Hot Water Beach, NZ: in which we shower with a howling viking

June 11, 2013 in New Zealand, Oceania, Travelogue

Family Travel New Zealand

After several days of sharing a cold and being stuck in our little camper in torrential downpours, it was good for the soul to emerge under a blue sky and watch the rolling backside of last nights thunderheads blow out to sea.

The hot water beach on the Pacific coast of the North Island, on the Coromandel Peninsula, just south of Mercury Bay is hardly an unknown spot; it’s clearly marked on the map. Nonetheless, it’s not to be missed. We camped an extra night, through wind and rain, hoping for a blue day, and we were not disappointed.

New Zealand is a land of contrasts in so many ways. The past week we’ve been freezing cold, wearing down jackets and scarves to keep warm. Today dawned clear and toasty enough for t-shirts and shorts. I remarked to Tony, as we wandered the long beach, ankle deep in foamy white surf, that it felt like a New England summer’s day. I wondered if any of our friends on that side of the world were holding down our favourite beach for us at the same time.

I couldn’t help but laugh, as I forded the icy stream that poured into the South Pacific and waded through the mist, at the hardy pilgrims congregating on a winter’s afternoon.

  • Two guys with golf clubs, putting a tennis ball down the beach, one wearing a ski toque and aviator glasses, the other carrying two beers. The boys of summer… er… winter.
  • A gaggle of Asian ladies, chattering and trying not to get their skin tight capris wet.
  • An old man, dressed in black from head to toe, carrying a spade, with his lady wife, camera in hand.
  • A guy who looked, for all the world, like Leif the Lucky, only he turned out to be french.
  • A family from Phoenix, Arizona, on a 7 week sabbatical.
  • My boys: shouting, running, ripping into the sand with their new frog-green spade, like dowsers, seeking that life giving spring.

Family Travel New Zealand

Of course we didn’t have to look far. At low tide the hot springs are obvious, steam leaps from sand so hot that you can’t stand on it in places. The kiwi codger who sold us the spade admonished the guys: “Don’t dig too deep!” And he wasn’t kidding! The water pouring up was scalding hot in places, made bearable only by the cool sea water mixing with every long low wave.

It was a pleasant, if surreal, afternoon.

It’s funny to us to be experiencing our first summer-winter. It’s funnier still to think that just a few weeks ago we were huddled, a few hundred miles south, on the same coast of the South Island, dripping, and freezing, and watching penguins surf ashore on their chubby bellies. We’ve driven through snow and are planning a ski trip in a few weeks with friends in Papamoa. We’re sleeping, most nights, in socks and knit hats to stay warm. Today we waded barefoot in the ocean, and sat in our swim trunks in sand wallows with a dozen or so of our closest friends and laughed in four languages while the dudes with golf clubs yelled “HEADS UP!” every so often.

Is this really winter? It felt like the perfect summer’s day!

Today will be added to our lengthening list of beautiful memories in New Zealand.

I sipped tea, hot, from my thermos bottle as we dripped our way back to the van. The peace of our idyllic afternoon ripped asunder by the painful shrieks of Leif the Lucky. He was writhing beneath the ubiquitous push button shower, howling at the dousing of ice water and hopping around, on one foot, then the other, trying to get the sand out of places sand should not be. Gabe shook his head and snickered, pushed the button and dove in. There was no way to get all of the sand off without stripping to the skin, but we did our best while Leif continued to puff and blow and howl and moan. “It’s not that bad,” we decided. Leif was not living up to his tough viking persona, but then again, he was French, so maybe that had something to do with it! 😉

Family Travel New Zealand