The Phutukawa Coast
The drive from Thames, on SH25, will take you along the sparsely populated coastline which is punctuated by shaded sandy beaches and golden cliffs. The time to be here is over the summer months when you'll find the trees blossoming in a blaze of red. The first little town is Tapu and your point of departure along the Tapu-Corglen Road and one of the most beautiful drives in the country. Take the turnoff on the far side of the town, its unsealed but nevermind. You won't be wanting to speed through this leg of the trip anyway. The road meanders along the Tapu and Waiwawa River Valley with the Camel's Back mountain (819m) looming on the skyline. These twin peaks are important to Maori history as the site where members of the Ngati Terangi Iwi or tribe were thrown to their end during a battle. Along the Tapu-Coroglen Road, you'll find the Rapaura Water Gardens ($6). It's a reinvigorating place (26 hectares/65 acres) with a 3 level waterfall (signposted as Seven Steps to Heaven/10mins), lush organic bush and philosophic points to ponder posted along the way. You'll see floating water lilies in abundance as well as camellias, rhododendrons, flax and other exotic plants. You can easily spend a half-day here although if you don't want to take time out it will take about 2hr to meander leisurely through the gardens.
Back on the road (9.5km from Tapu/3km from Rapaura Water Gardens) keep a watchful eye out for the signpost to the Square Kauri. This curiosity of nature is about 1.200 years old and almost a perfect square in shape (41m high/9m wide). You don't necessarily even need to get out of your car but its worth the short 5 minute walk to appreciate it properly. From here you can either continue to Coroglen (19km) or back track to the SH25.
Heading along SH25 from Tapu will take you the seaside Wakawau whose main tourist attraction is a renovated tram shanty town placed amongst holiday bachs. Having passed Kereta, the road wanders inland and some scenic beauties. Stop at the Manaia-Kereta Lookout, where you'll be able to see down into the Coromandel Harbour and its offshore islands, Manaia, Whanganui, Waimate and Motutapere.