Do you recall a time when you saw a beautiful image and just knew you had to travel there? An image that was enough to make you want to shell out a ton of money just so you could see it for yourself?
This happened to me in late 2015 when I decided to travel to New Zealand to see Cathedral Cove (Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve).
I had recently returned from Europe and a 15 month working holiday in London, so planning a trip anywhere wasn’t really on the cards. But one afternoon in July 2015, I was scrolling through Instagram (as you do) and I saw one of the most stunning images I’ve ever seen of a place called Cathedral Cove, which is located within the Coromandel Peninsula on New Zealand’s North Island.
The Instagram image I saw featured the well-known rock structure of the Cove with a beach behind it, just as it appears in real life. It was true paradise right there on my social media feed, and as an Australian I knew that I had waited 30 years too long to visit our sister country. So, I booked a 10 day trip with my parents and grandmother, so I could see as much of New Zealand as possible. But we all know what I was most excited about!
What Is Cathedral Cove?
Cathedral Cove is the major attraction within the Coromandel Peninsula region.
Situated right within Hahei Beach and surrounds on the north-eastern end of the North Island, Cathedral Cove sits right on the coast within the Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve, and is a large rock structure that visitors can walk though. Aside from the Cove itself, there are other coastal gems right here, and within a 15 minute drive of this area, making it one of the must-do’s in New Zealand. The reserve actually restricts all recreational and commercial fishing, which means marine life and plants are protected here and on show for all visitors to enjoy.
When we travelled to New Zealand the weather had been pretty good for November. Leading up to the Summer months, we knew we would have some beautiful days. When we arrived in Auckland it has been a little rainy in the evening, but the forecast for our 3 hour drive to the Coromandel the following morning was set to be picture perfect. (Which was lucky because the day after this was also set for some cloudy skies.)
It was like a higher power knew that we required sun and blue skies for this very experience – the one place we were most excited to see and the whole reason I had made the trek across there in the first place. We had one day only here, and it would be as perfect as I wished it to be, since I first saw it on Instagram.
Getting To Cathedral Cove
Cathedral Cove requires a car. We drove in from Auckland which was about 2.5 hours drive and was relatively easy.
Cathedral Cove was located right near our accommodation which was very handy as well. We stayed at the awesome Tatahi Lodge Beach Resort, which gave us our own modern cabin, with a kitchen, living area and 3 beds. A short drive from Tatahi Lodge to the parking lot of Cathedral Cove had us right within the views of this beautiful Peninsula. If you’re traveling here, this is the place to stay.
To do the Cathedral Cove walk, it is approx. 90-minutes round trip. If you find walking tedious and can’t manage stairways then this isn’t something you’ll manage to do easily. The majority of the walk is flat with some elevations but to get to the stops and the beach on Cathedral Cove, you will need to walk down a number of stairs and then back up them. 45 minutes can be a tough walk for those who aren’t used to it though.
All up we spent at least 3 hours here by the time we saw everything, took our photos and enjoyed Cathedral Cove. If you plan on visiting, make sure you arrive there to begin the walk before 2pm, as the light will shift and everything will be far too dark if the sun starts to set before you get to the Cove. We arrived at around 1pm.
My grandmother, who is in her 80s walked along about 3/4 of the walkway and then sat and enjoyed the views, whilst my parents and I walked down to Cathedral Cove. This was fine for her because the views were stunning no matter where you were. The one thing I did notice though was how so many people walked past the various stops along the way, because all they cared about was seeing Cathedral Cove. That is a big mistake.
These stops only made me love this walk even more, and I am so glad my dad and I made the decision to go down the stairways so we could enjoy them. Because not many actually did which was a massive shame as they weren’t that hard to get to.
The Cathedral Cove Walk
Gemstone Bay is a beautiful stop. We saw a number of kayakers enjoying the bay, as they rested on the rocks besides us taking in all the views. It was such a beautiful area.
The reason this is named Gemstone Bay is pretty easy to understand once you are standing there. All of the rocks below the water’s surface certainly glisten when you look at them shining through on a sunny day, which really do remind you of gemstones. It is just stunning.
I did film a short video of my visit to Gemstone Bay, which you can find here.
Stingray Bay is just as beautiful as Gemstone Bay, but it is far more accessible and larger. Stingray Bay is named this because, well there are stingrays here. We saw them in the shallows when we were standing on the shore which was really lovely.
There were also people snorkelling off a boat that was in the bay too, which would have been a memorable swimming trip. Though, after Steve Irwin’s death at the hands of a Stringray I can’t say that i’d jump at the chance to swim with them!
Stingray Bay has had some recent issues with some rock falls; but as far as I know, the stairway that leads down here is still open because it is not near the impact zone. Given, it is a large bay with a beach, this is definitely one place to stop, and my video of what it’s like shouldn’t have to twist your arm very much. You can view it here.
The last stop on the Cathedral Cove walk is the biggest highlight.
When I finally made it here, I was in awe. It was everything I wanted it to be and more. At around 3pm, it wasn’t too busy but there was a continuous stream of arrivals as I spent about an hour taking photos and just enjoying the scenery on both sides of the Cove.
Cathedral Cove is well worth the 45 minute walk as you can see. The photos and the video, like this here should highlight why a simple Instagram post made me book a 2 week trip to New Zealand. I was in no way disappointed with this trip.
A Bonus Highlight
Hot Water Beach
One attraction that was an unexpected highlight during our visit to the Coromandel Peninsula was the Hot Water Beach.
Our hosts at Tatahi Lodge advised us to go after we were finished with Cathedral Cove as we would still have some time with the daylight if we arrived around 5pm. Our cabin even provided us with a shovel to take to the beach, which was awesome because we would have had to hire a shovel if not.
The key to enjoying this experience is to visit 2 hours either side of low tide. Low tide is when the waves are crashing on the shore, but not within the area that Hot Water Beach thermal pools are located. The thermal pools vary in temperature, with some mildly warm to so boiling hot (up to 64 degrees celsius) that you can’t even touch them. Most people who are there will tell you which ones those are though, at least that’s how it was when we were there. You will need to shovel around you to find the warmer areas, but once you do boy, is it nice.
The thermal pools are really relaxing to sit in. But the ambience here also makes it what it is too. The steam is everywhere, and just sitting and watching it billow around you makes for a very therapeutic experience. I did find it really odd that we were on a beach sitting in hot spring temperatures though.
We relaxed at Hot Water Beach for about an hour. It was cooling off in the evening as the sun was setting, but being in the warm water was just like being wrapped in a fleece blanket. If I went back, I would have arrived a little earlier, because getting a little more sunlight would have been more ideal. But this was certainly a bucket list moment that’s for sure!
If all of this doesn’t make you want to visit the Coromandel Peninsula, I am not sure what will.
But for me? A simple Instagram post is all it took to get me here and I am so thankful for that.
Maybe this very post will be the Instagram equivalent that you need to get here too?