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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Cathedral Cove – New Zealand’s Must-Do Beach

Cathedral Cove trailhead as seen from the parking
lot overlook.  Coromandel, New Zealand.
When I asked locals and past New Zealand visitors what topped their “Don’t miss!” list, in no particular order, these were most mentioned
  1. Visiting a glow worm cave -- we did -- Nikau Caves near Raglan
  2. Te Papa museum of New Zealand,Wellington - check, though preferred some of NZ's smaller museums
  3. Hiking a glacier -- we did - Franz Josef glacier, on my birthday!  Errr, the mountain parrot we saw there impressed me more than the glacier.
  4. Geothermal Country (between Auckland and Wellington), Lake Taupo area, Rotorua area and Tongariro Crossing -- didn't do the crossing but went past Taupo and stayed at Rotota and visited Orekei Korako
  5. Coromandel’s Cathedral Cove & Hot Water Beach -- still on my to do list!

Verdant ferns and other foliage provide the perfect
foreground contrast for Stingray Bay's dramatic
limestone cliffs.  Cathedral Cove marine reserve.
After a month-long road trip all the way to New Zealand's Southernmost South Island point, followed by way too much boat work in Whangarei, and fall falling, our time to fit in a few last “must-do” was rapidly running out.  

Fortunately, when you already have a car, are already in North Island, taking off is easy. For us, it's just a matter of adding some to-go food, warm clothes and toiletries into the trunk with rest of the camping gear, a map, campground listing and guide.  So off we went Coromandel... 



Ladder-like steps down to Gemstone Bay.
Coromandel, New Zealand.

Our first stop in Coromandel was Hot Water Beach.  That put us among the 700,000 visitors who stopped there annually.

Gemstone Bay, part of the Cathedral Cove
marine reserve,  New Zealand.
Scott Cook's trusty New Zealand Frenzy guidebook raved about Cathedral Cove, advising his readers to show up by 9 am, before the crowds.  Considering that most of the already tiny parking lot was blocked off for pre-arranged tours, we're glad we followed his advice, even though trail maintenance closed the trail off to visitors initially.  That parking lot is the best way to the Cathedral Cove trailhead without having to pay a tour to get you there, otherwise, it's a long ways in.


I looped off ahead of Wayne, taking a gander at Gemstone Bay, waiting for the Cathedral Cove portion of the trail to open.  On a really sunny day, I suspect Gemstone Bay better lives up  to its name.  Gemstone Bay's rocky beach is small, and semi-protected by a large, colorful cliff, its clear waters popular with snorkelers as is nearby Stingray Bay, which we skipped.

Trail maintenance workers, Cathedral Cove.

We managed to get to Cathedral Cove with the tide low enough to make it through its photogenic archway to the other other side without getting too wet.  Like Gemstone Bay, the light was less than perfect for the Cathedral Cove to show its maximum brilliance, but was still breathtaking.  

Classic Cathedral Cove photo.  Yes, everyone takes it.
You can see why!
The water was rough that morn.  We were really glad we weren't the tourists who must've paid dearly to get rocked at rolled in the surf that day in their glass-bottomed tour boat.  Not only that, they didn't get to walk the beach, or pass under the famed Cathedral Cove arch.

This gargantuan rock spike at Cathedral Cove
reminded me of a fat giant thumb.
Hot Sand Beach may get more visitors (700,000 annually) than Cathedral Cove's 150,000, but we wish we'd skipped sunset at Hot Sand Beach and instead gone to Cathedral Cove.  It would've put us there at a lower tide, with sunnier skies.

Cathedral Cove's far point.  I loved its varied
colors and textures.
Ah well.  It didn't rain, and the overall Coromandel Peninsula is definitely on our list of places to spend more time, if we're fortunate enough to return to New Zealand.

The small Cathedral Cove trailhead parking lot,
mostly blocked off.










Location Location
We're still in New Zealand, in Bay of Islands waiting for a better weather window to our first major stop - Fiji.  Once we clear New Zealand customs (probably May 10th, from Opua, Bay of Islands - where we first arrived in New Zealand in November) and set sail, it will take us nearly two weeks to get to Fiji,  at 1170 nm, our 2nd longest ever passage.   

Wayne and I took an alternate spur trail
back to Cathedral Cove's trailhead.
Wow - amazing how different and GREEN!
Sailing by the Numbers
Last year, between December 2014 and November 2015 we sailed from Florida USA to New Zealand, over 10,000 miles.  This year, from Fiji, we’ll go to Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Australia.  After we arrive in Australia in around November, completing another 4,500 or so miles this cruising season, we plan to sell our boat.  Then, it's back to work, somewhere.  Wayne and I took a different trail spur back.  Very different terrain!