After six months of living in Wellington and a month of traveling New Zealand, I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter how extreme the sun, how warm the day or how beautiful the beach, the water is almost always unbearably cold in this country. So you can imagine just how appealing a place called Hot Water Beach is to travelers.
Located on the Coromandel Peninsula, about a ten minute drive South of Hahei, Hot Water Beach has thermal waters beneath its sands. With visions of hot springs and jacuzzis in my head, I approached this beach outing ready to unwind and relax.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one. Nor did I realize just how hard it is to dig a hole in sand. This may not be the experience you would expect from a place with thermal waters, but this was my experience at Hot Water Beach, NZ.
I was excited to visit the beach from the moment I woke up. I slipped out of my tent early and wandered down to the front office at Hahei Holiday Resort to rent a spade (shovel) and check low tide times for the day. I paid a $NZ10 deposit for a spade, which I received back upon return.
You’ll find places selling or renting spades all over the Peninsula. A lot of the places that rent them collect a deposit and charge a fee. I was lucky to find our accommodation lent them pretty much for free.
People should visit the beach either two hours prior to or after low tide.
Ric and I arrived at Hot Water Beach almost exactly two hours prior to low tide and walked out to the type of view that makes New Zealand so special; gorgeous sands below, rolling farmland in the distance, clear water in front and only a few people in sight. However, this wasn’t the Hot Water Beach we came to experience. To reach the piece of beach with thermal activity, we’d have to walk ten minutes to the right.
As I walked further down the beach a large rock that had been hiding a small piece of it started to reveal my worst nightmare, 150 meters of Seaside Heights on Fourth of July weekend. For those who have never visited New Jersey or never watched The Jersey Shore, this means a ridiculous amount of people, screaming kids and obnoxious people who don’t even try to not kick sand on your towel as they walk by.
Like I said, my nightmare.
But I still had to give the place a try.
As soon as we reached the crowd, we found the emptiest spot we could and started digging. Five minutes in and the water was cold. Ten minutes in and the water was still cold. Fifteen minutes of digging and although we were hot, the water was still cold.
What were we doing wrong?
Finally, a wonderful man came over and told us we had to search for warm spots. Those spots can be found as soon as you walk on them.
I looked up to see a massive group of people digging around one area of beach. They were surrounded by steam. I had to test it out.
More like boiling water.
I literally felt like I burnt my feet after walking in their hole.
So I kept searching for a hot spot of my own. I felt everywhere in the area, but couldn’t find it. I started to think, “Is that it? Is just that one spot ‘Hot Water Beach’?”. Ric and I both started to get annoyed and stupidly just started digging at a random spot.
And this is no easy task. In fact, digging a hole on the beach is probably one of the most discouraging things I’ve ever done.
I would dig a spot just to see more sand sink into it. Only after a few minutes of digging would a hole start to form and that would come just in time for a wave to crash into the short wall Ric and I had made and shatter our dreams of reaching warm water.
It went on like this for about twenty minutes without the water getting even the slightest bit warmer. Just as we were about to give up, Ric went to look for a hot patch. He came back shaking his head, so I gave it a try.
The tide had gone out a lot since we first arrived, giving the crowd room to spread out and a lot more beach to explore. I started feeling around an area right at the water’s edge.
There it was, an extremely hot patch. I motioned for Ric to come over. He started digging, but waves just kept crashing into us and destroying our wall of sand. This was our spot, but we had to wait out the tide. So we stood there, spade in hand, for about twenty minutes, giving it a go every now and again to only be let down.
Finally, we just started digging like crazy. Ric dug into the sand ferociously with the spade as I got on the ground and started throwing out sand with my hands. Slowly, our hole started to resemble the hot water pools we’d seen on posters.
We must have dug for about an hour and only created a pool deep enough to reach the front of my hip bones while laying down. It didn’t matter.
We did it.
All we had to do now was lay in the warmth of the earth and watch everyone else work. And that’s what we did for about an hour as a few tiny bubbles popped up around us. After all our hard work came the bliss I had imagined.
It’s really quite amazing that a place like Hot Water Beach exists and certainly nothing like I’ve visited before. For that, it’s worth a visit, but prepare to work for this New Zealand experience.
Here’s some things to remember on your trip:
- a spade (shovel)
- sneakers (hot spots are often too hot to even stand on)
- sunscreen (NZ sun is extremely strong, don’t forget to protect yourself while digging)
- low tide times