After months of complaining about how I’m melting in the New Zealand heat, autumn has finally arrived and the temperatures are beginning to dip. So, of course, I suddenly miss the crazy heat the had me sweating from literally every pore in my body.
Now that I’m chilly (and wrapped in my new blanket scarf as I write this), my dream is a nice hot bath.
Day dreams of soaking in hot water with the warm sun beating down immediately brought me back to my visit to Hot Water Beach.
Voila! My jet lagged induced writer’s block vanished and I finally get to share my experience at one of the most unique beaches in the world.
What is Hot Water Beach?
Hot Water Beach, or Te Puia (“hot springs” in Maori), is a stretch of beach in Coromandel known for the geothermal pools beneath the sand. For 2 hours before and after low tide, a section of the beach is revealed where the hot springs can be reached.
They don’t bubble up of their own accord; you have to work for your spa experience.
Locals and tourists alike flock to Hot Water Beach with shovels and buckets to unearth their own pools of hot water from beneath the golden sand. Some spend a long time crafting the perfect pool. The lucky will find hot water at the end of their hunt, while others may only strike cold water (if they draw water at all).
The hot water is HOT. Temperatures rise as high as 64°C. I nearly burnt my toes off testing a couple of the pools!
That bucket comes in handy to dump cold sea water in the steaming pools to cool them down. Or you can try and dig an intricate path from the ocean to the pool (and waste a lot of time with little success), as my friends did.
It is a weird feeling to recline in a thermal spa pool next to the cold Pacific Ocean. But weird in the best way.
And at the end of the low tide, the myriad of holes are washed away to start fresh for the next batch of visitors.
Where is Hot Water Beach?
Hot Water Beach is on the east cost of New Zealand, 175km south east of Auckland. It is in the Coromandel Peninsula.
Combine a visit to Hot Water Beach with a trip to Cathedral Cove for a full day of spectacular beaches.
You can reach Hot Water Beach by car and use one of the designated pay-to-park lots. Many tours head to this remarkable beach, which takes away the stress of finding a parking spot at the busy destination. Or walk over to the beach from one of the nearby accommodations.
The Unspoken (and Spoken) Rules of Hot Water Beach
- No eating or drinking in the pools
- Wear a swim suit
- Share the spa pools
- Be careful swimming in the ocean due to strong riptides and the rocky coast
- Use the designated bathrooms
- Don’t litter
- Don’t blast music and disturb those around you
- Be open to conversations – the pools are
- Be careful of boiling hot water, as some pools aren’t as cool as others
- Don’t wreck someone else’s pool to make your own
A Uniquely Communal Experience
Usually when you go to the beach, you try and get as far from other people as possible.
That’s not the case at Hot Water Beach.
People crowd their pools together, trying to tap into a similar vein of hot water. Strangers share their basins to allow everyone a chance to relax in the mineral water. A sense of community is built around constructing holes that will fill with hot water but not collapse.
Unfortunately, many holes have to be abandoned when they reveal freezing or boiling water, or no water at all. That’s usually the moment people break and flock towards open spots in other pools.
This sharing of space is a necessity for everyone to enjoy the beach. The 20 metres where you can create these hot pools is always full of people – rain or shine, winter or summer. There’s really no way to avoid the crowds, since getting there early can mean the hot water isn’t close enough to the surface.
Hot Water Beach offers a unique people watching opportunity. You’ll see various ages, cultures and personalities crowd into hot pools together. Some relax happily in the sandy pool, while other dig with gusto to engineer the perfect bathing spot. Children build sandcastles beside the pools and a bus of twenty-somethings soak up the sun.
Honestly, it’s fascinating.
Fun Facts About Hot Water Beach
- Although the water is high in salt, it isn’t salt water.
- The water can rise 15L/minute in the pools people dig.
- Apparently, the best time of year to visit is during the cooler season to really embrace the warmth of the pools, but people go all year round.
- Hot Water Beach is also known for its surfing on the north side of the beach.
- 700,000 visitors come to relax in the hot pools every year
Freeloading and Sunbathing
I didn’t even try to dig a pool at Hot Water Beach.
I lost my camera bag (but, luckily, I didn’t lose my camera!) on the walk to the beach, so I’d had to backtrack trying to find it. No luck.
By the time I reached the beach, the shovel I’d rented had passed to some guys from our bus I didn’t know who were trying to construct what looked like an irrigation system to cool down their boiling hot spa pool.
I knew I was having no part in that.
Instead, I followed Sarah, an American girl I’d met that morning, to slip into free spots in someone else’s pool. Freeloading is so much easier than the architectural feats the others were trying to accomplish.
The water was barely warm and the sand immediately stuck to every part of me, but I didn’t have to work for it.
While our friends tried valiantly to make their masterpiece less of a cauldron and more of a jacuzzi, we reclined in the sun and shared stories. I got to know Shona and Teresa, two Irish girls who would quickly become my close friends. We smiled pleasantly at the other travellers in our little pool until they decided to head out, leaving room for our friends.
Finally, the spa pool engineers were actually able to go in a spa pool.
Is Hot Water Beach Worth Visiting?
For all the hype of the experience, it’s actually a good time. It’s not as clean or well set up as an actual spa or man-made hot springs, but that kind of adds to the fun of it. Hot Water Beach isn’t meant to be a spa or an oasis. It’s part of the experience to enjoy some warm water in a gorgeous setting surrounded by way too many people.
I mean, it’s free. You get what you pay for, right?
And in this case, you’re probably still getting more. The views alone are worth a fee.
Hot Water Beach makes you feel like a kid again, heading to the beach with your shovel and a bucket.
I highly recommend bringing a bucket so you can cool off the hot pools. One of the reasons our friends failed at building their pool was because they couldn’t cool the boiling water.
If, like us, you don’t travel with a spade and a plastic bucket in your suitcase, don’t worry! Hot Water Beach has surrounding cafes that rent all of the equipment you’ll need. Or ask some friendly folks down at the beach to borrow their tools.
Part of the reason most people visit is definitely to say they’ve had the experience and been to Hot Water Beach.
Even if you don’t want to go in the water, it’s still worth seeing. Amuse yourself watching people flock towards empty spots in sandy pools like seagulls, then head to one of the cafes or art galleries to hide from the crowds.
What You’ll Need
- Flip flops
- Water proof camera (optional)
- Sunglasses and/or a hat
- Shovel (can rent)
Note: There are public restrooms, change rooms and outdoor showers available on site so you can clean up before getting in a car or heading back to your accommodation.
Iconic Kiwi Experience
Hot Water Beach is an iconic Kiwi experience that can be found on almost every tour itinerary and New Zealand must do list. After experiencing it, I can understand why it’s one of the most renowned beaches in the world.
It’s almost unfortunate that it has become such a tourist destination, constantly covered in people trying to find the hot water. It must have been so beautiful to experience it when there weren’t a hundred people vying for the thermal spring, barely even looking at the cliffs lining the beach or Castle Island in the distance. Image how relaxing it would have been to lie in a hot pool on the beach 1,000 years ago, when the local Maori tribe is said to have arrived and cared for the site.
That’s what I picture while lying in the natural spa pool.
Would you rather go to a man-made hot pool or visit Hot Water Beach?