The fun never ends in New Zealand. Heading north out of Napier and Hawke’s Bay, we took a detour to spend five days on the Coromandel Peninsula, in the beachside town of Hahei, overlooking Mercury Bay. (Coming directly from Auckland, Hahei is a two hour drive through the beautiful Coromandel Forest Park.)
We were lucky enough to be invited to use Quail Cottage, a bach named for the skittish quail that forage in the nearby forests. It is owned by a family that we have met through golf in Auckland. The uniquely New Zealand holiday home is called a “bach,” pronounced “batch.” It was originally thought to be short for “bachelor pad” but there is some thought that it is based on the Welsh word “bach” meaning small. Baches sprang up in the 1950’s as roads improved in New Zealand. With increasing affluence, families could afford cars and holiday trips to secluded areas around the country. After traveling to the same place for several years, it was a logical next step to build a place to stay on a more regular basis. The original baches where often built on unowned land, small in size and made from inexpensive, sometimes recycled materials. Furnished in the hand-me-down castoff furniture from home, they became quirky places for families to hangout and experience rural New Zealand. Over time, many of the old baches have been replaced with a wide array of dwellings including large, modern, luxurious summer homes.
There are a few cycling opportunities here, though the area is really best known for its beaches, hiking and laid-back vibe. We spent our first day exploring on our bikes along the only highway in the region. Heading north, we pass sheep farms, a few wineries and other beach towns, most notably Cooks Beach. Cooks Beach commemorates the landing of Captain Cook and his ship the Endeavour in the area in 1769 to observe the Transit of Mercury. (A brief synopsis of this event is available from the New Zealand History site.) A cairn on Cooks Beach commemorates this event.
At the north end of the road is a ferry landing, where a two minute ferry ride (in lieu of a 45 minute drive) takes passengers across to Whitianga, the largest town in the area.
Heading south, we stop at Hot Water Beach, a must-do when visiting Hahei. There are two underground fissures located on the beach that are accessible at low tide, where water as hot as 64°C (147°F) percolates to the surface. The beach is overrun with tourists and locals two hours either side of low tide even on cold, cloudy days, with spades in hand, to dig a hole, build a retaining wall and soak in a steaming-hot salty brine. (If you don’t have a spade, you can rent one at the beach shack.) A relaxing end to a hilly bike ride.
The other must-do in Hahei is a two-hour round trip hike to Cathedral Cove. It is also accessible by kayak or by one of the boat hires in town. The hike originates at the north end of Hahei Beach, follows the shoreline overlooking Mercury Bay and meanders through the forest. It is a moderately challenging hike, though New Zealanders seem like a hardy lot. We saw small children make the hike as well as many elderly people. The rewards at the end of the hike are two beautiful beaches joined by a rock arch. The hike and the beaches are very busy, but in spite of this, it is worth a visit because of its breathtaking beauty. (It is estimated that 150,000 people visit Cathedral Cove each year.)
There are other hiking opportunities in the area, a golf course, some restaurants, locally made Coromandel Beer, snorkeling and diving. Relaxing on Hahei Beach for a day isn’t a bad idea, either.
Visit The Coromandel.com to see other ideas for exploring the region.