I had kind of overlooked the Coromandel in my initial plans for New Zealand. However after asking friends for advice on places it was a name that kept cropping up so we tried to work it in. The Coromandel is a peninsula on the northern side of North Island, a couple of hours drive from Auckland. It is known for its beautiful scenery and more specifically for the geothermal anomaly ‘Hot Water Beach’. Instead of an extra day in Auckland we sorted out a rental car to do a one day trip. It would be a bit of a quick trip but we would get to see Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove – the two main tourist destinations in the area. We arrived at Ezi Car Rental first thing to pick up the car, which we got for a very reasonable $50 NZ (£25) including an excess waiver. I have to recommend Ezi to anyone looking to rent in Auckland – the staff were very helpful and provided us with extra info about safe driving on New Zealand roads. Being English I think most of the rules were the same but I could see this as being quite helpful to people from other countries with road rules much different to New Zealand.
We set off from Auckland and just over a couple of hours later landed at Hot Water Beach. The first hour and a bit was fairly unremarkable, being mostly the motorway out of Auckland. However once we reached the edge of the Coromandel the scenery really picked up. It’s quite a mountainous region and the roads snaked round hills, valleys and forests with so many great views it was all I could manage not to get distracted and drive off a cliff!
Once we arrived at Hot Water Beach the first thing was to get hold of a shovel. The local cafes are well versed in the tourism game and rent them out for $5 NZ (£2.50) each plus a deposit of $20 NZ (£10). They advised us to head down the beach just past the rocks and start digging until the hole fills up from below with warm water. The water is warmed up from the geothermal activity below which extends close to the surface at the beach, it then wells up to the surface to meet the sea, but at low tide it will well up to the beach itself, allowing for the creation of a natural hot tub!
Having said all that I’m now going to question it all! After a good 30 minutes of digging in a few different places, we had found nothing but cold sea water! It wasn’t just us either, the beach was quite busy and a few people were walking round checking with the others to see if anyone had struck warmth, but no one had. Nothing I had read beforehand suggested that the hot water thing was an occasional occurrence, but we left pretty disappointed!
Onward to Cathedral Cove and at least we did better with the weather than our search for geothermal activity. The sun came out to play making it feel distinctly un-autumnal. We got to the Cathedral Cove parking area to find it choc-a-bloc with cars. It took a couple of laps to find someone leaving and nab a space – god knows what it’s like in the height of summer! We parked up and started down the coastal path. As you will find all over New Zealand all the walks and natural attractions are extremely well signposted and it’s a doddle to navigate around Gemstone and Stingray Bays to the main attraction. It’s about a 2.5km walk and the NZ government recommends you give it 90 minutes return but the walk itself only really took about 30 mins so I’d say one hour return plus however long you want to stay on the beach!
Once you climb down the final set of stairs you can truly appreciate the beach for its distance to cars, houses and people. It is a stunning secluded cove with gorgeous white sands and an enormous tunnel carved through the rock on one side. This tunnel leads through to another, equally beautiful beach in front of which is an enormous free-standing rock; reminiscent of one of the karst formations of Ha Long Bay but made of pristine white stone. Clear turquoise waters lapping at the edges complete the picture perfectly. This second beach is completely cut off when the tide comes in so be sure to time your visit around low tide times and make sure you don’t fall asleep on the beach!
We hung around on the beach for a while whilst I indulged my need to photograph everything. It was a little busy but not bad at all. Although luckily we managed to dodge a coach full of ‘Gap Yah’ kids by about 5 minutes – passing them on our way back. We had some lunch back in the car and had to make tracks to ensure we got the car back in time. We made good progress until we got stuck in a motorway jam on our way into Auckland – damn commuters! Fortunately we weren’t stuck for too long and managed to make it back just in time with the car. By the time we got checked into our hostel and showered etc. we were knackered so we stayed in for the first time in a long time with some cold beers and a takeaway pizza, and packed our things ready for an early departure out of Auckland which marked the beginning our North Island travels in earnest.