Our Kiwi adventure was all made possible by a lovely company called Kiwi Experience. Now, I’m not one of those bloggers who is paid anything by anyone, so all I’m going to say is that we did the Sheepdog route, added the Milford Explorer, had a brilliant time, ran into a couple of minor issues, but overall couldn’t complain. The way the travel worked was hop-on hop-off, so you just had to make sure you called the company up a good few days in advance and then be at the designated pick-up point for the green bus. They guarantee your first night’s accommodation in each place, (first two nights in certain places) but the rest is basically up to you. They send around clipboards with [supposedly discounted] activities, and if you just wanted to do the trip with the same driver all the way through, that’s totally fine, but otherwise you can do what we did, and spend longer in certain places. In essence though, our route ran from Auckland to Christchurch and instead of doing it in 17 days, we took 35 days.
Long before I set foot in New Zealand, I’d been told about this incredible place on the east coast of the north island, called Cathedral Cove. Like a lot of beautiful landscapes in this country, it features in a film, this one was Prince Caspian, one of the Narnia films that flopped in the late 2000s, if memory serves me right.
Hahei is pretty far north on the North Island, the weather was still treating us well, and that made the conditions of the first coastal walk we did in New Zealand pretty… well, it was hot. The sun was blazing and my trusty water bottle gave me enough cold water to drink along the way, but was empty long before we got back to the bus. And it was pretty early on in the day too, well before lunchtime!
The views were incredible. The colour of the water and the rocky edges reminded me of Noosa in South Queensland, the only difference being that this coastal walk (once you actually got to it) was signposted wonderfully. It was actually a job trying to find it. We were given some directions from our bus driver, which sounded fine at first, but once we got to the beach, we realised that they were more than a little vague. Some locals pointed us in the right direction though, and we got on our way. From where the bus was parked up, it was quite a trek… a good hour and half to 45 minutes each way. But there was nice stuff to see along the way, like this gorgeous little area which goes by the name Gemstone Bay. How quaint and lovely is that? I’ll tell you how lovely… I walked down the steps into what looked like a date! I quickly took my picture, posing Thierry as I do, and as I ran off back up the steps, I’m pretty sure they started snogging on their surfboards. Well, there’s a chance they were so into each other they didn’t see me… but that makes it two dates in about as many days. Just call me the date-crasher and be done with it.
Then there were the green topped cliffs where you could see nothing but the sparkling sea into the horizon.
And at long last, we finally got to the area known as Cathedral Cove. It is a natural cave that has been worn away all the way through, leaving a distinctive outline of an archway, right out into the sea. You can walk through it to an awesome little beach on the other side. I can only imagine what it would be like in the very early hours of the morning when there aren’t any other people around. Nature’s brilliant, but I do like getting photos without other people in them!
After getting drenched walking through the low tides, we emerged on the other side, but I think I preferred the view from underneath the archway. When we’d seen our fill, we got going on our way back to the bus. Since it was quite a lot of downhill walking, it didn’t take quite so long, but it still felt like an age. We were so surprised when we got back to the bus, because it was barely 10.30 in the morning. A short 10-minute drive later, we had arrived at our destination for the night – Hot Water Beach. I kid you not, that’s what this place is called. Google it, and you get a map reference point for Hot Water Beach. It is worth mentioning though, that there are a lot of places that are very difficult to pronounce in the Māori tongue, even if they’re easy to say in English.
Hot Water Beach stretches for quite a ways, but the area that gives the beach its name is maybe 50metres across, if that! There is a very specific time of day that you can go out to dig yourself a hole in the sand to get to genuinely hot water. Like, hotter than a bath kind of hot. These times come twelve hours apart – 12noon until 2:30/3:00pm and then again in the middle of the night.
Armed with a shovel, dressed in only a bikini and sarong, and not taking my phone for fear of losing it in the sand, we set off with another couple of Brits that we’d met along the way. Sad to say, Thierry didn’t get to go to Hot Water Beach. It’s a good thing too, because the tide comes in super-fast, and it was only the quick reactions of one of our team that ensured our few non-waterproof belongings didn’t get drenched and then pulled out to sea!
What was even more fascinating was the fact that you could dig a pool, and the water would start seeping up, you had to dig for a while to get a hole big enough to sit in, let alone for more than one person to chill out in, and this hole would be literally next to someone else’s nice hot spa, but the water you’re getting is freezing cold. So not only do you get no privacy, you also don’t have anywhere pleasant to sit. There is no rhyme or reason as to why this is the case. Sure, there’s some geothermal activity underground that causes hot springs to rise up, but I’ve found no detailed scientific explanation for it. So… I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it.
Eventually, there was a group of people who were leaving, and they offered us their pool. It was quite massive, so the four of us had plenty of space. Even within this pool though, the water was much hotter on one side than it was on the other. Weird phenomenon.
A fair few of our fairly large group decided they were going to go back to the beach in the middle of the night, but I wasn’t really feeling it. Digging in sand is arduous work, and knowing me, I’d be digging in the wrong part anyway, so I gave it a miss and stayed in my nice warm bed! Ready to get up nice and early to continue our journey down to Waitomo where the Black Water Caves were awaiting…