We decided to stay in Whitianga, in the Coromandel Peninsula, as it is the largest settlement in the area and a gateway to all the major sights like Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach.
Most people that I spoke to before and during this trip, both travellers and locals alike, said that the South Island has the best scenery and that we should spend more time there than in the North Island. I'm not so sure now, whether that was so true. Perhaps if you're looking for complete solitude and high mountains, then the South is probably your version of paradise. However, the North Island also has a lot to offer independent travellers. The geothermal spots are really out of this world, the coastline is spectacular and it is also a lot warmer than further south!
We stayed at the YHA on the beach for 2 nights. It was a lovely backpackers with a nice homely feel and large windows with sunny alcoves overlooking the sea.
Unfortunately, the weather wasn't ideal beach weather so we went to Coromandel Town in the morning and had lunch at a cafe. Driving back towards Whitianga we decided to head to Cathedral Cove where we embarked on a strenuous hike. I was exhausted at this point of the afternoon and decided to head back to the car instead of taking on the final descent to Cathedral Cove (I just couldn't face the walk back uphill afterwards). But Wendy tells me that it was lovely and well worth the hike!
To make it before sunset, we hotfooted it to the famous Hot Water Beach where the geothermal activity results in pools of hot water coming to the surface during low tide. I followed the groups of people carrying spades and found pools which had already been dug in the hot sand. The trick here is to try and regulate the regular incoming supply of hot water to prevent being scalded, which is done by allowing small rivulets to escape into the sea.
I had wanted to spend some time wallowing in a thermal sand pool but the wind was picking up speed and the temperature was starting to drop dramatically as the daylight faded. So, I just sat by a hot pool watching the water bubble and getting warmed up by the steam. Some of the bathers were having a real party as they'd brought large supplies of beers and were enjoying sundowners in their natural hot tubs with the soundtrack of the waves for music. Not a bad way to end the day!