A short escape, not too complicated, not too expensive… where to go?
From Auckland there are many choices but we opted for The Coromandel.
Three and a bit hours later, we were ensconced in a cosy, charming villa at Hot Water Beach TOP 10 Holiday Park.
Out of the high season, it was buzzing with families and travelling couples but not in an overly noisy way. Various shady settings provided privacy for tents and campervans; our villa, which reminded me of an overturned boat, looked out onto a curve of grass by a slow stream, where pukeko stalked about in the sunshine.
Once unpacked, we walked a clear, easy path to the beach and followed a small crowd of spade-wielding adventurers to a cluster of rocks and a patch of disturbed sand. In the low tide people had dug puddle-sized pools for wallowing.
We hollowed out our own and joined the hubbub of conversation – travellers from the United States, from Australia, from Mexico, Germany and Christchurch – enjoying the marvel of sandy baths.
The convivial scene was endearing. People helped each other dig and shared tips on how to get the best of the spring. We heard travel stories, told our own, and witnessed people make friends with each other.
Back at camp, we explored. Small children jumped on the bouncing pillow; older kids were trying out pedal carts. Couples lounged in deck chairs, glasses in hand, outside campervans.
The common rooms – kitchen, laundry, TV and computer room – were a focus for campers who were starting to get busy with dinner, chatting amicably around the sinks.
We could have opted for takeaways made on site, but decided instead to explore. We drove ten minutes to Hahei, then to Cooks Beach, a further 10km up the coast. Ferry Landing sounded intriguing so we kept going and just missed one of the regular passenger ferry crossings between there and Whitianga. Backtracking, we stopped at Flaxmill Bay’s Eggsentric, a healthy, fresh-food restaurant with gardens, art and character. Our meals were excellent. Back at Hot Water Beach, we decided on a late night beach walk and were surprised to find several of our fellow soakers still lying in their shallow hot pools, in the dark. It was eerie, stepping between prone bodies, the steady slosh of nearby surf, swirls of steam at knee level and a great swathe of stars hanging over the dreamlike scene.
This really was a short break – we had to head home the next day. Once packed up and checked out, we wandered down to Hot Waves Café and sat in a beautifully landscaped, lush garden to enjoy very good coffee and a delicious, hearty breakfast. Fortified, we hit the road, happy to have experienced the famous outdoor baths and to have discovered an accessible yet luxurious mode of easy camping.
Two hours either side of low tide is the time to tap into the famous very hot water (it is up to 64 degrees C), at a particular patch of the beach that is easy to identify.
Tempting as it will be to rush into the surf after a hot soak, be aware that Hot Water Beach has dangerous rips. Swim between the flags. Volunteer lifeguards patrol the beach on weekends over summer; only in the height of holiday season are guards on duty each day.
Thanks to Hot Water Beach TOP 10 Holiday Park
See AA Traveller to book accommodation and for more travel ideas.
Reported by Kathryn Webster for our AA Directions Spring 2020 issue