COROMANDEL (New Zealand), June 9 — Vacationing on a budget can be tremendous fun. There’s the thrill of finding a good deal. The small pleasures that money can’t buy, such as another picnicker offering you some of their food or a host that tells the strangest, best stories.
And when we are travelling in New Zealand, where the natural wonders are aplenty, there is certainly enough to see and marvel at. All out in the open, and for nary a penny.
Still, after many days of hard driving, one does crave for some luxuries. A thick terry cloth robe, plush and comforting. An indulgent high tea where one can linger for hours over fine brews and delicate finger sandwiches.
Maybe all we need is simply a long, unhurried soak in a hot pool, preferably the bubbly sort. Outdoors, where one can enjoy the breeze. Ah, but that’s for a different sort of holiday, the type at an island resort.
Who says we have to wait, though?
Leaving Cathedral Cove, where we woke early before sunrise, we drove south-east. Barely a quarter of an hour later, we arrived at Hot Water Beach.
Underground geothermal springs abound here. Dig into the sand, provided it’s within two hours either side of low tide, and hot water escapes to the surface. As hot as 64°C, which is hotter than any onsen.
You could dig your own private hot pool right on the beach.
Apparently during peak months the entire place is swamped with tourists digging up a bloody mess.
Today there are but two groups at this task: a quartet of young men digging a deep well closer to the water; and a pair of married couples, retirees judging by their banter, closer inland.
Neither group is particularly successful.
We contemplate joining in and digging our own pool but we don’t have the right tools. The boys are using spades and shovels; the retirees - actually just one of the men as his wife and the other couple look on, encouraging him with their laughter - only bare hands.
The retirees invite us to jump in and try their now wide wading pool. The water is disappointingly cool. 'It doesn’t get hotter than that, I’m afraid,” our host admits.
One of the boys comes over for a chat. He reveals that certain spots along the shoreline are hotter, just beneath the waves. We’d just have to find them, he whispers.
So we do. And with some luck, we find the right spots. The water, as the name of the beach implies, is indeed hot.
Digging our toes into the sand, we discover that Oh! the water is very fine indeed...
This, then, is the best spot for digging. After a few minutes of determined efforts, hot water starts bubbling up from the thermal springs beneath the beach. We have our own (not so) private hot pool at last!
Here we can soak until it’s time to leave. It might look rather like a mess with the entire beach dotted irregularly with man-made pools, but when the tide comes later, everything will be smoothed out and there won't be any trace of all the hard work put in.
We hear shrieks as the waves come in, crashing. The beachgoers are like children in a candy store. Everyone is having so much fun.
It’s silly fun, true, but fun nonetheless. In a world subsumed by uncertainty and chaos, every bit of joy, however miniscule, counts for something.
Let us all find our own bliss.
Besides the hot pools, surfing is another popular activity at Hot Water Beach thanks to moderate easterly swells. Fewer than half a dozen surfers are out today but they are a fantastic sight, so graceful and daring.
Swimming, however, can still be a challenging affair, due to strong undertows and dangerous rips. Proceed with caution. That rolling surf is beautiful but treacherous too.
As we dust off the grains of sand from our shorts and get ready to leave the beach, we spot the trio of boys chatting in the distance. No longer busy digging, they are deservedly basking in the glow of a job well done.
Why weren’t they soaking in the hard-earned warmth of their new hot water pools though?
Closer inspection reveals that enough time has passed that it’s high tide now. The hot springs are under water!
Ah, well. Better luck next time. Another day, another pool to dig. And so it goes, as with life, everything ebbs and flows in its own way, according to its own rhythm.
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