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23-25 March 2015. We spend our last few days in New Zealand on or near the waters of Coromandel Peninsula.

We hike from Hahei Beach


up and along the cliff top. The white cliffs dazzle our eyes as we wind our way along the path, breathing in the glimmering sea, the salt air.



A sunny day, our bodies swinging forward in steady rhythm, we become the sun the breeze the blue sky and the buzzing of bees. I feel the soft pink grasses like the feathers of some exotic bird caressing my cheek.


Our destination is majestic Cathedral Cove, named for the enormous arched opening through the headland that gives access to two sheltered bays.


We arrive at Cathedral Cove on top of the arch and follow the path down the side, not seeing its grandeur until we walk along the beach away from it. It is an entrance to a natural cathedral, a sacred place,


and we walk back towards it to experience the interior, all cool and soft in dense shadow.


We walk the length of the beach, we splash in the water, we eat lunch sitting on the sand looking out to sea at the huge lone rock that sits just off shore like a prehistoric whale, a giant perch for seagulls.


The next day we go for a longish scramble from Whangapoua Beach


carefully picking our way over rocks and boulders,


looking for the entrance to the track. We keep thinking Is this it? Is this it? each time we see an opening in the bush, and then when it comes it’s obvious. We follow the track up and over the saddle to isolated New Chums Beach.


A different day and a different beach. Though warm, the sky is dark and threatening.


There are very few people around. We have arrived at a beautiful secluded haven. Walking the length of the beach, we watch a lone surfer playing with the waves, then sit on the sand and eat lunch entertained by a couple of oyster catchers strutting at the water’s edge.


On another day we take a cruise around Mercury Bay. It feels good to be on the water, feeling the rhythm of the waves, the sun and wind on our faces.






If you’ve ever wondered what it looks like when two of the Earth’s plates meet and one pushes up over top of the other, this is it:


Finally, we go to the extraordinary Hot Water Beach. Hot Water Beach sits on a fault line where the Earth’s magma, it’s fiery molten core, is only four kilometers from the surface, right in the same place as a natural underground spring. The magma heats the spring water to barely comprehensible temperatures. As the water comes to the surface it cools a little, to somewhere around scalding.

If you go to Hot Water Beach at low tide and find the right place next to the big rocks and start digging you can make yourself a hot tub right there in the sand, and lie in the hot water luxuriating as you watch the waves rolling in a little off shore.

So we rent ourselves some shovels from the local café and general store and head down towards the big rocks where the crowds are.


It seems we are there on the day of the highest low tide ever. We watch as everyone enthusiastically digs in the sand


and then watch as two minutes later a wave comes in


and washes it all away.


After nearly an hour we see there are a couple of groups that have persevered and have managed to create pools for a short time,



but most are unsuccessful, and some not even interested.


We see the futility of it all and content ourselves with wiggling our feet in the sand. The temperature varies from place to place but here and there, if you wiggle your feet too deep, man that water is hot. Plenty hot enough to make you dance.


Heart-broken in New Zealand:
In twelve posts about New Zealand I have not mentioned the Maori culture. That is partly because there is not much presence of it on the South Island. There is a large community of Maoris on the North Island but we somehow didn’t connect with them, except for a visit to Te Puia, home to the national carving and weaving schools at the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute. It is also a tourist attraction to showcase Maori culture and as such does a very good job, but it is a showcase for tourists rather than an authentic experience. At Te Puia we attended a traditional Maori welcome


and a dance performance.



I was moved to tears by this performance, by their exuberance and sincerity, and the simple joyous beauty of their dances.

We also saw an exquisite example of a traditional feather winter cape,


and other beautiful crafts.

It was what me missed that left me heartbroken. Every two years the Maori people hold the Te Matatini Festival, a competition celebrating Kapa Haka, or traditional Maori performance arts. It was held in Christchurch a few days after we left. I don’t understand how we were in Christchurch and didn’t hear about it. What happened to our serendipity mojo? This is authentic Maori culture, by Maoris for Maoris. I guess we’ll have to go back to New Zealand in 2017 and catch it then.


New Zealand surprised me. I think I underestimated it, the people, the power of the land. It’s a small isolated country with a big soul and much to offer. We were there for five weeks. It was not enough. You start out thinking, oh it’s just two small islands, five weeks should be plenty, and then you discover how much there is to see and to do. The country is full of beauty, and astonishing landscapes, and extraordinarily creative people.

More posts about New Zealand:

Endless Beauty

Resurrection: the rebirth of Christchurch

Cannibal Worms in Adrenaline Central

Flying High and Standing Still

For A Few Bucks And A Wooden Horse

Strange Rocks, Strange Birds, and School Uniforms

Silver Ferns and Sunsets in the Land of the Lord of the Rings

Next post: Australia’s wild north. The “Top End” coming up.

All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.