Author: Lauren Meeks
Date of Trip: May 2015
Whenever I go to a new country, I try to visit a mix of both traditional tourist hotspots, and explore some lesser-known places, as well. My visit with my husband last year to the Coromandel Peninsula, on the northern island of New Zealand, was no different.
The Coromandel Peninsula is one of the most famous places in New Zealand, and since we visited in the off season we got to enjoy it in relative peace and serenity. As we cruised around in our little rental car, we admired the lovely countryside – lush, rolling green hills, serene mountains wreathed in a misty haze, brilliant azure skies, and lazy sheep and cows that looked at us with complete disinterest as we whizzed by.
After a drive of several hours, we arrived in Whitianga at our “French-inspired cottage,” which we found on AirBnB. A three bedroom home was more than enough space for just the two of us, but such is the attraction of AirBnB – you get a whole lot more house than you would get at a regular hotel.
Once we had settled in, our first main tourist stop in the Coromandel Peninsula was the hot water beach, which has been rated one of the best beaches in the world – although I suspect that that’s more for its uniqueness than its beauty. Hot water beach is famous for its underground hot springs that can filter up through the sand at low tide. Visitors from all over the world bring shovels and try to time their digging so that they’ve built up their little pool right around the time that low tide is reached, so that they can sit and enjoy their very own homemade sauna. The pictures in the tourist brochure definitely promise big things – dozens of symmetrically shaped pools scattered all around this one little place on the beach, with steam drifting up from the hot water and people relaxing in the water enjoying the warmth.
The reality for us was a bit different. We were in New Zealand at the beginning of winter, so it was definitely very chilly – my husband made several comments about the ludicracy of going to the beach when there was frost on the windshield. Once we got to the beach, it was actually quite hard to find places that had hot water close enough to the surface that it could be reached with a shovel, so everyone who was there ended up collaborating and trying to work together to build one big pool in the single place where we could find hot water.
Unfortunately, that particular area was too close to the incoming tide, and kept getting washed away…it didn’t help that we really weren’t very good at collaborating, either. In the end, after about 2 hours of digging, we had successfully built several pools, and we had been able to feel the hot water under the sand, but we were never quite able to do both and get the hot water into a pool. So, rather than us all relaxing in our own saunas like the brochures had promised, we all ended up huddling together in the sand, with our poor abandoned pools lying neglected in the background. Apparently even at low tide, the tide was too high to really get the desired effect. But it was still fun – I got to say I’ve been to one of the best beaches in the world, and got an upper body workout on top of that!
That afternoon, we decided to go exploring. We ended up finding a path up to the top of a place called Shakespeare Cliff. It was a lovely walk, but at the top was a very unexpected and pleasant surprise. Rather than a simple lookout landing, we found a huge expanse of beautifully manicured lawns and gardens, with fearless birds flitting in and out of the shrubbery, and a breathtaking view that completely surrounded us. We spent a whole lot longer there than we meant to, but it was time well spent. I have become such a fan of traveling with no plans! There is so much that you miss out on when you are rushing to hit the next tourist destination on the schedule.
The next day we went to see the other main attraction in the Coromandel Peninsula, Cathedral Cove, which is part of the larger Mercury Bay area. Like the hot water beach, this is only accessible during low tide and by foot, but unlike the hot water beach, it took about 45 minutes of hilly walking to get there, as opposed to 10 minutes on a flat beach for the hot water beach. But luckily, low tide was about an hour later the second morning, so we didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn. Even if we had had to do that, it would have been worth it. A popular site for kayaking, snorkeling, and other water activities, the cave and beach is also used as the tunnel through which the Pevensie children first re-enter Narnia in the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. And it’s absolutely breathtaking. I could have very happily spent the whole day there.
There were several other little side trips along the way to the cove, such as Stingray bay and Gemstone cove (I just love the names of the places in this area!). The paths were well-marked and the side outlets were easy to find, so we spent at least a little bit of time in all of them. The most impressive cove by far, however, was the Cathedral Cove.
It’s surprising how quickly a few days can pass when you are enjoying yourself. It seemed our trip to the Coromandel was over almost before it started. But we’ll always have the fond memories, wonderful pictures, and great stories!