In hot water
You can't really come to New Zealand without encountering thermal activity, and in the north it's almost impossible to miss it.
Crowds gather on Hot Water Beach
We spent yesterday dodging showers in Rotorua and today as we passed through the town on our way north we were able to visit Kuirau Park, a large public park dotted with bubbling pools and steaming vents. As we wandered around we came across a pop up street food market, and then a public foot spa which we just had to sample.
The water is drawn from a nearby hot pool and is regulated to hot bath temperature. We were told it offers miracle cures, which put me in mind of the Pool of Bethesda in the Bible, but sadly our various ailments remain. Maybe we needed full immersion rather than a paddle, but that panders to my Baptist roots.
Kuirau Park in Rotorua
Our day's travels took us through Tauranga where, by some strange coincidence, we found ourselves stopping for coffee at exactly the same garden centre we stopped at two days previously! From Tauranga we rejoined State Highway 2 which has rapidly become my least favourite road on the island. Traffic is incessant and to be honest the camper van can't quite keep up with the flow, so we had to pull in frequently which was all a bit nerve wracking.
At Waihi we finally turned off onto SH25, a very winding but much less travelled road which runs up the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsular, zipping back and forth through modest hills and sleepy inlets. Don't expect to get anywhere fast in this area but it's a dream to drive and probably even better on a motorcycle.
Dig your own thermal spa on Hot Water Beach
Our destination was Hot Water Beach and its Top 10 campsite. The beach gets its name from hot water springs which emerge from fissures in the rock and exit through the sands of the beach. These are accessible for two hours either side of low water. With the help of a spade rented from the campsite we quickly dug a hole just above the waves and it immediately filled with hot water. The sand is uncomfortably hot if you let your feet sink in too far, but providing you keep on the surface, you can dig a shallow puddle of steaming water in which you can wallow.
A 'don't drop it' selfie
We were next to the waves so from one angle you would think we sat luxuriating in our pool in glorious isolation. Sadly, such is its fame, the beach was closer to the Somme with hundreds of visitors battling it out to build and occupy their own personal pool!
To be fair, the crowds did little to undermine what was a very pleasant, if somewhat surreal, experience, and one not to be missed.