

So, moving on. We arrived in the Coromandel by early afternoon and still feeling sated from our “light snack” decided to forgo lunch and get in some beach time. We headed to Hahei, one of Coromandel’s most famous beaches. In contrast to the golden sands of the Abel Tasman, this part of the country is littered with white sandy beaches and Hahei has a long, immense stretch of white sand. Beautiful!

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It’s a popular beach and a paradise for those who love water sports and ocean adventures. The list of activities on offer is endless – scenic boat trips, kayaking, scuba diving, snorkelling, surfing. There are also some very cool boat trips to the sea caves. The rock faces are spectacular and have such an eerie, primitive look about them, which only intensifies when you cruise inside – like I said, very cool! In fact this is my pick of the activities although I’m not much of a water sports fan so that may have tipped the balance here. Check out Sea Cave Adventures or the Hahei Explorer on TripAdvisor – some great reviews!

A trip to the Coromandel is not complete without a visit to Cathedral Cove and so this was our destination for our first full day. It’s a smaller beach, a cove that is only accessible via boat or by walking down to it from the cliff top. There are plenty of boat tours that will take you to Cathedral Cove (and if you’re doing the sea caves Cathedral Cove may well be included anyway) however if you enjoy a challenging walk I would recommend parking at the top of the cliff and walking down. The reason being is that the walk is fabulous – the path twists and turns through stunning native bush and when you get your first glimpse of the cove through the trees it’s a truly memorable experience. “Paradise” may be a word used too freely but I think Cathedral Cove is deserving of the label.

Cathedral Cove

Its name comes from a large rock that sits spanning the beach and is formed as an arch, which resembles a cathedral. You can walk through the arch-shaped cut out to the other side of the beach. If by chance you are able to visit this divine spot in December/January the Pohutukawa trees will be in full bloom. Their flowers are like small explosions of red amongst the dense greenery. They provide a stunning backdrop to the white sand and sparkling blue water.

We spent a blissful few hours at Cathedral Cove and all agreed that it was a very special spot indeed.

The next morning I was up early for a walk along the beach. I’ve always loved to walk on the beach at first light. It is so still and peaceful and such a treat to listen to the steady lapping of waves without the noise of people and traffic to drown it out. It is at times like these that I feel most privileged to live in New Zealand. A fantastic start to the day.

Morning in Whitianga

From Whitianga Wharf you can catch a ferry over to Ferry Landing. It’s a narrow stretch of water and the trip is only a minute or so. On this side it is less populated and you will find more incredible beaches. On this particular day the beach that we walked to had not another soul on it. My sister and brother-in-law marvelled at this phenomenon and made the comparison to beaches at home in the UK. A beach of Coromandel quality would never remain so empty, they said. (I do actually remember a thirty degree weekend getaway to Bournemouth where my husband and I struggled to find a spare spot to put down our towels!) Living in a country with a small population has its challenges but this is certainly one of the advantages

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If you prefer to get away from the hustle and bustle then a trip to Ferry Landing is definitely for you. There is also a lovely café just up the road from where the ferry docks. I mean, you may want quiet but that doesn’t mean you don’t want coffee!

The one place we didn’t make it to was Hot Water Beach but it’s also well worth a visit. This beach is unique by way of the underground hot springs that filter up through the sand. At certain times between the tides (and check this before you go!) you can make small hot water pools in the sand.

I must quickly mention our dinner that night because it was the second memorable eating experience I’d had in as many days. We went for dinner at Salt Restaurant & Bar and for dessert I had one of the most delectable Panna Cotta’s I’ve ever eaten. Admittedly it’s one of my all-time favourite desserts – it is Italian so of course – and this one hit all the right notes. Simply flavoured with vanilla and, most importantly, a beautiful smooth texture with just the right amount of wobble! It was a beautiful thing. I had a quick look at their menu online and it doesn’t appear to still be on there. But they do have Affogato – another Italian favourite. Vanilla bean ice cream with espresso coffee and a splash of liqueur – perfection.

My sister-in-law was particularly sorry to leave the Coromandel as we packed up the car the next morning and got on the road early. Admittedly she’s a beach and sun girl so it was going to be right in her wheelhouse. But whatever your interests, you won’t be disappointed with the Coromandel. It is a truly spectacular part of the country.

 

For my recipe this week I decided to pay homage to the excellent omelette I had in Tairua but instead of a straight recreation thought I’d cook my favourite omelette of the moment – a Spanish omelette or tortilla de patatas as it is known in Spain. I won’t claim that mine is the most traditional or authentic of its ilk but it tastes wonderful and that’s what I’m most interested in.

The omelette’s base ingredient is of course eggs and this seems an appropriate moment to share my thoughts on the humble egg. I believe it to be one of the most perfect edible things to exist on our planet. I cannot think of any way to cook an egg that disappoints – apart from overcooking it! Life without eggs? No thank you!

Right, back to the recipe. I was originally going to say that this serves 2-3. However my husband and I easily polished it off with a lovely crisp salad, some spicy tomato relish to go with and a glass of wine. There wasn’t a scrap left. So by all means try and stretch it to three people but someone may be left wanting!

 

Spanish Omelette with Potato, Caramelised Onions and Feta

Serves 2

 

4 x tbsp olive oil

300g potatoes

1 x red onion, sliced thinly

2 x tsp fresh thyme

5 x large eggs

½ tsp freshly ground sea salt (or ¼ tsp if using regular table salt)

Freshly ground black pepper

40g feta cheese

 

Peel the potatoes and cut them into slices around 3mm thick. Put the slices into a pan with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer until the slices are just beginning to soften. Be careful to not overcook them otherwise the slices will just fall apart with further cooking. Once they’re cooked drain, rinse under cold water and then dry the slices with kitchen paper.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a non-stick frying pan – the base should measure approximately 20cm in diameter. Sauté the onion slices until they’re soft and beginning to colour and caramelise. During cooking add the thyme and let this cook off with the onions.

Remove the onions from the pan and transfer them to a plate while you get on with the potatoes.

Add the rest of the olive oil – it should be another 3 tablespoons but you want a good covering of the pan surface here for the potatoes. Place the potatoes carefully in the hot oil and cook on each side until just starting to colour. You don’t want these golden or looking like roast potatoes but they should be starting to crisp and be soft on the inside. At this stage I like to sprinkle just a touch of seasoning over the potatoes.

Once the potatoes are ready, transfer them to a plate lined with kitchen paper to soak up the excess oil.

Break the eggs into a large measuring jug and give them a good whisk. Add the salt, a good grinding of black pepper and then add the potatoes and red onions. Mix it all together well, working quickly.

Make sure the pan still has a thin coating of olive oil and then transfer the mixture into the pan. It should be on a medium heat and the eggs will start to sizzle as soon as they hit the pan. This will create a lovely golden finish. But you now want to turn it down to a very low heat.

Crumble the feta over the top and then and let the eggs cook softly and slowly for about twenty minutes.

By now there should only be a small amount of uncooked egg swilling about on top of the omelette. At this stage you want to pop the frying pan under the grill. Keep a close eye on it – you want it lightly golden on the top but it does turn quickly. You don’t want to burn it!

It’s now time to slice this baby and serve. As suggested above, I recommend a crisp salad and some spicy tomato relish to go with. It makes a delicious lunch or light meal and you could always add a slice of crusty bread.

Enjoy!

Spanish Omelette

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