After my first day in New Zealand spent exploring Auckland, I started the new day by sleeping a few extra hours before I hit the road. It was a 2.5 hour drive to the Coromandel Peninsula, in particular to my destination in Whitianga. I had booked my next hotel just the night before on my phone.
I thoroughly enjoyed the wide variety of scenery on this trip and was starting to get the hang of driving on the left side of the road. I arrived at the hotel in the early afternoon, made some coffee — the hotel staff conveniently gave me fresh milk upon check-in — and relaxed a bit before heading back out.
Admiralty Lodge Motel69 Buffalo Beach Road, Whitianga
I loved this place. Massive rooms, free Wi-Fi and super friendly owners that gave me tips about the area. They recognized my Georgia area code (!) and told me about how they used to live there long ago.
Hot Water Beach
Hot Water Beach is a famous geothermal beach situated on Mercury Bay just a 30 minute jaunt from my lodging in Whitianga. Visitors bring shovels and dig large holes to reach the underground hot water near low tide.
By this time I was starving and picked up what the staff at the local cafe recommended: a mincemeat pie. I would later find mince pies throughout New Zealand at just about every cafe. They were always a safe bet if the other food options looked questionable.
From Hot Water Beach I drove just 10 minutes further to reach the highlight of my visit to the Coromandel Peninsula: Cathedral Cove, also known as the Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve.
But first I had to stop for a real meal nearby at The Pour House. I got a ridiculously tasty "Haheian" pizza and a great Kiwi pilsner. It was exactly what I was looking for after a while in the sun.
From the carpark there was 2.5 km trail that took me past beautiful Gemstone Bay and Stingray Bay on the way to Cathedral Cove.
I spotted these silver ferns throughout the trail — and just about everywhere else on the trip. They're the symbol of New Zealand. When the fern frond is curled up it is referred to in Māori culture as Koru and encapsulates the nature of life simultaneously changing and remaining constant.
I made it to Cathedral Cove right around golden hour and stayed there until a striking full moon began to emerge. Unfortunately, high tide came in just as I was arriving so I couldn't venture out too far without getting trapped on the wrong side of the cove.
It was very dark at this point — it only looks somewhat bright in the shots as they're long exposures. I was shooting a quick timelapse when these Japanese photographers that I had been shooting alongside all evening came back to let me know there was a lovely full moon. We couldn't really communicate but they gestured to the other side of the beach and I followed them to take some last shots.
It was around 10pm at this point. With only moon light available and a 30-40 minute hike back to my car, I decided to head back. Fortunately, I had purchased a powerful LED flashlight just for this trip and put it to use here.
As I was hiking back I kept hearing sounds around me. I poked my flashlight beam around intermittently but couldn't spot anything. Needless to say I picked up pace.
A moment later I heard more sounds and immediately looked around to see a pack of possums climbing the trees right next to me and behind me. They paced me for a bit but got annoyed with my flashlight and left me alone.
I made it back to the hotel by 11:30pm or so. After copying my photos and videos to my laptop, I browsed online to see where I wanted to sleep the next night.