June 2024

The Coromandel Penninsula: Hot Water Beach


We arrived safely after a VERY long and harrowing drive from Paihia to Hot Water Beach. Driving in through the Coromandel Penninsula was amazing. More ups, downs and steep arounds and stellar scenery at every turn.

We’ve been trying to avoid camping at regular campgrounds, but haven’t had much luck. All of the conservation parks are very difficult to find and sparse (they are cheap but have limited facilities) and “free camping” isn’t possible where you would want to (i.e., in a parking lot near a beach and a bathroom). Anyway, all the campgrounds here are quite lovely (although a bit pricey at $30 per night) and include full service kitchens, showers, tvs, power, pools, and…trampolines! Scott and I have been having a fun time playing on them, whilst laughing and screaming like small children. Our campground at Hot Water Beach was really neat because it was located on someone’s farm land, complete with cows and sheep and gorgeous thick forest that had the most incredible bird sounds coming from it.

Kenna sitting in the hotpool that we made at midnight!

Kenna sitting in the hotpool that we made at midnight!

Anyway, so Hot Water Beach. My impression from my research of this place was that it was a beach lying over thermal volcanic action, where you could go at any time and dig a hole and sit in warm water. Sounds awesome, right? Well, it was even more amazing. Because of SCIENCE (that’s for you, Sean Woods). Basically, the hot water only exists at low tide (the time of which changes every day), and 2 hours before and after low tide. Upon arriving at our campground, the lovely lady at the desk told us that low tide was at 12:30 a.m., so we could go at 10:30 to the beach. I thought it was silly and we should wait for morning, but Scott convinced me it would be stellar to go at night. Boy, was he right.

We set off from the campground at sunset at around 9 p.m. We were located about a 700 m walk down to the beach through a very quiet winding street. We knew we’d be super early, but wanted to go hang out, listen to the waves crash and just relax. We walked down to the middle of the beach (not knowing entirely where the hot water place would be – we followed a very vague sign). The stars had completely aligned for us, and we had a beautiful full moon, so we didn’t even need the headlamps that we had brought. Conditions were perfect: wind was soft, temperature was moderate, sky was relatively clear and we had a full moon. So, we hunkered down in the sand to wait until 10:30.

We started to mark the tide recessions at 10 minute intervals. At about 9:30 another couple arrived: two hippy folks from Germany. They had a pot and a frying pan to dig. Scott and I looked at each other and said “Oh F. We didn’t bring a digging implement.” We didn’t even think of one. So, German couple gets down and starts to dig. Scott and I look at

The very hard-working but not-too-smart germans

The very hard-working but not-too-smart germans

each other and shake our heads. These dudes are an hour early! So, they dig and dig and dig. Scott wonders if we should help them (he’s so nice) but I say no – we must wait for the tide to go out more. German couple digs and digs. Nothing. Scott and I wait. At about 10 p.m., German couple sees that the tide has gone out more and so moves down a few feet and start digging again. Scott and I continue to wait until 10:30, because we know the tide has a lot more going out to do. Our 10 minute interval markings in the sand were getting bigger and bigger. The German couple kept digging.

More people started to arrive. A huge group of 18-year olds show up. They are loud and boisterous, and are kind of ruining the magical mood for us. These guys brought shovels. Now we’re really starting to feel inadequate. German couple stop their digging, frustrated. A few more couples arrive. We’re all perplexed and not quite sure what to do – it’s about 10:20 and these hot pools have not revealed themselves. We were looking around, and it seemed somewhat foggy – Scott and I noticed this at about the same moment and he asked “is it me, or is it misty here?” I replied “it’s definitely misty.” We’re all wandering around examining the mist, when German dude and myself happen upon HOT sand at the very same instant. We start screaming “it’s here! It’s the sand! It’s hot!” And a frenzy of digging began. It was like this magical moment, when everything unfolded for us and everything just clicked. It was not mist we were seeing, but STEAM. As the ocean had receded into low tide, it yielded the exact spot we were looking for the whole time…right underneath it. It was amazing.

