If you’re incontinent, I recommend you come to live in New Zealand. I have never seen so many toilets handily dotted about in convenient places in my life! Seriously you could leave your house desperate for the loo and come across a handy convenience within 10 minutes. They are everywhere. We’ve found them along every kind of road side, on mountains, on beaches, in every shop you go in and most likely every shop you don’t. Admittedly some are of the rather pungent variety which you would most likely not want to frequent again but it really is handy to know that you can come across them everywhere. Or at least we have done so far on the North Island and certainly on the Coromandel peninsula.
The east coast of Coromandel is very different from the west and even more idyllic than what we had seen already. For here lives the great and legendary Cathedral Cove as well as the original Hot Water Beach and all the delightful little towns and quirky stop offs in between. Bathed in the most glorious of sunshine we were heading for a cheap campsite known as “Earls Paradise.” What we didn’t realise what quite how accurate the title was. The campsite is handily placed to visit the highlights of the Coromandel and had rave reviews on the camper apps we rely on so we decided to check it out. Sadly free camping just does not exist on the peninsula.
Upon arrival the view was lovely, the welcome warm and friendly and the beach exploration beautiful too. I had been told that just the previous week Orca had been spotted in the bay (to which I squeaked in excitement) and the campsite had great facilities so overall it did feel like a piece of paradise.
The people we met there were wonderful too. Earl himself was somewhat of a legendary character, calm and quiet but helpful and happy. One of those wise old souls you could talk to for hours. We also met a lot of people from far flung countries but bonded with two guys from the UK over our nerdy love of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. We literally spent hours talking to them inside a disused water tank as darkness fell around the camp. Peter even forgot to be hungry, such was our enjoyment of the conversation (despite the fact that we learnt they were both 10 years younger than us!)
We explored New Chums beach which is allegedly one of the most beautiful beaches in the whole of New Zealand. It is indeed stunning but I wasn’t overwhelmed and still held a much softer spot for the black sand beach of the previous week. New Chums beach’s sand actually has a pinkish tinge to it and is certainly quieter than some of the others due to the tricky walk to get there. But the next day we were heading for the world famous Cathedral Cove.
When you arrive in Hahei (the town where the cove is situated) you certainly realise the need for all the toilets on the island. There are quite literally thousands upon thousands of tourists all crammed into this little town, eager to steal a glimpse of their sparkling treasure. The town isn’t really equipped to deal with so many people but the enterprising locals (who must really hate tourists) have done what they can and we even parked in someone’s driveway at a cheaper cost than taking the water taxi.
But in all honesty we weren’t here to see the cove; we were here to snorkel. There are four bays in total and the first one you come across is Gemstone bay which has its own little snorkel trail. After buying cheap snorkelling gear in op shops and local shops of the variety that sell everything including the kitchen sink we were fully prepared to dive in without the cost of hiring equipment.
Gemstone bay was totally pebble dashed and rock covered with the crystalline waters boasting heaps of life for us to explore. Peter managed to spy an Octopus and many fish and we both managed to swim out to see a Stingray which had been spotted. There was much excitement about him and once I’d seen him I couldn’t stop raving about how incredible he was to all who passed by. It was such a thrill and blessing to have seen him. What I didn’t realise is how numerous they are in the next bay along; the aptly named “Stingray Bay.”
Once we had walked over to it we could see how different it was from our previous snorkel site and couldn’t wait to explore. This was a beautiful white sand beach with bright blue water, framed by large white cliffs and all those wonderful heaven like qualities that make you a little weak at the knees. There were also Stingrays everywhere. Literally heaps of them! It was quite intimidating to be floating directly above them with their outlines breaking free of their sandy blanket and the two bumpy eyes glaring at us from below. There were some very big individuals and they were even being seen near the surf so we gave up on snorkelling and just walked along the beach, marvelling at those we saw near the shallows.
I really loved snorkelling but was still not very confident in the water therefore relied on the wonderfully patient Peter to guide me along. The other problem was the masks we had bought didn’t have the best seals so water would occasionally still get in if we smiled. Of course surrounded by incredible wildlife and on a glorious beach it was very difficult not to smile! But we still appreciated the fact that we’d bought the kit on a budget which allowed us the freedom to snorkel whenever and wherever we liked.
During our time in these two bays we were blown away by the sheer number of visitors, brought in on foot or by one of the many boats lurking just offshore. And so we decided not to bother with Cathedral Cove. It seemed ludicrous to have to immerse yourself in such hideous crowds when we’d enjoyed ourselves much more at the two emptier bays. We were also suffering somewhat in the sun. So we decided instead that we’d earned an ice cream each and headed back to our little slice of paradise.
