“Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” I silently screamed so as not to make a scene around all the other people. I’ve never stepped on hot coal, but I imagine this is what it would feel like.
I quickly ran towards the ocean to soak my feet in the cold water.
Our pool was definitely too hot. Like, way too hot. Burning hot, I would say.
We went to Hot Water Beach on our third day in New Zealand. It was a destination I had looked up early on during the planning of this vacation. Since you need to go during low tide, we had to make sure we timed everything right. About 175 kilometers from Auckland, at Hot Water Beach, there is a patch of thermal water beneath the surface of the sand. How neat is that?
All the trip reports, my Lonely Planet book and Google reviews said the same thing — you have to go during low tide to be able to dig your hot water pool. (During high tide, the area you would need to dig is covered by water). Everyone also warned that there would be crowds. There would be no way around that.
Planning around the tides
Originally when we checked the tide schedule back home in Seattle, we learned that low tide would either be at 6 am or 3 pm on the day we would need to go to Hot Water Beach. I say “need to go” because we were doing a trail race within the first week of our trip and had very little wiggle room for time spent on the North Island.
We decided we would rent our car the night before in Auckland and then leave in the morning around 4 to go to Hot Water Beach as the drive would take a little over two hours. Yes, we’d rather wake up super early on our honeymoon to avoid the hoards of tourists that would be there at 3 pm over 6 am.
It didn’t work out that way.
No, it wasn’t overcrowded at 6 am. Actually, I don’t know what the crowds were like in the early morning because that’s not when we ended up going.
When we settled into our hotel and were double checking our plan, we realized we had misread the low tide times. Low tide would actually be at 5 am! Leaving Auckland at 3 am just seemed crazy. We decided to “face the crowds” and go during the low tide in the afternoon. This also meant sleeping in, which I was not opposed to.
We left Auckland around 8 am and headed first to Cathedral Cove, which is near Hot Water Beach. You may recognize that iconic triangular-shaped cove opening from the Narnia movie!
Bryce had to navigate a lot of steep, winding, single-lane highway roads on the drive to Coromandel Peninsula. I tried my best to be co-pilot and not fall asleep. I may or may not have failed in this role.
The (really hot water) beach
We arrived at Hot Water Beach a little more than an hour before low tide. (You can still access the thermal water about two hours before and after low tide). Unsurprisingly, there were already a lot of people there.
There was no problem figuring out where to start digging. The groups of tourists scattered closely to one another in close proximity gave it away.
We found what we thought was a nice spot of untouched sand and started digging. Because we are cheap, we didn’t rent spades like most others had. We didn’t bring shovels from home since we weren’t planning to check bags on the plane. Oh, but don’t worry, we came prepared!
Ultimate Frisbee discs. Yes, we used plastic discs to dig up the sand at the beach.
We didn’t have to dig too deep until we reached the hot thermal water. It was very hot.
“Are you sure this is going to work?” I asked Bryce, not about our choice to dig with Frisbees but the specific area we had decided to dig up. “Maybe this is why no one else is really digging here.”
We weren’t quite sure what to do. We noticed a few others who were digging beside us had started filling plastic bags and buckets of ocean water and pouring them into their holes. They were cooling down their pools.
Bryce and I tried to use this tactic, but it was a littler harder with only Frisbee discs.
I felt like we had worked too hard to abandon this hole we had dug up. But, I was also getting tired of stepping foot in the hole and feeling like I had actually burned my foot!
Bryce suggested we dig a new hole closer to the ocean water. The thinking was that this way, the natural flow of the cold water could fill our new pool.
After what felt like an hour of initial digging, but was probably half that time, we abandoned our super hot water hole, and started over again closer to the water.
Mind you, it was close to low tide now so the ocean line hovered nearby us. Not only were we closer to the ocean water, but this patch of sand was not above the most hot of thermal waters. (It was hot, but it didn’t feel like my feet were going to burn off like the water up above where we initially dug up).
We were closer to our neighbors than before but everyone was respectful of each other’s “space.” The Australian family next to us even offered to let us borrow their shovel more than once.
What serendipitously ended up happening were the neighboring pools sort of connecting together. The kids next to us broke down their wall of sand so that their (hotter) water could flow into our pool. We did the same to the woman’s pool next to ours. Now, not only were our pools being warmed from the thermal water we dug up, but also the hot water flowing from up above — remember, where I almost burned my feet?
It was foreign multi-generational engineering at its finest!
“Are you getting enough hot water?”one of the older kids of the family next to us asked.
“Yes, thank you,” we replied back. “It’s getting really hot!” I added.
My comment didn’t mean that I needed this girl to get back to work, I was merely stating a fact. But, she began to rebuild their sand wall in between their pool and the flowing thermal water from up above to create a stoppage in new hot water flow.
“Is that better?” she turned around and asked.
“Yes, thank you so much!”
Guess it was paying off to be working as a team rather than by ourselves. I mean, I did have a moment of, “I hope these kids are not peeing in their pool!” since some of our water source was connected. But, I quickly pushed this thought away as these kids were all being super helpful and nice towards Bryce and I. Their parents raised them well.
It was a hot day — maybe high 80s in Fahrenheit — so after a good half hour soak, I was ready to be done. My fingers and toes were looking like prunes and I was just so hot from being in the hot water and having the sun beaming down on us.
We finished the day by playing with the waves in the ocean water. And, Bryce threw his Frisbee around on the open beach, away from all the diggers.
Some people say there is nothing good about the North Island, but this was a great example that the North Island does have some special, not-so-secret, gems.