I am assuming that you are driving.
I would be inclined to go out of Auckland through Whitford, Kawakawa, Kaiaua (Seabird Coast), Miranda (Hot Springs), Thames and up to Coromandel Town for the night. Next morning drive across to Kuaotuna with a side trip to Matarangi, down to Whitianga, Cooks beach, Hahei (with a walk to Cathedral Cove weather permitting and lowish tide) and maybe visit Hot Water Beach. Stay in Hahei at The Church (Restaurant closed Sun - Mon) then drive down through Whangamata, Waihi Beach, Mt Maunganui to Whakatane next day.
This will give you quite a bit of driving, lots of beautiful scenery, beautiful beaches spread over the 3 days.
Agree with Wigwam although if you are going up the coast from Thames to Coromandel Town then I dont think it is essential to come down from Whitford - it makes a very long day and the road up to Coromandel side hugs the Firth of Thames is the more interesting (IMO)
So suggest you go the main route to Thames via Route 1 and turn onto Route 2 after the Bombay Hills and across to Thames- this is the most direct route to the Peninsula and would give you time to check out Barry Bricknells Railway and the Watergardens after you leave Thames on the way to Cormandel and then as WW suggests stay in Hahei in the second night.
I would definately agree with padso and zappers. Staying in Hahei the second night will give you the flexibility to see more of the Coromandel. I had a rainy day (I know it never rains in Coromandel)there and wish in retrospect that I had allowed for an extra day.
I would do the coast road out from Whitford and Miranda to Thames and spend the first night in Coromandel township. Next morning ride the Driving Creek Railway and then head to Whitianga for the second night. Hahei is not an option for me, far too restrictive for food and accommodation but well worth a visit but I prefer Tairua.
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I would go with Scotty Girl. Whitianga is so central. We based ourselves there, it has a really nice feel to it with a great choice of places to stay. Don't miss a trip in the glass bottom boat, it's one of those "wow" experiences!
Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone for their input and advice. Much appreciated.
Our itinerary has changed direction since my last post and we will now be travelling anti-clockwise and arriving to Coromandel region ex Whakatane.
Is it too ambitious to drive from Whakatane to either Hahei or Whitianga ?
No, it would be about a 4-1/2 hour leisurely drive. Take your time as it's a very scenic and interesting drive right along the coastline. Do stop at The Mount for a quick look and/or lunch. there are some lovely cafes at the Main Beach.