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Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove: Two Unique New Zealand Beaches

Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove: Two Unique New Zealand Beaches

This post was originally posted in October 2017 and was updated in September 2020.

On a recent trip to the North Island we spent a couple of days exploring the Coromandel Peninsula. Rated as one of New Zealand’s best beach destinations, the Coromandel (as it’s known locally) is ripe for a road trip. Two of the most popular sights are Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove, a pair of unique New Zealand beaches which have appeared on various “best beaches” lists. But are they worth the hype..?

Hot Water Beach

As Hot Water Beach came into view we noticed a big clump of bodies crowding together in the distance. I knew the gist of what this experience entailed — you dig a hole in the sand and hot water magically appears. You then bathe in it for a while before cooling off in the ocean.

What I didn’t know was that the “hot water area” is small and you need to dig a pretty deep hole to get the benefits. Averse to crowds and lacking in shovels, we scouted the area for a newly abandoned hole on the outskirts of the action. Most of the holes we found were already full of lukewarm to cold water. It would have been like hopping into someone’s cold, leftover bath water, which wasn’t at all appealing. We eventually found a hole filled with hot water and had a nice time relaxing in it. It is a pretty unique place and I can definitely see the appeal, but the crowds do detract from the experience.

Hot Water Beach Travel Tips

  • Go at low tide, or two hours either side of it. You won’t be able to enjoy the hot water if you don’t. This explains the huge crowds I guess!
  • Bring a shovel. You’ll need one if you want to dig your own hole, which would be preferable to someone’s leftovers.

Cathedral Cove

The start of the track to Cathedral Cove is a short drive from Hot Water Beach, so it’s good to combine the two in one outing. We visited a couple of hours before sunset and it was a pleasant 30 minute walk to the beach. The views are great from various points along the track, but unfortunately we didn’t have the best light (it seems like it’d be better slightly earlier in the afternoon).

Cathedral Cove is one of the most photogenic in New Zealand. The small cave frames the white sand beach and gently lapping ocean perfectly. It’s one of the best beaches I’ve seen in New Zealand and is definitely worth seeking out if you’re nearby (which you probably will be, as it’s only three hours from Auckland). Cathedral Cove is fairly popular, but it was nowhere near as busy as Hot Water Beach. The walk, which is quite easy, must put a few people off. The walk is actually a bit of a highlight, and if you do it in perfect conditions the views would be pretty incredible (search for some photos on Google and you’ll see what I mean).

Cathedral Cove Travel Tips

  • Go two hours either side of low tide. If the tide is too high you won’t be able to walk through it and if it’s too low you won’t get a good view of the ocean from inside.
  • Wear shoes. It’s tempting to wear jandals (flip flops) to beaches in New Zealand but there’s a fair bit of walking involved in a visit to Cathedral Cove, so shoes are a good idea.

Other Places to See in the Coromandel

There are heaps of nice beaches in this region and you could spend a good few days exploring them. There are also waterfalls, gorges and historic towns. Two places I’d urge you not to miss are Whangamata and New Chums Beach. They are both beautiful beaches located at opposite ends of the peninsula.

READ MORE: Planning to visit New Chums Beach? Check out this post for details on how to get to this awesome beach!

Where is the Coromandel Peninsula?

It’s on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, only a few hours’ drive from Auckland. You could see most of the highlights in a weekend if you wanted to, but there is so much more to explore.

Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Will you visit the Coromandel Peninsula? Let me know in the comments below!

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.