Thursday 5th November.
Busy day today and our first target destination was Hot Water Beach at low tide, which was at about 9.00.
We were up and running in the beach by 7. Felt very privileged to have the beautiful sweep of silver sand all to ourselves as the sun appeared over the rocky headland to the south. Back home and on the road by 8.
The 'freedom camping' was quite remarkable. At first a rather unprepossessing Tarmac pull-in, but in a quiet spot at the back of the beach and only three or four steps from a set of rustic wooden steps down to the perfect sand. There is a small shop round the corner and a small beach shower and toilet. And it's free. Apart from our camping neighbours in the 'Un-crowded house' bus we didn't see anyone else. Very pleased with ourselves we drove off on the one hour journey to HWB.
As we approached Whitianga, the radio advertised all sorts of delights including kayaking, snorkelling and a great place for great take away coffee. We detoured, got lost, the sat nav died and stayed dead, we never did find the fabulous sounding French coffee and croissant cafe, and the wheels very nearly came right off the day before it had properly started!
Having composed ourselves a few minutes later we arrived at HWB having dropped at a cafe to hire a spade(!) we parked on the beach, which was not as expected.
The guide book photos showed hordes of tourists lying clustered together in a small patch of muddy sand grinning foolishly, clutching spades. It looked uninviting to say the least, but a 'not to be missed' tourist attraction.
The reality was so different. A vast expanse of golden sand with blue sea and white surf pounding in. There were several dark volcanic rocks near the centre of the beach and here there were a number of people actively digging in the wet sand, looking for all the world like a group competition to 'keep the tide from washing your sandcastle away'!
We forded the little stream and joined in the fun. There were numerous abandoned diggings containing cool water, but if you looked carefully you could see little bubbles in the sand and puffs of steam emerging, signalling the presence of a hot water spring from a volcanically heated reservoir 2km below the ground. The water was at
60-65 deg C which was just a little bit too hot to stand in for more than a few moments.
When we arrived, the tide was starting to come in, up the beach, meaning that the sand pools of hot water were gradually being diluted with cold sea water and eventually covered.
We joined a party of young Germans busy trying to defend their pool by scooping the sand with their hands to build a wall. Bill got busy digging with his spade and soon created a pool big enough for us to sit in. The incoming waves soon breached even these defences, bringing a welcome surge of cool sea water!
Back at the bus we showered off and headed along the road to s scenic spot above the beach for breakfast. Scrambled eggs, fresh pawpaw with lime and great coffee, all eaten at our picnic table looking out over Hot Water Beach. Perfect.
After breakfast we went and sunbathed on the beach for a while. Coming in October has worked well for us, it's warm enough (like an English May) and there are very few people about.
It was time to head up to another 'not to be missed' place - Cathedral Cove. We drove into the village of Hehai, and passed 'Cathedral Cove Kayaks'. We had heard that in summer up to 1000 people a day take the footpath to this small but picturesque beach. To kayak there sounded a grand idea.
It was the very grandest if ideas! We booked and drive down to the beach (yet another long beautiful white sand etc etc!) and parked our motor home for free overlooking same.
The kayaks were already lined up on the beach and after briefing we set off as a group of six (3 double kayaks) lead by our guide Horse (yes, like the animal)
It was wonderful. He guided us along the coast supplying snippets of information - geology, natural history, Maori history, a story at every turn. We saw sea birds and sting rays (in Sting Ray Bay), kayaked into a deep dark cave, around rocks and through the marine reserve. There was a stiff breeze blowing us along so we flew along with relatively little effort, although our smooth synchronised paddling was remarked upon favourably by a couple of members of the group, making us feel ridiculously smug! They then ruined it all by also remarking how great they thought we were to be 'doing this sort of thing at your age....' Grrr!
We landed on the beach at Cathedral Cove with its very impressive natural rock architecture.
Horse busied himself making hot drinks to order and we set off to explore the two beaches, linked by a rock archway.
The beach barista service on the sand was really most impressive. No instant anything but a coffee pot, ground coffee, milk frother, cups and saucers and choc chip cookies!
At this point most groups would have paddled back to the start point but today because of the string wind that would have been a battle and so instead we continued on along the coast to Cooks Bay.
As we paddled, a pod of bottlenosed dolphins suddenly appeared a few metres to our right. They surfaced and dived gracefully past, snorting from their blowholes, so close we could almost feel the spray.
Finally we arrived st the beach and a minibus was waiting to drive us back to Hehai. A perfect afternoon.
Back at base we had tea in the sun overlooking the beach and exchanged contact details with Kat and Mark, taking a year out to travel, and loving NZ as much as us.
Finally it was time to hit the road again. Time to leave Coromandel and head into the centre of North Island to visit some of the geothermal areas.
We headed south down the coast to the Bay of Plenty, to camp at Papamoa Beach. As we drove the sun set over the mountains, giving a spectacular sky. As darkness fell the firework displays for 5th November continued to light up the sky.
Finally we made camp overlooking the sea, and the fireworks, on the beach at Papamoa.