Saturday, December 26, 2015

Narnia Magic and Volcanic Rocks at Cathedral Cove, New Zealand

Te Whanganui-A-Hei (Cathedral Cove) Marine Reserve is on the Coromandel Peninsula of New Zealand's North Island. It may be familiar to an armchair traveler as the setting for opening scenes of the Narnia movie Prince Caspian, itself based loosely on C.S. Lewis' famous novel. It was one of the several stunning New Zealand locations for that film series.

Cathedral Cove. It's yet another one of my many favorite beaches. The surrounding, glaringly-white cliffs and sea stacks are composed of massive ignimbrite, composed of angular fragments of pumice in a fine matrix of rhyolitic ash, a type of silica-rich volcanic rock that is formed during explosive, violent eruptions. The immensity of these formations is evidence the landscape has changed many times, and it will change again, however timeless every moment in the cove might feel. There would be no tranquil, wide strand of fine, white sand without the violence of storms and volcano.

But like the modern romance of bygone war, the destructive forces of nature did not hint of future benefits in their own time, 8 million years ago. All life in the path of the flows perished, burning.

Te Hoho rock with the arch in the distance. The rock reminded me of a ship's prow. Someday geologically soon, wave action will undercut the less-resistant rock at its base, and Te Hoho will topple like nature's Ozymandias.

Today, the gentle lapping of surf in the sheltered cove is perfect for the shoreline romps of young children. Shade trees at the foot of the cliff offer some natural shelter from the sun on the north side of the beach.

Low tide is the best time to visit, if you don't want to risk being trapped behind a massive rock arch on the beach's south end. A one hour walking track leads along the cliff top from the north end of Hahei beach, then descends to Cathedral Cove (150 or so steps) through locally primeval flora of the Coromandel Peninsula. It's a moderately easy track for anyone who is minimally fit. Our older children, 7 and 9 at the time, had no difficulty, and I had a toddler on my back. Wear comfortable shoes, and take along snacks or a picnic lunch and refreshments -- there are no amenities down at the beach.

The path can be shortened to 40 minutes by accessing the Grange Road carpark, which can accommodate up to 45 vehicles. We visited during October; finding a parking space might be a challenge during peak tourist season between November and March.

The views in either direction from the Grange Road carpark are spectacular. Here, we are looking north from the carpark towards Cathedral Cove (which is tucked into the left).

Looking south towards Hahei Beach and the little town of Hahei (to the right).

Spurs off the main track lead to the picturesque Stingray and Gemstone bays.

Walking through the arch is reminiscent of entering a stadium or ballroom. The visitor has a feeling of making a grand entrance upon a wider, undiscovered world. There are also kayak tours and water taxis (we did the latter as well), but this is a case where the land access may be more magical for those who are physically able.

The view and beach south of Cathedral Cove -- before you enter it through the rock arch -- are nice too.

Entering through the arch, you gaze upon the sheltered cove and Te Hoho rock. There aren't many places you can ingress a sea arch safely. This is (generally) one of them.

Hahei is about a 2 hour drive from Auckland. To get there, take State Highway 1, State Highway 2, State Highway 25, State Highway 25A, and State Highway 25 again to Hot Water Beach Road (right) in Whenuakite. Take Link Road left to Hahei Beach Road (right), and then take Grange Road S (left) in Hahei.