After taking our fill of living the trailer park life, we packed up and headed off to our final site, Hahei Beach in the oft recommended Coromandel.  The clouds grew thicker threatening rain which made me happy because it tends to drive the other tourists away.  I don’t like crowds.  I don’t like being stepped on.  I don’t like children screeching even if they are screeches of delight.  They sound like pterodactyls yet I’d be genuinely excited if they were actual pterodactyls.  But if it’s just children allowed to run feral on a beach while the parents try to catch a moment’s rest on the sand (you can tell by the look on their faces they’re struggling with the fear the waves may wash the kids away and the hope that they will), I’m not a fan.

We hiked down to Cathedral Cove – yes, I said hike.  Although quite lovely, bring your hiking shoes along with your beach towel for this place.  And whatever you do, don’t do like Steve and me – drink a lot of coffee and soda, forget to put water in the water bottles and forget to go to the bathroom.  There are no vendors selling to tourists on the beach and the bathroom is a toilet seat over a gigantic collecting tank.  I don’t know what’s happened in the past, but there are bars where the bowl of the toilet should be, as a fail-safe for anyone that may fall in.

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We located what we thought was our kayak tour guide but soon found out we were on the wrong beach.  Our kayaks were waiting for us a 45 minute hike away.  Still, it was cool.  We took an alternative route from the one we came in and pretended we were in Jurassic Park.

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Finally, we found our kayaks.  And then the fear set in.  The swell was too high for us to go on our intended remote volcanic coastline tour and we’d have to settle for the classic tourist’s tour.  Even so, those waves looked daunting, ferociously crashing against the beach and rocks.  We were assured the kayaks were extremely stable and we’d be well looked after by our guides.  Who, by the way, were a collection of the most handsome, rugged Kiwis you’ve ever set eyes on.  In the blink of an eye, they’d run towards to freezing cold water while stripping off their shirts, dive in to the waves like man-dolphins and single handedly pull kayaks out of the surf filled with out-of-shape doughy tourists.  Steve had either fallen in love or found his idols.  It’s hard to say which.  But I really can’t blame him.

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With Steve in the back steering the kayak and me in the front getting a face full of waves, we were pushed into the surf and paddled like only two inept Americans can.  I’m a petty lady as most of my friends can readily attest so I was spitefully happy to see that the token Barbie of our tour group also got a face full of waves and now looked like she had been through a dishwasher.  My confidence was gaining.

One of the other kayaks contained an 18 and 16 year-old brother team.  Not to be outdone, Steve and I found a competitiveness that drove us to keep pace with them.  The tour guides tried to tactfully tell us to cut it out as a poor German couple in their late 70’s were being left behind and slowly drifting out to sea without us.  Barbie and her boyfriend were busy testing the limits of their now fragile relationship as he could obviously not tell his left from his right and kept steering them towards the rocks.

We beached the kayaks on the spot Steve and I originally hiked to in the morning and the guides impressively set up an elaborate tea for us.  Steve braved the bathroom/pit again while I decided uremic poisoning was a far more dignified option for me.

We set back off, pointed towards the outer islands and then it began to rain.  It may seem like a damper to the tour, but it made the waves huge, turning the kayak into a Disneyland ride.  I loved it.  And to make it even better, a few Little Blue Penguins (that’s their actual name) would paddle around, check us out and then, to Steve’s relief, dive to safety before I could give them hugs and kisses.

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Unlike Barbie and her boyfriend, me and my rockin’ cool hubby took on the challenge of paddling through a sea cave in rough waters. (Pic courtesy of Cathedral Cove Kayaks.)

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And then before we knew it, it was time to beach the kayaks at our landing spot.

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Our last item on the week-long itinerary was a soak in a thermal sand pool at Hot Water Beach.  Before we even moved to NZ, I had read amazing things about Hot Water Beach which Lonely Planet lists as on of the top 10 beaches in the world.  We had high expectations.  We got to the beach 2 hours before low tide like advised and already there was a massive crowd, standing in the rain, all digging in the sand looking to dig their own hot water bath.

Hot Water Beach is essentially an area of 50 metres where hot springs bubble up from below.  You bring your little spade and dig, dig, dig till you hit warm water.  And then you sit in your sandy little mud puddle, proud that you found a spot while others fruitlessly dig around you.

Everyone there is a tourist but it’s the European middle-aged men who make it absurdly ridiculous.  Completely comfortable in their own skin, these men proudly donned Speedos, bent over, squatted down and dug with all their might.  Unfortunately for me, I was directly behind these men, bent over, squatting down and digging my own little mud puddle.  It took great skill to avoid getting bumped on the head by someone else’s Speedo-clad butt and I kept my eyes to the ground lest I catch a glimpse of something I’d rather not.  Meanwhile, as I sat there very self conscious in my bathing suit and desperately trying not to get hit by the adjacent man’s man-bits, Steve was staring at a rather fetching young woman who was having a bikini malfunction.  Out of the 100s of people in such a small area, no one bothered to tell her she had a nip and it had slipped.

The beach started to look like trenches and many people were perfectly happy to lay down next to a complete stranger and share 1/2 cup of hot thermal water between them.  I chose to keep digging, looking for my own little spot of hot water.  After many unsuccessful holes, we finally struck gold.  But it was a tricky spot.  One inch of the hole contained water and sand that scalded the flesh off our bones, and the other inch only gave us water and sand that could induce hypothermia, so we did our best to engineer our little mud puddle achieving the perfect temperature.

I did not bring my camera since it was raining so I took the liberty of grabbing some stock photos in order for you to get a sense of our experience.

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I kid. That group is not nearly as crowded, there’s way too much water and they are far more attractive than our group

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Now pretend that’s either Steve or me waving to the camera.

After 10 minutes in the puddle, we decided pizza was a better option.  We hit the tourist town centre, during full-on Summer holiday, peak tourist time … and just about everything was closed.  Sometimes you can’t even beg NZ to take your frivolously spent tourist dollars.  We eventually found some pizza and headed back to our tent.

I went off to take a shower and came back to this sight.

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Steve had gotten into the hard cider and was now the general of this army of seagulls.  We even had sentries   One for the car, one for the tent.  Dehydration, a week on the road, and hard cider will do that to you.

It was our last night camping and again it was raining.  But there were no mosquitos, no sand flies and we were being guarded by Steve’s new army.

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