Certain landscapes take on a whole new perspective when they're seen from the deck of a cruise ship, and the Coromandel Peninsula is one of them. This rugged finger of volcanic rock, lush rain forest and golden sand lies on New Zealand's North Island, just 55 kilometers (34 miles) across the Hauraki Gulf from Auckland. The Coromandel lures visitors with its misty hiking trails and wide array of beaches—most notably Hot Water Beach, where people gather at low tide to dig hot tubs in the sand and immerse themselves in the geothermal waters. Among the peninsula's dramatic rock formations is Cathedral Cove, reached via boat or by a spectacular coastal walk.
Just east of the Coromandel is the Bay of Plenty region—a wide indentation along the coast that's popular for boating and fishing. As with much of New Zealand, the area's geological origins are apparent in not-so-subtle ways: The cones of long-extinct volcanoes, such as coastal Mount Maunganui (Mauao), are distinctive landmarks, while the actively volcanic White Island still steams and hisses midsea. A large Maori population lives on the East Cape, New Zealand’s easternmost point. And the region’s waters are full of exuberant sea life: acrobatic dolphins, seals and several species of whales. Grab your binoculars, keep your camera handy and get ready to enjoy the show.