The next day held more excitement in the form of Hot Water Beach. I had been instructed not to miss it and the natural phenomenon behind it is most interesting. Basically if you dig a hole in the sand at a particular point on the beach the water that bubbles up is really hot (upwards of 50 degrees Celsius sometimes). This is due to the cooling of an ancient volcano which still contains superheated rocks just below the surface. The rocks heat the water as it rises during low tides and there you have your very own spa pool. But first to dig it.
I clutched my trusty well travelled spade and Pete hired a much more robust one before we headed out into the crowds. The part of the beach to dig was easily spotted as there were numerous hordes of people there already relaxing in the bath-like water.
We began to dig with fervour and excitement and soon had a large oval dug out surrounded by walls of discarded sand. But alas the water was cold. We thought this was due to the sea water bringing the temperature down but as we dug further downwards the heat remained elusive. It was at this point that we looked up from our digging and heard an American man exclaim “WOAH that’s hot, have you felt that? That’s too hot for me!” Shortly afterwards we saw a woman in bright yellow march right up to that spot and smartly planted a well worn sign warning “very hot water.”
We had been digging in the wrong spot.
As we made our way over we could see the steam oozing out of the sand and surrounding the bathers in a haze. In our search for a new dig site I walked through a small ripple of water making its way down towards the sea and instantly had to leap out of it again. The heat of it was intense! And so we started to dig another hole nearby and the heat of the water slowly came through.
By the time we’d dug our hole and sat down to enjoy it though it still only felt tepid and I feared that this beach just wasn’t living up to its hype. However the couple in the pool next to us would occasionally jump up as they were scalded by the ever changing temperature of their pool. And the loud American man was forever commenting on the temperature of his whilst helping a group of kids with buckets of seawater to cool down the heat. It was such a strange phenomenon to be so close yet so far.
And then the wall broke down.
Somebody knocked down the wall of sand separating our pool from the one next door and the hot water just came flooding in. Within seconds I myself had to leap up as the water was scalding the burn patches on my ankles from the previous day. We finally had hot water in our pool but what was strange was the constant changing of the temperature. It never stayed consistent enough to feel like you could enjoy it. With every new roll of the waves more water would pour in our pool to cool it down or be drawn out from the rocks to heat it up. It was like playing a somewhat uncomfortable game of bath-time roulette!
The time had come to leave as the tide started to roll back in again so we left our pool to some holidaymakers and decided to track down our next campsite.
We had heard of one that was free if you spent over $20 on pizza. There was also free wine/cider tasting. We were instantly sold, particularly as it had been a long while since we’d enjoyed pizza. On arrival we were greeted by a hilarious character whose sense of humour was just too quick for me to keep up with as he allowed us tastes of some of the local produce. He taught us all about an amazing fruit we had never heard of (fejoa) which was much more passionately loved by New Zealand locals than the kiwi fruit.
After a quick explore of the area (in which we came across several quirky cafes with puns to make Peter giggle) we settled back at the winery vineyard and found a table outside but crucially in the shade to order our pizza. What we hadn’t banked on was the pizza being so expensive. This place would have made Dominoes look cheap so in the end we didn’t get a great deal for the campsite. But we enjoyed the food nonetheless and even had a game of energetic ping pong where you run around the table in between shots.
But before we drove off the Coromandel peninsula completely we decided to give Cathedral Cove another try. But we were determined to avoid the crowds so the next morning we got up at 5am (or rather Peter got up and dragged me out of my dreams to which there was much complaint and grumpiness) and we headed off with the darkness still silencing the world around us.
We arrived in the twilight of dawn, just able to pick our the silhouettes of the rocks in the distance. Donning our head torches and cameras we set off as the sun chased us on our right hand side.
We eventually made it to the cove separated into two halves by the giant stone archway and the beautiful old shaped stacks of “sail rock” and “sphinx rock” being illuminated by the rising light levels. This was where they had filmed Narnia and it was certainly a magical place. But the sun was still as reluctant as I was to make an early morning appearance. I sauntered through the archway to the other side to photograph the dramatic white of the rocks being highlighted with hues of early morning pink and orange and then came back over to the other side.
And there it was.
A great orange fireball just peeking round the edge of one of the cliffs and saying good morning to everybody in a very shy manner. It was beautiful!
Once those first beams of true light had appeared it brought with it more and more people and so we decided to leave the cove and all it’s beauty so we could savour the experience as it had been – quiet and breathtaking and mostly just ours.
I was glad we had done Cathedral Cove but it does feel somewhat of a shame that it is drowning in it’s own beauty as everyone wants a piece of it. But I often wonder if that is how the world is becoming. There are too many people and not enough wild places left to find our own piece of paradise. We’ll just have to learn to share and ultimately to protect those places as much as we can. I for one do not want to loose a place that is home to so much wildlife, so much beauty and ultimately, helps us to believe and discover a little magic of our own.