Wednesday, July 17, 2013

In Hot Water at Cook's Beach

The only other person on the beach. Truly!
After a light breakfast in the morning, Michele and I went for a walk down to the beach in the Te Whanganui a Hei Marine Reserve which covers the coastline here at Cook's Beach, the town. It is here that in 1769, Captain Cook set foot on the shores of Mercury Bay. It is here that in 2013, we set foot on a beach that had nearly the same number of people upon it as that day. As far as we could see, at 9 AM, it was us and one strolling old fellow. It grew to a total of perhaps a dozen by the time we were done with our walk, but I've never seen a beach so uncrowded in all my travels. Heavenly!

In case you thought I was fibbing
The upside to having a few more people on the beach was the nice conversation we struck up with an older woman watching her grandchildren frolic in the surf. Perhaps 15 minutes were spent discussing the beauty of this beach in particular, beaches in general, the enjoyment to be derived there, and what wonderful things grandchildren are. Some things are universal, no matter where you travel.

We continued on to the Purangi (it may mean estuary) at the end of the beach, then made our return trip through town, checking out the beach homes and surveying the shops and restaurants available. It being winter, they seemed to have a slightly casual attitude about hours of operation.

Whitianga Harbor
Back to the beach house, we found that others in our party had dispersed on their own beach walks, so we waited around a while until we could all gather again, then we drove down to the FlatMill landing and got on the ferry over to Whitianga. Whitianga's stores and eateries seemed a bit more serious about things, and it was much like coastal tourist towns anywhere, with some great souvenir shops, cafes, bakeries, and most important for our purposes, a supermarket set a couple of blocks off the main drag. Vinnie and Karen had volunteered to make dinner, so they busily gathered the right ingredients for Belgian spaghetti. We all stopped at a bakery and took the opportunity to sample some more meat pies. My steak & pepper pie was pretty good, and washed down well with a ginger beer.

One odd thought. Stu and Liz have a fair collection of National Geographic magazines here at the beach house. I was perusing one this morning, and it struck me as slightly ironic to be reading National Geographic sitting in a place one has read about in National Geographic.

Looking back toward Mercury Bay from Whitianga
Our town trip ran a bit longer than planned, so we decided to postpone the planned excursion to Cathedral Cove, but Vinnie and I and Michele wanted to still go down to Hot Beach at low tide. I had calculated roughly that it should be around 6 PM, but when we got down there around 4:30, it turned out that a) it wasn't until 7:30 and b) the shovel rental folks had closed their shop for the winter. At Hot Beach, at low tide, one digs a hole in the sand in a particular area and allows the natural hot springs there to fill your pool with steaming hot water to soak in. The vile and cruel folks at the shovel shop not only shut down, but they had the audacity to display their full bin of shovels just inside the glass front doors of the shuttered building. I walked across the road to the Moko Art Space gallery to ask a few questions, and its lovely proprietress, Sonya, was kind enough to hire us a shovel of her own (she lives above the gallery) and just asked that we leave it by the front door when we were done. So, we hid the shovel in the shrubbery by her car park, went back to the beach house where Vinnie and Karen prepared a tasty and satisfying meal for us all, then around 6:15, the three intrepid excavators returned to the beach, in the dark.

Hot Water Beach after dark
Fortunately, I had packed my headlamp and a couple of mini LED torches in the suitcase, so we were able to make our way with minimal stumbling down across the beach to the hot water area, where there was a rather large group of folks with the same crazy idea. We found ourselves a spot where the sands were hot, and dug like madmen. Eureka! The rumours were true, and we soon had a hole in which we could soak our weary legs and feet, if not one truly deep enough to soak whole bodies in. That would have required more beefy diggers and shovels, most likely. We spent an hour or so fighting the encroaching sea and silting sands, keeping toes warm and watching the moonlit seascape before we headed back across the sands to our waiting chariot, left our rented shovel on our benefactor's doorstep, and whisked home again. A truly novel experience.

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