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Midnight at Hot Water Beach


Hot Water Beach on the Coramandel Coast of New Zealand is exactly what you’d think it is. It’s a beach with hot water springs running under it. For a few hours of each day at low tide, you can dig pits in the sand, release the springs, letting the hot water mingle with the cool sea water and have a home made mineral bath. My experience of the beach was a little different to most…..

‘Oh come on, it’ll be romantic’ insisted Rob, lugging me and the shovel towards the car.
‘Hmph. Probably be full of other ejits with the same idea’ I responded, womanfully refusing to give in to the full moon, the sprinkling of stars or the general romance of midnight beach bathing.
It wasn’t only that I resented being dragged from my (very comfortable) bed at 1.a.m , I was cross because it was all my own stupid fault.

We’d gone to try and experience the Hot Water Beach that afternoon. What with it being Easter Sunday the beach was packed, and the spots where you can dig down to get at the hot springs were already full of home made hot pools which were full of the people who’d made them. We dug around for a bit disconsolately but there was no way we were going to get anything other than cold and sandy.

‘Ah well, ‘ I joked, ‘we can always come back for the 2 am low tide’.
‘Right -ho’ said Rob, and the date was set.

Of course, like most ideas you have on the spur of the moment about a future event (you know, inviting the in-laws to dinner, decorating the living room) when the time came for action I was less enthusiastic.  It was cold, it was dark and it was past my bedtime. But Rob managed to bundle me into the car despite my protests and we arrived at the beach car park half an hour later.

Unlike earlier, it was empty other than a few camper vans. The moon was bright enough to see by, so we headed off across the sand to the place of the springs clutching spade, sarongs, sandals and fleeces. Sinking into the sand and stumbling along in Rob’s wake I fell into a couple of randomly dug holes – then I realized that they had been dug in more or less a straight line from car park end of the beach. Curiouser and curiouser as Alice said. Having realized that, it was easy to avoid them, and I was concentrating on that when I tripped over a pile of material randomly left on the beach. Cursing mildly I untangled my legs and doing a quick sprint step managed to catch up with Rob just as two figures loomed out of the gloom in front of him.

Digging in the dark

The smaller one appeared to be clutching a large red plastic bucket.
“Hello’ it said ‘do you know where you’re supposed to dig to find these hot water things?’
“and did you see any clothes on your way here?’ asked the taller shadow.
Rob admitted that we were indeed privy to the secret of where to dig and I remembered the cloth I’d stumbled over – and the holes I’d fallen into!
The Austrian girl rushed back off along the beach to reclaim her clothes and the American girl came to survey the correct spot with us.

Sadly, it was still under water. Turns out that the tide wasn’t as low as we expected it to be. Short of holding back the sea (which has a long and honorable tradition of failure) there was nothing to be done but wait to see if the tide got lower. And while waiting, there was nothing to do but get acquainted. Turns out the two girls had met two weeks ago, decided they were going to travel together and jointly bought an ambulance. Yes, an ambulance. Converted into a sort of campervan with a couple of beds, a stove and a sink and called “Doc Holiday’ – what else? They’d been touring round the North Island and got into Whitianga at 5pm – too late for the afternoon low tide. They were planning to move on the next day so decided to catch the midnight showing.

As we waited a sweep of car headlights came across the beach, shortly followed by two flickering torch beams. More midnight hot pool seekers.

‘I told you so’ I mouthed at Rob. He grinned and shrugged. The new comers were a motley crew – clutching a motlier assortment of digging implements. – frying pans, a saucepan and a couple of cereal bowls.

By now the sea level had gone down a bit – and we decided it wasn’t going to go down much further. As a dread-locked Ozzy newcomer informed us, what with it being full moon the tides were higher than usual. He looked like the healthy out doors spiritual sort who’d know about moons and things so we stopped waiting and getting cold and all set too with a will. A flurry of frenetic digging and scraping began. Saucepans flew and frying pans scooped, spades shoveled and hands and feet all got stuck in. The trouble with trying to dig out holes in the sand on a hot beach with the waves coming in is that your holes fill in as quickly as they get dug out. Luckily we had some budding engineers who quickly created sand barricades to try and keep back the encroaching waves.  But it wasn’t easy – especially as when you do hit the hot springs the water is scalding and you have to watch for burns. Somehow, with a lot of jumping about from foot to foot, a great deal of splashing and sand getting everywhere we succeeded in scooping out a small pool. The later arriving gang were building a pool next to us but they weren’t doing so well until we lent them a spade. We were making do with the red bucket for a while. I actually thought the bucket would have been good, but you scoop out as much water as sand, emptying out the warm water you have spent all the energy trying to bring in….

Still, we persevered and eventually ended up with a walled shallow pool.

Well, that was (probably) worth it..

We’d just got in to enjoy the fruits of our labors when yet more arrivals appeared. They were scarily well equipped, carrying a spade apiece, an enormous number of fluffy towels and a storm lantern. I have no idea what was in their back packs and I’m not sure I want to know…They marched by and began to dig with military precision in a place further down the beach. In no time at all they had constructed a marvelous pool. We watched open mouthed from our wallowing place. I have to say, at this point, that wallowing on a beach in hot pools in the middle of the night is a fun, if sandy experience. A bit cold, but if you burrow down into the sand (carefully, mind, to avoid third degree burns) you can get at least half of you toasty warm.

By now, the gang in the next-door construction site had realized that their pool wasn’t warm and were contemplating digging a trench into ours to steal our water. Rather than having open warfare break out on the beach we embraced the spirit of international co-operation and invited them all into our pool. It was a trifle crowded with 11 people (representing 8 nationalities) but Rob’s face when the girls all decided that skinny dipping was way more fun more than made up for it!  As they merrily stripped off and massaged sand into each other in the interests of exfoliation a couple of the lads headed over to see how the precision diggers were doing.
‘Surely they’re digging in the wrong place’ I commented, but suspicious wisps of steam were rising in their vicinity.

The lads came back with interesting news.

‘Turns out that there are two places the hot water comes out and it is 64 degrees over here and 60 degrees over there.’ we were informed in soft Irish brogue ‘Their pool is great’ he added enviously.

‘Will they share?’

‘Doubt it. They’re very territorial. German’

Everybody made ‘ooo that explains it noises’ much to the disgust of the Canadian.

‘That’s right’ she exploded ‘let’s all be racist’. Wonderfully fair minded and unbiased people, the Canadians – never the sorts to indulge in racial stereotyping.

The two lads hopped back in and it really did get too crowded – there is only so close I like to be to naked strangers – however they well they sing!

So, having experienced the Hot Water Beach we left them to their naked frolicking and I got to go back to my comfy bed – after a very long shower. Amazing the places sand gets into…….

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