Middle Earth Day 31: Hot Water Beach

I ate easily the grungiest, most pitiful meal I have ever experienced in my life. For breakfast, I ate the same cardboard flavored granola bars with a smear of butter that I found in the fridge. Dangerous and desperate times. After going beyond my budget last night as far as accommodation goes, I decided that I would spend a few more hours around Hahei and Cathedral Cove in the late morning and afternoon before hitching a ride to Hot Water Beach for low tide at 6 pm. After managing to leave my jumbo pack at reception, I walked the coastal walk again. While staring out at the ocean, I could not help but think that some parts of this walk is even better than Abel Tasman. That statement may sound blasphemous but besides the many ferns that line the Abel Tasman track and the superior golden beaches this stretch of coast has by far more worthwhile waterborne landscapes; it has many tiny bush covered islands dotting the panorama all the way out into the fading distance. Further along the way to Cathedral Cove, I made stops in Gemstone Bay and Stingray Bay to snorkel. Bringing my own snorkel gear minus the flippers has come quite in handy while amongst these bountiful bays. Snorkeling is so relaxing and peaceful; it is just you and the water as you float on the surface peering down below wondering what you may see. Within the water, all you hear is the natural sounds of the sloshing seawater and your own breath, nothing else. Staring intently at the vegetation before me along with the rocks that line the coast, I intently wait for a fish that will catch my eye. Gemstone Bay had little worth writing home about with the exception of a school of fish that overcome me and passed me by in a hurried rush. For awhile, Stingray Bay had much of the same wildlife, thin foot long fish and a few tiger-like fish lined with black and yellow or pinkish streaks down its sides. Before I continue, I would like to bring up the fact that I read over a snorkeling guide/poster, which detailed the types of fish found within the Marine Reserve that covered the Cathedral Cover and much of the surrounding coastline. On that poster, it had the usual fare of sea life such as urchins, foot long fish, stingrays, etc. but then I noticed a section dedicated to those found a bit higher on the food chain. Three to four meter hammerhead sharks and a couple three plus long sharks managed to make it on the list. With all this in the back of my mind, I continued looking and floating. Plunging into the water to get a better view I followed another one of those tiger fish. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a large figure floating and drifting near me. With my limited snorkeling experience, I jumped to conclusions. Surely, my life’s journey would be ending in New Zealand. That figure turned out to be a thick, three to four foot long snapper. The fish shined a mystic purple from the sunlight that cut through the surface. It had eyes larger than the size of golf balls and seemed unafraid of my presence. I continued hovering over it and following it as it searched for food. Sadly, I could not find the namesake of the bay but I stayed fascinated by this large marine animal by becoming its shadow while it slowly moved about its home on the hunt. Hopefully, more snorkeling adventures await me in the near future. Cathedral Cove was nice, just as it was yesterday, but this time around the numerous sunbathers and beach goers ruined the private vibe that I got last night. Before leaving Hahei to look for a hitching spot, I bought some groceries after learning my lesson from Punakaiki. Tonight’s dinner would be overpriced pasta with canned tuna and sauce. Badda ba ba ba I’m Lovin’ It! While waiting for a ride, I met a couple of travelers walking to their next destination. The randomness of how these conversations and encounters start is just that, random, but if I had more time with these fellow backpackers I could see us becoming fast friends. I got my initial ride and was dropped off at fork in the road. Sure enough, those same backpackers had caught up to me in the time that lapsed. From a distance, we shook our heads and threw up our hands; I guess we would be seeing each other sooner than we had expected. They continued on in the other direction while I managed to get another ride from a Kiwi heading to Hot Water Beach. After setting up camp, I rented a spade and headed to the famous beach. Hot Water Beach looks like any other beach at first glance but it is so much more at its core. Beyond the fact that it is one of the most dangerous beaches in NZ as far as currents and tidal waves go, it has geothermal vents resting just below its surface. Two hours on either side of low tide you can dig a hole or shallow pool to experience a hot pool, basically your very own natural hot tuba. I picked my spot and began digging, fighting the sand’s urge to collapse on itself and be sucked into the waterhole I just built. Eventually, I realized that I had managed to find a spot that sat in between the two main hot zones so all my effort was for not. Snagging a seat in someone else’s hole I felt the heat absorb me, relaxing my travel worn muscles. At times, the water stayed at a perfect 95 degrees or so. Just when I laid my head back to bake in the sun and water, a quick piercing heat ran the length of my body. Now I knew why they warned people at the start of the beach that water can reach temperatures as high as 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It wasn’t quite that hot but I didn’t want to test the power of nature. Running over to the other section of the beach I felt like I was running across hot coals, hopping and skipping to avoid scalding my bare feet. So many people packed this small stretch of beach that it was beginning to become too much; I needed to stretch my legs. I jogged the length of the beach and back in blissful isolation while listening to my tunes. Although jogging on sand is quite grueling, feeling the sand collapse beneath your feet and crunch in between your toes can be truly relaxing, especially with a cool breeze rushing in from the water. Since I rented that dang shovel, I needed to put it to use. I helped a father and son build a hot pool near the shore that would balance the cool waters coming in from the ocean with the hot water that boiled above the molten rock. Once completed, I could lay back and feel the tingling sensation of a perfected thermal pool. Not surprisingly, my energy was growing thin so I needed to leave Hot Water Beach behind. Dinner was interesting to say the least. The kitchen had next to no supplies since they apparently rent them out. I could not seem to find a pot to boil my pasta noodles. Looking high and low, I could not find a single unused pot. Noticing an electric skillet sitting on the counter, I decided to get a little creative. I began to boil the water and eventually dumped in the bag of pasta into the barely bubbly water. Sure it wasn’t going to be al dente but as they say desperate times call for desperate measures. Still quite raw I pulled a pot that someone just finished using and completed the boiling process. The meal was just pitiful. No longer am in Europe eating some of the best food known to man. To make this trip last, I have lived and ate like a true backpacker bordering on a hobo. Beyond exhausted, the night ended like that. Tomorrow to Whitianga, a town nestled at the base of Mercury Bay on Coromandel Peninsula.

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