Dig Your Own Spa Pool │ Hot Water Beach
Our last bucket list item for the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula, was to dig our own personal spa bath in the sand at Hot Water Beach. This popular – but secluded – spot, has geothermic activity going on underneath the sandy shore. Hot Water Beach is a beach on Mercury Bay on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, approximately 12 km south east of Whitianga, and approximately 175 km from Auckland by car. The beach is a popular destination both for locals and tourists.
Within two hours either side of low tide visitors flock to the usually deserted Hot Water Beach to find hot water bubbling through the golden sand. Families, kids and couples can be seen digging their own spa pool in the sand and relaxing in the natural springs. As the hot water spills up from beneath the sand you must be careful not to burn your toes!
Annual visitor numbers have been estimated at 700,000, making it one of the most popular geothermal attractions in the Waikato Region. Hot Water Beach is situated a short ten minute drive from the beautiful Hahei Beach, and the iconic Cathedral Cove. Many visitors bring a spade and bucket with them. Spades can also be hired from the nearby surf shop.
Dinner before Our Adventure
Since low tide was so late on this particular day, roughly 9pm, we had a late dinner at our guesthouse, and then made our way towards Hot Beach. For dinner we had a simple picnic-style meal consisting of cheese, hummus, smoked chicken, toast, crackers, and of course, some Montheith’s ciders. These seemed to be the most available ciders in New Zealand!
The Forest Path
We weren’t staying too far from Hot Water Beach, so we got there pretty quickly. Getting to the beach ended up being a little bit confusing. We found the parking lot, but there was a big (and seemingly deep) body of water in front of the parking area. We assumed that there was no way around it, so we parked further up the hill, and followed another path to the beach. Thinking that we would get to the beach within a few minutes, we left our shoes in the car. We didn’t want to have too many things to carry. Big Mistake! The path was long and rough! Our feet were feeling pretty sensitive by the time we made it to the sand.
In the above image, you can see the body of water I referred to. We came out of the forest-type walkway just next to the sand dune, to the very right of the image.
We saw the large group of people on the beach, in the distance, so we immediately knew where to go.
How Does This Happen?
Some volcanos develop huge underground reservoirs of superheated water. Over time, this water will escape to the surface — cooling on the way. There are two fissures at Hot Water Beach issuing water as hot as 64ºC (147ºF) at a rate as high as 15 litres/minute. This water contains large amounts of salt (NOT salt water), calcium, magnesium, potassium, fluorine, bromine and silica. There are other hot water springs nearby but the location of these two springs on the beach make them unique.
We only had one spade, so Justin got to work. It seemed that the tide was still too high though, because each time he got a good hole going, a wave would sweep up and destroy his progress. I think many of the holes were dug by groups, and my poor man was digging all alone. We struggled for a while – him digging, and me keeping Eli nearby, while trying to build a wall up, to keep the odd big wave out.
There also seemed to be a very specific area in which we need to dig. The first spot where we had tried, yielded no hot water, so Justin moved to a spot just below a couple of other groups. There must have been a current running below this area, because if you put your feet into the sand, it was HOT!
Care needs to be exercised as the location of the hot springs are not far from the sea even at low tide, and visitors may be caught unaware by the large breaking waves. Hot Water Beach is known for its dangerous rip currents, holes and large waves. Signs at the beach advise swimmers not to swim within 50m either side of the off-shore rocks (opposite the springs), and to only swim between the flags if the Hot Water Beach Lifeguard Service are on patrol. Hot Water Beach’s rip currents have claimed the lives of several visitors and only strong and experienced swimmers are advised to enter the water.
We eventually got a little pool going, but it just wasn’t as warm as some of the others. It clearly wasn’t that big either. As you can see, Eli was shivering. It was not a warm night, and we very much wanted to get into some warm water so that we could heat up.
Just then… The rain came!
It seemed as though we had come all this way, and we were not going to get this experience that we had been looking forward to. We were disappointed, but we also didn’t want to get sick. It started to dawn on us, that perhaps this just wasn’t going to happen.
Suddenly a sweet guy came over and told us that his group was leaving.
They had seen us struggling, and they wanted to offer us their pool.
We were SO THANKFUL and absolutely THRILLED!
We quickly stripped down, and got into the pool The water was so warm and soothing. It seemed like the skies were about to open up at any moment. So, I asked someone to take a picture of the three of us. I then wrapped my camera in a towel and put it into our backpack. If the rain came down hard, I knew that I would have to jump out of the water, and run with the backpack to one of the cliff overhangs along the beach. For a few minutes though, we all got to sit in the hot water pool, in the light rain, and enjoy the magic of it all.
Unfortunately, while we were lying back in the water, Eli wandered over to the other the other side of the pool. His feet must have sunk further into the sand and reached some hotter stream of water. He start to scream uncontrollably, but he couldn’t move, so he just stood there. Due to the way that he was frozen and crying, it took us a moment to realize what was happening. Only then did we yank him out of the water. I was shocked by the temperature, as I moved my feet over to where he had stood.
Our poor child!
Justin carried Eli away from the groups that surrounded us, because as you can imagine, they were all looking at us in a very concerned manner. I grabbed our heap of towels and our backpack, and we all went up to the top of the beach. At the same time, the rain started to pour more heavily. As we comforted Eli, his little feet were blood red and sensitive from the scalding water, we heard some girls talking. One of them said, “The water is so hot that a small child just got badly burnt”. Oh dear – our child!
We decided that it would be best for Justin to run back through the forest to get the car, and I would walk along the beach and meet him at the first carpark. With the tide as low as it was, we assumed that we could find a way across the water that had stopped us earlier. Eli had stopped crying, and although I am sure his feet were still stinging, they weren’t blistering (which was my main concern).
By the time we got back to the car, the cool air had helped to sooth his feet a lot.
And in case you are wondering, his feet were totally fine by the time that he went to sleep that night. What a relief!
What to Pack:
- Beach gear – bathing suit, towel, and something warm if you are going in the evening.
- Spade and bucket — the spade (A MUST) will help you dig your spa but the bucket is just as important! It will allow you to bring the cooler ocean water to keep you from scalding your feet.
- Camera! Definitely #1 on MY list!