Published: March 9th 2010January 11th 2010
Hot Water Beach, Coromandel peninsula
The Coromandel Peninsula is a favorite get-away for stressed-out Aucklanders. A quick (ish) 2 hour drive east of Auckland, the Coromandel Peninsula is a wonderful mix of mountains, forests, and pretty beaches. Tiny towns from the gold mining era line the west coast. But it is along the slightly more populated east coast where the hordes (such that they are - this isn't the Hamptons) soak up the sun on pristine white sand beaches. The small but cute town of Whitianga is a popular base for exploring the Coromandel.
Just a quick drive away from Whitianga is the famous "Hot Water Beach" where you can grab a shovel and dig, dig, dig your very own hot tub in the sand. Hot Water Beach sits on top of one of the many (hundreds? thousands?) of thermal springs that run beneath the surface of the North Island (hey, that's what happens when much of your country sits on what is essentially one big volcanic field).
So here's how to enjoy this natural wonder:
- Ask your lovely hosts, Verne and Joan, when low tide will occur (for us, it was 10:30am)
- Show up at the beach within two hours of
New Chums beach.
that time (either before or after), shovel in hand
- Start digging or, if the beach is crammed full of people already digging, watch to see which "tub" has the most stream rising from it and then ask politely to test out their water
There's not a lot of guesswork on location of the springs. Signposts on the beach show where to dig (the locations are under water at all times except for during low tide). But you won't need the maps during tourist season - you'll see hundreds of people there, all digging in the sand in hopeful anticipation of hitting a really hot vein.
Intriguingly, you can hit an especially hot patch in one spot but then only get cold water (or no water) just a foot or two away so there's a bit of luck involved, as well as hard work.
It is most entertaining to watch families or large groups at work because this activity is not quite as easy as it sounds; indeed, it is fraught with peril. Sure, it's easy to dig a big hole but, since the location is right at the edge of the sea, large COLD waves of
New Chums beach.
water may come crashing into your little oasis at any moment, destroying any levees that you may have constructed and causing your spa temperature to plummet.
So we spent several minutes just watching determined groups building mini-fortresses of sand, enjoying about 15-30 seconds basking in their spa and having to frantically rebuild when a wave took out an entire sand wall and the precious hot water began to seep out into the ocean.
We spent our second (and last) evening in Whitianga in another kind of spa altogether. It is called "The Lost Spring Day Spa" and our host Verne told us that a local businessman had sunk a tremendous amount of money into creating the Disney-esque spa complex that sits right in the middle of a residential area (house, house, house, spa with smoking volcano, house, house).
It is the tackiest thing that we've seen so far on our trip through New Zealand. You're required to pay $25 per person (+$2 each to rent a towel) for the luxury of spending 60 minutes in the supposedly healing thermal waters of what's essentially just a large swimming pool. In an attempt to justify the price, the entire
complex is covered in fake fiberglass "rocks" and tropical plants in an effort to create a Polynesian "oasis" (the owner actually gives himself the title of "visionary" on his website).
But it gets better: there are a few themed areas. Our favorite is a secret cave. Hey, honey, what's that dark little opening over there? We both wade over, duck under some fake rocks and emerge in a romantic fiberglass "cave", complete with stalactites, fake glowworms and big crystals of plastic amythest. It is like an early Valentine's Day.
The water temperature in the spa is nice, but we say save your money, it is more fun to dig your own spa in the sand.
A side note for anyone planning a trip to New Zealand and considering a stop in Whitianga:
We highly recommend the B&B that we stayed at, Pipi Dunes. The rooms are small but there is a huge guest lounge and the hosts (Verne and Joan) consider it their personal mission in life to make sure that you have a fantastic time. They can give you a list of recommendations that would easily fill a week here but they also do a good job of respecting your privacy. Plus, there's free laundry and wifi - both of which are like catnip to us these days - so what's not to love?