Friday, November 30, 2012

Hot Water, Chapter 2

Nov. 30, 2012

Okay, the longer version – we drove from Piha to Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula on Nov. 29.  Long drive, but not too bad – found a route that skirted around Auckland so we didn’t have to deal with city traffic with the big caravan, stopped along the way to stretch and such, and arrived at Hot Water Beach by late afternoon.

 Hot Water Beach’s claim to fame is that for about two hours on each side of low tide, people can dig in the sand in a certain area and natural hot springs under the beach fill the cavities with lovely hot water – though sometimes scaldingly hot.  People flock to Hottie Beach for the fun, and it tends to get quite crowded.  But it’s one of those things that happens in only this one spot, and we thought we’d give it a try.  However, there were signs all over saying that freedom camping (camping outside a trailer park) is NOT allowed, and we were trying to figure out how to work this out.

We arrived about 3 hours after low tide, and had the tide schedule in hand – and watched the families and tourists packing up and driving off, carload after carload.  (At least there weren’t any tour buses!)  We chatted with the young lady at the café right by the beach, and she agreed that if we had dinner and just hung out until the next low tide (3 AM), we technically wouldn’t be freedom camping and therefore we should be okay.  And that the park warden didn’t come by often.  And that she has seen penguins on this beach – once.

We walked on the beach, and tried to figure out where exactly the hot water area might be.  (There was some evidence of pool edges that were eroding with the incoming tide.)  We wandered a bit, then headed back for dinner in the caravan.  We (I) drove up the tsunami evacuation route, and found some possible places to sleep in the caravan – and finally decided on a gravel-covered turn out spot off the main road.  We came back to the beach, it grew dark, we watched the ducks wander around, Richard napped, I read.

The moon came up and turned the ocean to liquid silver lapping on a ghostly shore – it was incredible, some shadow world drawn in greys and silvers, with the moon shining down and reflecting on the water, almost brighter than the real thing.  Absolutely gorgeous!  A bit eerie, but gorgeous!  We both watched the waves, hoping to see penguins jumping out, maybe a dolphin or two – but only the silvery waves crashing on the shore.

One AM rolled around – time to head out and cross the small estuary, find a spot on the beach, and dig.  (No shovel – I was prepared to carry a large cooking pot with a long handle, I figured that was as close to a shovel as we had.)  It was cold, the wind was blowing, the clouds had moved off, and it was a wild and chilly night.

And Richard started having his lawyerly what-can-go-wrong thoughts.  What would happen if we scalded ourselves in the hot water, what would we do?  What would we do if one of us sprained an ankle?  Or we were pulled out into the surf?  You know, those kind of worries. 

So he talked me out of it.  I was tired, having stayed awake the whole time – but I really wanted to go.  However, we were the only people in sight.  We didn’t know exactly where to dig.  We’d get SO COLD coming back from the hot water area, about a 10-15 minute walk, soaking wet, walking in that wind.  So what could I do, I finally agreed.

Which meant we had to find another spot to sleep.  So at 1 AM we drove up to our scenic pull off area, parked, made the bed, and just fell into it.  We did pass two young people walking over to Hottie Beach, shovel in hand, ready to enjoy a hot spa pool in the moonlight.  I suggested we turn around and join them, but, well, we didn’t.  And I had a few minutes of panic on our overlook spot, feeling as if the caravan was rolling and we'd plummet off the drop - but I looked out the window and we obviously weren't moving, it was just my sense of unbalance or movement from the wind or something.

We slept until about 7 AM, when there was a brisk businesslike knock on the door – and there was Mr. Park Warden, citation in hand – he gave us a severe talking to, said he’s only giving us a warning (versus the $200 fine), and handed us a folder with a map of campsites, trailer parks, and the only two spots with freedom camping on the entire peninsula.  We thanked him for not giving us the fine, promised to be gone within the half hour, organized the caravan for travel, and drove back to Hottie Beach.

Breakfast at the beach – tea and coffee on the gas stove, scones from yesterday’s shopping trip – with a view of the beach and the bay beyond.  And suddenly, I realized that what I thought was a sailboat was disappearing and reappearing – which meant – it wasn’t a sailboat – and there was only one dorsal fin in the world that would be that large from that distance – and yelling at Richard, “Whale!  Orca!” I ran outside and watched as two orcas swam across the bay, surfacing to blow steam as their huge fins came up in tandem, patrolling the bay and then turning and heading out to the island in the distance.

It rained off and on, we watched more and more cars arrive at the beach, and suddenly it was all too much – we felt overwhelmed and unwelcome, and we left.  Drove back to the town of Tairui, along winding roads with sheer drops on one side and sheer cut rock on the other, and just relaxed a bit.  Stocked up on a few items, used the free wifi at the library, and discussed where to go next.

And we actually made an adult decision: we’d head south to Waihi Beach, and stay in a holiday park that had hot spring pools.  We’d get out natural hot springs, but we’d avoid another citation.  And the area is reputed to be beautiful but off the mainstream tourist route, which we both prefer.  So that was it.  We drove through the Coromandel Range and some river gorge, with more winding roads and heart-stopping turns and sheer drops and times it felt we’d scrape along the side of a mountain.  But we made it to the shore, we found the Athenree Holiday Park, and we immediately headed for the hot water pools.  (They actually have a swimming pool filled with 90 degree natural hot water, and then a hot tub with 110-120 degree hot water.  It was lovely and relaxing!)

There was an incredible sunset over the inlet or harbour here, we chatted with a few of our neighbors, but it general this is a very quiet spot, with the staff gearing up for the big holiday season when everyone shows up and things get crazy busy.

And tomorrow I’ll try to get some photos of the lovely mosaics surrounding the pools, featuring a variety of the birds in this area.  They were wonderful!  Also, I was yelled at by a great blue heron when I walked through the park, he was in the reeds and complained bitterly when my walking by made him decide to fly into a tree.  I apologized, but he continued to yell at me.

It’s been quite a day!

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