After the beautiful Bay of Islands we headed to Hahei by means of our Stray bus. If it weren't for a few unique natural wonders Hahei would be a pretty nondescript seaside settlement with very little to do. There is just one shop.
The driver took us to Hot Water Beach which is a beach with hot water funnily enough. It's not the sea which is hot though, it is the water that seeps up through the sand at a small section of the beach to which the name refers. Unfortunately the driver got us there too late and the tide had covered up the thermal spring that produces the hot water. For everybody else on the bus this was a massive disappointment as it meant they were missing it by having to leave early the next morning. Steph and I, however, decided to stay on for another night and explore the place properly. What's the point in coming to this random little town without seeing its only standout attractions? Therein lies the problem with staying on the Stray bus wherever it goes.
We stayed in a holiday park with the rest of the Stray passengers - around 30 altogether - and barbecued an obscene amount of meat. Steph and I can't afford a lot of meat out here so we made the most of it and stuffed our faces. I cooked over 100 chicken drumsticks for the group, and they were immense - even if I do say so myself. But what was more impressive was how Steph managed to avoid both cooking and washing-up. This was mostly down to the fact that we were with a massively social group and were having a good natter after our meal.
The next day the bus left with everybody except us and one other passenger, Candace. An American from Montana, in her 50s, backpacking around New Zealand on her own. It's never too late! Shes a very interesting, fearless, woman who loves to travel. She's a psychiatrist with her own practice, but she likes to go rambling for several months a year. To fund this latest trip she sold her possessions (including family heirlooms) and went. We got talking and decided to take the hike to Cathedral Cove (another imaginatively named site - it's a cove in the shape of a cathedral). We climbed the cliffs and over to the route down to the cove, and after a 1hr30min hike came up against a fence saying "DANGER: RECENT LANDSLIDE. DO NOT PASS!". Now, it maybe just me, but I don't think the most helpful stage to inform somebody that what they seek is inaccessible comes after the 90min hike. A nice little warning sign at the first step would have been nice, or even on the countless plaques giving time and distance to the site. But what do I know?! We consoled ourselves and climbed most of the way down to the nearby beach. Only most of the way because after that we were shin-high in nice squelchy, sloppy, New Zealand mud. Things weren't going our way so we headed back to Hahei. It must be said that despite our issues on this walk the views were awesome. Rugged cliff sides and crystal clear water. I even saw what looked very much like the location of the final scenes from the 80s classic film 'the Goonies'. But unless you are a 20-something nerd you probably won't remember what this looked like.
The three of us decided to give Hot Water Beach another try, and the only way to get there was another very long walk. We started off in the baking mid afternoon heat, shovel in hand, and walked for a good 30mins before the poshest english couple ever pulled over and offered us a ride in their Jaguar. The woman would have made Queen Elizabeth II sound like Vicky Pollard. We jumped in (but not before I accidentally clanged my shovel on the side of their expensive car - they didn't notice and there was no damage. Phew!) and we were there in 5mins. We said goodbye to our new blue-blooded friends and hit the beach.
At first we didn't know where to dig for this hot water but it didn't take us long to find out. 98% of the beach was abandoned while the remaining 2% was crammed full with hundreds of tourists either frantically digging to make themselves a hot tub or laying in a hole like a boiled ham. I think most of the people there were slightly confused because on our way over to the hot water section I dipped my toe in a few holes that people were sitting in and the water was stone cold. They couldn't have known what the beach was called and probably just went along with the crowd and dug a hole. When we did get to the hot water it was a shock. I expected it to be warm, maybe even very warm. So I walked into the stream which was coming directly up through the sand and regretted it straight away. It was boiling so I burnt my feet and had to jump to a tiny island of sand. The sand was just as hot so I had to run back the way I came. The beach should be renamed 'Boiling Hot Water Beach' so that unsuspecting visitors like myself don't get caught out. Eventually we got into a pool which was the perfect temperature. We were in a naturally-heated hot tub on the beach. It was certainly different.