Sunday, January 3, 2016

Getting into Hot Water Beach, New Zealand

A uniquely Kiwi experience, famous Hot Water Beach is on the Coromandel Peninsula of New Zealand's North Island.

Two natural mineral hot springs bubble up directly through the sand from adjacent bedrock fissures, near outcropping rocks at the southern end of the beach. For a couple hours on both sides of low tide, it is possible to dig your own personal geothermal pool in the exposed sand, though you'll have plenty of company. The 64 °C (147 °F) springwater is almost piping hot enough to ensure tender areas won't fruitfully bear children, so channeling in a little cool Pacific seawater from Mercury Bay will bring your impromptu thermal spa to a bearable temperature. Engineering and maintaining the correct ingress of seawater can be a challenge. Saturated sand is a poor construction medium, but spades can be rented at the nearby surf shop or cafés.

First, you need to dig your spa, then hope it doesn't wash away.
You can see steam rising up from leaking springwater on the beach to the left.

It's a good idea to research low tide times before visiting. High tide inundates the geothermal area, but it also wipes clean the sandy canvas, and a pristine beach welcomes each new wave of visitors.

If you want to swim in the surf, make sure to check with knowledgeable locals on safe areas. Hot Water Beach is known for dangerous rip currents that have claimed several lives, and the springs can be inundated by rough breakers even at low tide. Keep an eye on young children or poor swimmers in your party near the surf. But the beach is otherwise fun for the whole family. It incorporates some of childhood's favorite activities - sand and digging. And what kid doesn't like a hot tub?

Hot Water Beach is about a 2 hour drive from Auckland, approximately 175 kilometers by car. 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. There are nearby cafés and art galleries, and Hot Water Beach is a 5-10 minute drive from Cathedral Cove, another major Coromandel Peninsula attraction. Parking is available at the Main Beach carpark, the Main Store carpark, or Te Waiwai carpark.