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NZ’s Secret Hot Water Beach

After an amazing holiday up in Northland, we decided to take the ‘scenic’ way back to Wellington. With a plan for a quick stop in Raglan, we pulled out our trusty NZ Frenzy book to see if there were any ‘hidden gems’ along that way that we shouldn’t miss. Sure enough there was a place call Kawhia on the west coast just south of Raglan that had a hot water beach!! We LOVED the hot water beaches up in the Corodomandel and Lake Tarawera, so when we found out this hidden gem was on our way home we just couldn’t resist. Recalling a recent post from our friend Backpacking Matt seconding how amazing this little town was we made a plan to stay there the night to take in the beach.

Making our way down from Raglan, we stopped at the famous Bridal Veil Falls. A 50m stunning waterfall, we spent an hour taking in its incredible beauty from the viewpoints at the top, side, midway and bottom of the falls. The massive stone canyon surrounding it made it even more magnificent as the water crashed into the pool below.

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With our Google Maps guiding us, we decided to take the ‘short cut’ down the coast, continuing south from the falls despite signs indicating ‘NO EXIT’. I was sure this was the way as the map clearly showed it leading to Kawhia, but after passing several ‘NO EXIT’ signs, and with it nearing sunset, we decided to ask a local along the way to confirm we were on the right path. Sure enough we were, so we continued down the road, through remote sheep fields that would soon turn into the most windy, single lane unsealed road we’ve travelled yet. With no reception, this was definitely not somewhere you want to have car trouble!

Just before the sun went down we pulled into Kawhia Beachside campground for the night. A beautiful little spot on the water, we pitched our tent and headed up to the office to find out when low tide was. Of course our luck, the lady confirmed it was 3:53am and 4:17pm. Considering we still had a 7hr drive to Wellington we couldn’t wait for the afternoon, so we set our alarms for 4:30am in hopes of catching it before the tide came in too far. With a window of 2hrs either side of tide we didn’t have much time to spare, but having been up at 2:30am the day before, any earlier just wasn’t an option.

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Let’s just sat 4:30am came way too soon. But excited to experience another hot water beach, we climbed out of the tent, into the car, and quietly drove out of the campground with our headlights off. With some vague directions on how to get there, we did our best to follow the signs for ‘Ocean Road’. The last sign had us on a remote road heading out of town, and although we questioned whether we were on the right track, the road came to an abrupt end and we were at a carpark that looked like it might be the right spot (although we couldn’t see any signs to verify that).

We changed into our bathing suits, strapped on our headlamps and grabbed the shovels we borrowed from the campsite and headed towards the beach. The lady at the campsite told us to head up and over the sand dune (oh no not more sand dunes!) and we should see a large stick in the ground marking where we were to head out to the water to find the warm sand. With nothing but our lights to guide us, we must have missed the very obvious pole to the left of the entrance and headed right down the beach for about 5mins before deciding me must have gone too far. Sure enough as we made our way back, we could now easily see the piece of driftwood that was standing tall out of the sand just to the LEFT of the entrance.

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From here we carefully walked straight to the ocean, using our toes to feel the temperature from the sand. We made it all the way out to the crashing waves without any sign of warmth, so we preceded to pace up and down the beach feeling for any sign of hot water. We were also on the lookout for the smell of sulfer as that was another hint we were given to help find the secret spot. I am sure this is MUCH easier when you can see more than 5 feet in front of you, but with the sun just barely starting to come up, we only had the light of the near full moon to help us.

Sure enough after about 20mins of searching, Jordan yelled “I smell sulphur!!” and finally came across a warm patch of sand. Horray!! I was getting worried we were never going to find the illusive hot water section of the beach, but was happy to now be on the right track. The unfortunately thing was this section was right at the water line and the waves were already taking over. From here Jordan decided to head inland toward the drier flats and sure enough came across another patch of warm sand that I could now see was steaming slightly with the smell of sulfur.

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The next few minutes we frantically searched for the hottest spot, furthest back from the water and were soon building our fortress against the rising tide! Thank goodness we had the shovels as they really helped expedite the building process and in no time we had a semi-circular hot pool. We paused the frantic fort building for a few minutes to sit and enjoy the sunrise as the colors were starting to light up the sky!

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The water was absolutely perfect! We found the water at the famous Hot Water Beach in Coromdanel to be nearly impossible to really enjoy as it was SO HOT, but this was just the right temperature, and the further you would dig, the warmer it would get. Just as we were getting comfortable though, the rising tides were starting to get closer so we quickly worked to enclose the circle in hopes of keeping the cold water at bay.

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Sure enough with a few minutes a surge of water encircled our hot pool and we frantically worked to close the breach! It lasted for just a few more minutes before the pressure from the sea broke our front wall completely, diluting the warm water with the cool sea. Noooooo! It was a short lived relaxing moment but the adventure was well worth it! We only wished we could have stuck around for the afternoon so we could have enough time to build an even better fortress next time!

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Having been to a few hot water beaches now, we feel we’ve ‘perfected’ the best strategy to get the most out of your hot water beach experience. Here are a few of our tips and strategy we take to maximize our hot pool time!

1. Plan to be at the beach 2hrs BEFORE low-tide. Most hot water beaches have a window of 2hrs of either side of low tide, but if you get there on a falling tide, you can have up to 4hrs to soak in your own personal hot tub!

2. Find the hottest spot (but not TOO hot) that is the furthest from the ocean. This will maximize your time before the cool sea waters breach your sand fortress.

3. Start digging right away, making a strong, tall wall all the way around you. Begin building on the seaward side as that’s the first spot that will be hit by the infiltrating waves.

4. Be sure to enclose the entire circle as the water will eventually wrap around and breach the serene hot pool you’ve been enjoying.

5. Make sure you take some time to enjoy the hot pool and not spend your entire time digging. It can be quite a fun game trying to make a perfect enclosure that you feel in impenetrable, but in the end you’re there to enjoy it.

6. Lastly, as the wave begins to rise, defend your sand fortress with all your might! If you’re quick enough you can repair breaches to make that hot water beach experience last just a little longer.

What’s your favorite hot water beach spot or tip?

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