The perfect trip: New Zealand
The Milford Sound’s waterways are full of staggering scale and beauty. (Pete Seaward)
Steep cascading falls, world famous wine, boutique coffee and a lot more, this beloved Pacific Ocean country has a divers and breathtaking journey ready for the taking.
Coromandel: Best for beaches
It is early morning at Cathedral Cove. All is calm. A bright, aquamarine sea laps lazily at an expanse of pale sand that stretches back to a wall of thick fern forest. High cliffs curve out either side of the beach like great sheltering arms and huge limestone outcrops stand guard by the shore. In the distance, more stacks of green-topped karst dot the seascape, poking out of the water like curious porpoises.
The stark beauty of the scene seems timeless, but this cove was formed over eight million years of water and wind gouging at the soft stone (a volcanic mix of pumice and ash called ignimbrite), and it’s a process that continues today. Coromandel local Mike Grogan spends most days viewing this beach from the water as he leads clusters of brightly coloured kayaks to the cove. ‘The coast is always changing in subtle ways,’ Mike says with a crinkle-eyed smile. ‘When a storm is coming, you know it will be exciting and that things might look a bit different when you arrive the next day.’
As the sun rises higher in the sky, the distinctive thwapping sound of flip-flops can be heard, and visitors and locals alike begin to emerge from the ferns to lay out their towels. This idyllic cove is perhaps the best-known of the beaches that stretch along the Coromandel Peninsula on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, but there are plenty of others to choose from. ‘We’re just spoilt,’ says Mike. ‘There’s such a variety of beaches, and some are so isolated that you could go there 350 days a year and you’d have them all to yourself.’
Just 10 minutes’ drive down the road is one of the most extraordinary beaches in the world. Groups of people in bright bathing suits clamber over reddish rocks brandishing spades hired from a nearby surf shop for £2.50 an hour. They’ve come to dig on a particular stretch of sandy beach to create their own seaside hot spa.
Here, at the rather unimaginatively titled Hot Water Beach, there is an underground channel of hot water that gushes up to the surface when you dig in the sand. The trick is to pick a spot that’s not too far back along the beach, where the water is very hot, but mid-way, allowing the seawater to flow in and mingle with the hot spring water and create the perfect temperature.
As the diggers put the finishing touches to their pools, the sky overhead suddenly darkens. Clouds begin to muster on the horizon and the sea turns from its aquamarine hue to a dark jade. A few cries of dismay go up as people realise that it’s time to head indoors. A storm is coming – maybe a big one – and the evolution of this coastline continues.
Where to eat
A five-minute walk from Hot Water Beach is the stylish Hot Waves Café, with local art on the walls and a selection of light, organic meals such as homemade asparagus quiche and salad, and snacks like raspberry and white chocolate muffins (mains from £6.50; 8 Pye Place; 00 64 7 866 3887).
Where to stay
Located in the town of Hahei between Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach, The Church cottages, separated by bushy greenery, were built with reclaimed timber and modelled on a 1916 Methodist church (now The Church Restaurant) – their wooden floors and arched windows with leadlight accents have a decidedly devotional feel. Cottages range from self-catering to single hotel-style rooms, and there is even a three-bedroom house (studios from £60).
King Country: Best for Maori bush food
Soft hills stretch to the horizon, their sheep-nibbled grass surfaces oddly rumpled as if draped in creased linen. Handsome farmsteads stand among pastures dotted with white, woolly forms, and the only sound is the shushing of a stream curving sweetly across the landscape.