Hot Water Beach, Coromandel, New Zealand


Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

Sometimes getting into hot water is a good thing.

We start the day at the Mercury Bay Estate. It’s completely cloudy and then unpredicted rain begins to fall. My theory is, any day that starts with wine is a great day. I inform my friends that the universe must want us to spend some time drinking so that the sky can work on lifting the clouds. Sure enough, as we drank, the clouds lift bit by bit. Eventually, the gorgeous mountains in the distance come into view, so we decide to head to Hahei. I should mention, I’ve recently traveled up from Napier to spend a few days with Marlene and Steve, a wonderful American couple now staying in the Coromandel, one of a few places I haven’t yet seen. The visit is bittersweet as they depart for the US next week.

Paihia at sunrise

My wine flight has arrived.

Photo by Heather Markel, copyright 2021, All Rights Reserved.

Marlene has done her research, and is well prepared for our excursion to the Hot Water Beach at Hahei. I, slightly intoxicated, opt for a coffee before making our way, and rent a shovel. (Pro tip – save some money on the shovel rental by getting it at the cafe across from the beach, instead of the office on the beach.) You need a shovel because the hot pools are formed by…you…digging in the sand. Quite literally. You also have to do it within 2 hours before or after low tide. We arrive to the beach and find a handful of people digging for hot water. Marlene has explained to me that I have to dig where the water is hot. The area where the water is hot is extremely narrow. I somehow envision a narrow line parallel to the sea. In fact, it’s perpendicular to the sea, tiny, and everyone has to dig in roughly the same place. Most of us, however, have the habit of wanting space, and dig only to find cold sea water.

I make my way towards the people who seem to have found warmer water in their pool. I detect accents, and quickly end up meeting people from France and Chile, and speaking French and Spanish. My new French friend ends up explaining that she’s been living in the area so long she’s now an expert. She shows me the lines the hot water makes in the sand; you can literally see where the hot water makes its way down to the sea. I begin digging right next to her pool. A group of Asian friends soon figure out they should be digging around where I am and we decide to try and pool together. (Get it?) I do some digging but it seems like each time I make a little headway, sea water comes in and makes it look like I did nothing.

The trick is, once you find your spot, you need to build up a small seawall, so that your hole isn’t completely eroded. BUT, the water is REALLY HOT. I think Marlene said around 147 degrees fahrenheit. So. you want some sea water to mix in to cool it off. Indeed, my toe strikes a couple of hot spots, and I have to move quickly to avoid feeling burned. The water is a bit rough and I’m worried that some of the little kids will get washed away, but, happily, they don’t. I spend some time speaking with Mariela from Chile and when I eventually look up, the entire terrain, which was flat beach, is now several hot pools, and that’s where the magic begins.

The pools, I quickly realize, are a melting pot, not just of hot water, but of cultures, languages, and people. The Asian friends are sitting with some people from Europe in one pool. Kiwi families blend together in another, I’m sharing a pool with France and Chile, another American couple hovers nearby trying to dig another pool. Everyone has come together, blended water, and conversation. It’s like the former days of my travels – finding myself speaking many languages, meeting people from all over the world, sharing a jovial moment in time. I feel like I belong and can hop from one pool to the next and meet new friends. Of course, the imminent arrival of high tide puts a stop to the otherwise limitlessness of the experience.

“This is a melting pot of more than just hot water.”

Nationalities, culture and conversation melt together into the hot pools at Hahei.

Photos by Heather Markel. Copyright 2021, All Rights Reserved.

This day that started with wine and clouds, has turned into the perfect warm, sunny-with-a-breeze one you need to enjoy this idyllic activity. As I gaze out to sea, I notice four people with strange red floating devices diving into the tall waves. As they emerge, I realize they’re practicing water safety drills, and when they walk off, I feel like I’m watching a live episode of Baywatch, minus Pam Anderson and David Hasselhoff. If not for the coming of high tide, I would probably still be mingling with new friends at the hot pools.

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