75. Beautiful Whitianga: Part Two

From Cooks Beach we drove on to Hahei and Cathedral Cove. I walked to the Cove alone as Kevin wanted to look around the township instead. After Cathedral Cove we visited Hot Water Beach, then drove back to Whitianga in the dark after a long but immensely satisfying day. Next morning we packed up the rig and moved down the coast to Tairua, then inland following the Tairua Harbour road to Puketui.

At the Cathedral Cove car park. The parking is not cheap – this track is definitely set up for tourists. Well, it is after all one of Coromandel’s ‘go-to’ sights for tourists on short time frames, with buses that shuttle them to and fro. The Cathedral Cove Recreation Reserve was donated to the public by a member of the Harsant family (whose ancestor was a returned serviceman of World War 1) and is now administered by DoC. The dominant iwi here is Ngāti Hei.
This is the view from the viewing platform at the start of the track – oodles of islands out there, all set within recreational reserves that are kept pest free!
In eight different languages…beware the falling rocks!
My first stop was to drop down into Gemstone Bay. There were a couple of people snorkling between the bouys set up out there, and a few more draped on the rocks sunning themselves and enjoying the beauty and tranquility. It was way more lovely than is showing up in my photos, but it’s real beauty lies out there around the bouys where you can snorkle and observe from above various molluscs, fish species, seaweeds and crustaceans – all protected of course, as part of the Te Whanganui a Hei Marine Reserve.
A small loop here takes you through a puriri forest – I didn’t do it, disappointingly, as I was in a rush at the end to get back and meet Kevin at our agreed time – we still have Hot Water Beach to visit!
Looking back towards the start point.
The track led through an area that commemorated servicemen from World War 1. Much of this foreshore was taken by the government in 1862 – it looked abandoned as Ngāti Hei, in what seems to be usual Māori traditions, weren’t currently using it due to killings on the site during Ngā Puhi attacks in 1820. After World War 1 the government split the land all along the foreshore surrounding Hahei into lots and gave them to the returned servicemen.
The exit point for the track onto Mare’s Leg Cove and Cathedral Cove is just to the left of this rock – you are immediately confronted with the little yellow sign (you can just see it if you look carefully) on the rock wall telling you that rocks could fall at any point.
In Mare’s Leg Cove there used to be an arch that looked like a mare’s leg. This arch collapsed around 30 years ago in stormy weather – a great story of erosion in action. I wonder how long the current name will last?
I trod in soft, pink sand through the sea arch that is Cathedral Cove. The photo is looking back on Mare’s Leg Cove.
Cathedral Cove
There’s a beaut sea stack at the end of Cathedral Cove beach. It would once have been part of the cliff line, then likely been eroded from both sides into sea caves, then eroded further so the caves joined to form an arch, which eventually caved in and left this stack.
The cliffs here are pure white and built of ignimbrite. Several million years ago there would have been some spectacular lava flows and also pyroclastic flows, with high silica magma (or lava as it’s called once it hits the surface) in the form of pumice (both rock and ash) being sent upwards and outwards varying heights and distances by gas ejecting from volcanic vents.
There were heaps and heaps of people everywhere on the tracks and beaches. One group of adults made me laugh as they had a little girl who pulling them along, but they were tired and had to sit down and rest. They candidly confessed the little girl was fitter than any of them!
Colouring in the material lining the track.
I took this photo of Stingray Bay on my way back, but didn’t go down the track. (Stingray Bay sits between Gemstone Beach and Cathedral Cove). Apparently the snorkling in Stingray Bay is as fabulous as it is in Gemstone Bay – shallow enough so you can skim the surface while watching the sealife beneath you.
A quick stop at Hahei Beach en route to Hot Water Beach. Look at all those footprints!
Here we are at Hot Water Beach, near dusk. We parked up at a carpark and walked about half a kilometre to the springs. They advertise to go at low tide, which by chance we timed perfectly. I wonder if it might be good at high tide too though – you could get a deeper pool of water warmed up. Depends how extensive the warming is! Kevin brought his spade and dug into an existing pit to get the heat just the way we wanted it. We still had to wriggle back onto cooler sand though, after a while!

Geology lesson: skip if boring! Why is the water hot at Hot Water Beach? Rainwater on the surface of the ground seeps down and down until it reaches reservoirs that lie two kilometres beneath the beach. There it is heated by a cooling magma chamber that stretches under them. The magma chamber is part of extinct vulcanism of the Coromandel Peninsula – it was active 5 – 9 million years ago. Once the water in the reservoir has heated up, it rises back up to the surface, squeezing through thin cracks to pop up in two places on Hot Water Beach, 20 metres apart. It’s clean water, neither acidic nor alkaline, but it does pick up a few minerals on its journey so you might feel your skin a little softer for having soaked in this water!

There were quite a few people in the pools; one American mother and son we talked with just had a few days so had whipped over to Coromandel to quickly experience Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach. The mother was a political analyst but was considering a career change. She was surprised at the amount of kiwis she was coming across who wanted to keep their guns in spite of the good efforts of the government, and it made me think of an American man I met while walking the Heaphy Track with my mother earlier this year, who said he thought New Zealand was like a Little America.


Lots of people used Kevin’s spade to dig and sort their own holes out. One couple came along once it grew dark with their pet goat – who has it’s own instagram page – that they’d raised from birth and treated just like a pet dog!

It was fully dark when we walked back along the beach to our car. Lucky Kevin had his torch on him as the moon wasn’t yet up.
Driving with the caravan once more attached, we stopped in a rest area north of Tairua and found a narrow track leading through to this view, and the notice below. Very tucked away information about the local kiwi protection guardians!
And on to Tairua, another lovely seaside town of the Coromandel Peninsula.
The tide’s way out; and the township seems to be on both sides of the harbour. The photos don’t show the town well; but it is a really nice looking place.
Onto the jetty where the ferry waits to take people to the other side.
Mt Paku dominates the horizon – a extinct rhyolitic lava dome which you can walk up.
We walked along this bit of foreshore…
…and around the corner saw this rainbow.

It was a pretty short stop in Tairua for just a couple of hours, then we went on our way to the DoC Camp at Puketui (Tui Hill).

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