Kayaking in The Coromandel

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Cathedral Cove Kayaking

After an early morning flight to Auckland and a quick breakfast it was finally time to head east for the weekend to kick back and soak up some sun. It was a spontaneous decision to fly up but with cheap flights on our side and hot weather forecasted all weekend, it was an easy one to make.

To begin our adventure we set off early Saturday morning and cruised up the east coast of The Coromandel, stopping first at Hot Water Beach. We didn’t really know what to expect but being rated one of New Zealand’s most visited beaches we knew we had to check it out. Lucky for us we timed it perfectly, catching the peak of low tide we arrived to find a truly unique site.  Steam was rising through the sand, as water was bubbling to the surface. People of all ages were bathing in hot pools dug out of the sand, which covered metres of the beach.  Temperatures were as high as 64 degrees in some spots, which seemed remarkable to think, as the cool waves from the ocean were only footsteps away. But in this case nature really did cater for all, as the temperatures of the water ranged significantly, which meant one could really relax and enjoy a natural experience while soaking up the minerals.

However as high tide swept in and our pools began to disappear it meant it was time to pack up our spades and continue on to Hahei for an afternoon of kayaking with Mike and his team at Cathedral Cove Kayaks. We couldn’t have asked for a better day, the beach was idyllic; there was barely a soul in sight and the blue sea glistened as it washed up on to the beach. The weather and the sea conditions were close to perfect.

Hahei had a sense of ease about it, almost as though time slowed down once we arrived. The locals were very friendly to say the least, and the town, although a popular spot for many domestic and international tourists all year round, positively maintained its rustic charm.

It was fair to say I had no idea how to kayak before this trip, which made me slightly apprehensive but as it turned out I wasn’t the only one.  The trip caters for all levels of experience; safety isn’t an issue as the guide tags along at the back with frequent stops to tell a tale or two.

Hayden was our guide for the day and he’s pretty much everything you’d expect from a local ‘Coro’ boy. Shaggy, sun bleached hair, straw hat and a nice tan help him blend into the natural surroundings that’s kept him at Cathedral Cove Kayaks for years. His relaxed demeanor couldn’t mask his passion for the area. Despite years of guiding Hayden really turned it on when talking about the history, bringing the landscape to life with Maori legends.

The waters we were kayaking are known as Mercury Bay, which are known in Maori as Te Whanganui-A-Hei (the Great Bay of Hei). A line of islands straddles the entrance of the bay each telling their own story. One of the larger islands just off the coast of Hahei is well known in the area for its remarkable resemblance of a nose.  According to ancient traditions Hei an early Maori settler to the area proclaimed ownership around the bay by naming that very island "Te Kuraetanga-o-taku-Ihu” which translates into the outward curve of my nose.

It is easy to see how anyone would be lured into the shores of Mercury Bay. Pohutukawa trees (the native New Zealand Christmas tree) fringe the shorelines and sandy white beaches. This reserve opens up a sea kayaking paradise full of beaches, islands and rock gardens that are just waiting to be explored. It was truly remarkable being immersed within this environment; the air was fresh and the ocean was crystal clear making it possible to see the marine life swimming beneath. We paddled over the odd docile stingray, unfortunately our arrival didn’t coincide with the Orca that pass through to feed on them. Everywhere we looked was another postcard moment, thankfully Hayden was snapping away so he could post the pics on their facebook page. 

The “Cathedral Cove Classic” tour is now seen as one of New Zealand’s premier eco-tourism attractions.  As part of the tour we were taken through Mercury Bay’s very own marine reserve, Te Whanganui-A-Hei and educated about its importance. You could almost see a tinge of pride when Hayden explained the impact the reserve has had on the local fishery. Since its establishment in 1992 the abundance of marine life and variety of species have increased dramatically.

Overall we kayaked for roughly three and a half hours, but time on the water just flew by.  We paddled through sea caves; explored volcanic islands within the Marine Reserve and to top it off enjoyed a mocha on the beach at Cathedral Cove. We cruised into Cathedral cove about half way through the trip, for some time to relax on the beach. The Cove was named for its spectacular arched cavern linking it to the next beach, which you can walk through at low tide - a must do. Located a short distance from the beach is Te Hoho Rock, which sits out alone lapping up the water. What sets Cathedral Cove apart from many other beautiful beaches and gives it that exclusive edge is that it is only accessible by foot or boat.

Before we knew it, our afternoon on the water had come to an end as we paddled into Cooks Beach. If this was what every activity in The Coromandel was like, I knew we were in for a good few days. Before checking into Hot Water Beach Holiday Park for the night, we had one last stop. One of the guys in our kayaking group had been raving about these delicious macadamias he had purchased. After a few enquiries we were off on our way to the Cathedral Cove Macadamia Farm, which turned out to be only 10 minutes from Hahei. The owners were fantastic, sharing their story about their escape from Auckland to set up an organic macadamia farm which has resulted in an award winning product. I envy their lifestyle, like Hayden they’re living their dream, if only I could conjure up a plan to settle in Hahei and embrace the aura that surrounds this pristine coastal community.

Cathedral Cove Kayaking has been rated as one of the country’s best sea kayaking tours, and I can definitely see why. Kayaking with such a fun crew and in such an amazing environment was the perfect way to begin our trip. The experience is so much more than the pictures depict, its not until you’re actually out their kayaking on the water that you realize just how spectacular The Coromandel is.

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