Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove
There was great excitement in anticipation of basking in the warm pools of Hot Water Beach which is located on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand just south of Mercury Bay. It was on our bucket list of New Zealand ‘must-dos’ and I was looking forward to lazing around in the natural mineral waters. An underground river of hot water bursts from deep within the earth to the surface in the Pacific Ocean at Hot Water Beach. The beach is beautiful, with white sand stretching between Tairu and Whitianga, overlooking Castle Island with Pohutukawa lined cliffs at each end of the beach making it worth a visit even without a dip in the hot water pools.
Ngati Hei are the tangata whenua (people of the land) who live along the coastline in Mercury Bay. Hot Water Beach has great cultural significance to the Ngati Hei with archaeologists believing they have lived in the area for over a thousand years making it one of the oldest inhabited areas in New Zealand. By remembering to use the car park toilets, not eating in the hot pools and picking up litter when you leave you are helping the Ngati hei protect Hot Water Beach.
Hot water bubbles through the sands two hours either side of low tide but be warned it gets crowded in the summer – which is when we were there. The beach was full of families, tourists and backpackers, most with spades to dig their own spa pools. Some people were relaxing in their spa pools only to have the tide wash in and flood them causing screams as the cool water from the sea mixed with the warm spa pools. We managed to dig a spa pool for ourselves, but we were there towards the end of low tide and so as the tide came in it narrowed the opportunity to relax in our 64-degree spa pool. The crowds were a little overwhelming anyway and although it was quite an experience my patience with the crowds faltered and we opted for a swim in the sea instead.
Swimming in the sea off Hot Water Beach was quite an experience as the sea was very rough with strong currents and from the view from the beach rather deceptive. We loved swimming in the sea but even with the water up to your waist/shoulders it required a lot of energy to keep yourself from being washed out to sea so we paid close attention to the warning flags and kept in view of the lifeguards.
Te Whanganui-A-Hei (Cathedral Cove) Marine Reserve is just a 10 minute drive away from Hot Water Beach and is in the southern part of Mercury Bay on the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand and is accessible via foot at the top of Grange Road.
Te Whanganui-A-Hei is a special area first claimed by Hei, who was a teacher/skilled person, from the waka Te Arawa around 1350AD. On a voyage from the Bay of Plenty to Hauraki, Hei chose the area around Mercury Bay to settle with his people. He declared his ownership of the land by referring to Motueka Island as ‘Te Kuraetangao-taku-Ihu’ which means the outward curve of my nose! He made his claim around Hahei. To this day Hei’s descendants still hold a strong spiritual attachment to the area and are the guardians of the resources within it.
A naturally formed archway is the focal point of visitor attention with the cathedral-like arch giving the whole area an air of grandeur. The beach is sandy and beautiful with Pohutukawa trees providing shade along the shore. This picturesque place has also featured in the Chronicles of Narnia – Prince Caspian. The set for the ruins of the castle Cair Paravel, in the Chronicles of Narnia – Prince Caspian was filmed on the Hereheretaura Peninsula overlooking the beautiful Cathedral Cove. There was definitely a buzz in the atmosphere as people enjoyed posing for photographs under the iconic arch and being part of New Zealand’s movie location culture.