The full moon at hot water beach at midnight

The full moon at hot water beach at midnight

It was funny how we all just started our digging frenzy and ended up digging holes almost right next to each other. The digging was actually quite painful without an implement. The sand was releasing thermal gas that was around 60 degrees celcius. It hurt to touch. We finally got our pool made (which randomly included half super hot sand and half cold sand), and it turned out pretty great! About 15 of us were all sitting in our pools in a line, enjoying the amazing gift that mother nature was providing us. We laid there until about 12:30, just listening to the waves crash and soaking ourselves in the gloriously hot water. Scott and I just looked at each other and said “this is one of the most amazing nights of our lives.” Scott did manage to relax and exclaimed “honey, I’m having a beach day!” (that was after he tried to engineer the best hot pool of the group and wouldn’t stop building us taller walls, and I finally told him to relax and enjoy the moment. :))

The walk back to camp was a bit painful in the cold, as we didn’t want to put our clothes back on over all the sand we had amassed. We had sand in every place imaginable. Scott especially felt the pain, with full, saggy shorts. We got back, showered, and finally made it to bed around 1:30 a.m.

A special graph for Cheryl and Sean.  According to the data, Hot Water Beach was clearly amazing!

A special graph for Cheryl and Sean. According to the data, Hot Water Beach was clearly amazing!

Today, we got up a bit later, and went back to see Hot Water Beach during the day. The romance and mystique was totally gone – it was PACKED (probably 50 people) and it just didn’t have the same allure that it did the night before. I was so happy that Scott convinced me to go at night. We spent the rest of the day driving to Rotorua. It was only about a 200 km drive, but the roads were intense and it took us FOREVER. Scott needed a techie fix, so we went to starbucks to get some wifi (which is not free here with purchase. You have to purchase the damn wifi for a fee and you don’t need to buy something…we’re having a REALLY hard time finding wifi). Before that, we had driven around the entire town trying to poach wifi off someone who had an unlocked signal. Scott tried to drive into a Toyota dealership to steal theirs, when I finally said “this is ridiculous, let’s just go pay.” He wasn’t too impressed with me.

Tomorrow, we plan on visiting more thermal pools around this area. Rotorua has a permanent stench of sulfur in the air due to all the thermic action going on – should be a good time. 🙂

6 comments to The Coromandel Penninsula: Hot Water Beach

  • Cheryl

    Are you kidding me? Wow. Your last 2 posts have made my eyes well up a bit.

    And Kenna, I just wanted to tell you: Kelly and Gina and I were at Remedy last night having Break Up Cake (what we have dubbed the giant slabs of chocolate cake at Remedy) and chai lattes, and we missed you a lot. We even had a fourth chair at our table, and we decided it was “Kenna’s chair.”

  • Sean Etsell Woods

    You used SCIENCE, meters, and included a fun graph* all in the same post.

    Best post ever! Keep having fun. : )

    *The graph is exactly how I pictured it in my head. I’m ever-so pleased!

  • Cheryl

    And thank you for the graph, although it made me LOL when I was trying to secretly check your blog at work.

  • Dad

    Sounds like you are having a fabulous time. Hot Water Beach must have been a blast. I have a question tho. If the beach is heated by volcanic activity occuring under ground, should there not be some poison gasses being emitted up through the ground? Normally with volcanic activity hydrogen sulfide is a very big and dangerous problem. Kenna did you ever go up to Nicaragua with us? If you remember we had to park backing in at Mount Nicaragua in case the wind changed and the hydrogen sulfide starting coming our way. Anyway just a thought. Today is typical Edmonton weather, snow and cold. We are 10 days away from a month at our place in Florida. I can hardly wait. Edmonton Sucks. Miss you guys! Love Dad & Lorna

  • Kim

    Love the story of the Germans repeatedly digging. Sounds like an amazing area. Hopefully I’ll get there one day.

  • Robyn

    you guys are sooo inspirational! thanks for documenting everything. especially the graph.

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