December 8, 2012
It rains heavily during the night, and in the morning we just manage to run for shelter with our tent half packed up before another downpour soaks everything. Christof changes my tire again, saying that it’s losing air because the patches we bought at Walmart don’t hold properly. He discovers that his handlebar is broken, again. Now the other bolt is threadbare and stripped. Whitianga has a bike shop and he buys two stems, a new one, which he promptly installs, and a used one he stores away for future eventualities. While he’s working, I nip over to tourist information and buy him a Christmas present, a brown covered guide book printed on used paper and illustrated with simple ink drawings about cycling on the South Island. At midday we cross the harbor in a passenger ferry. This three minute ride saves us twenty kilometers. We meander along the coast enjoying the scenery and Cooks Beach, which has amazing aqua-colored water too cold to swim in, and ride through neighborhoods of deserted holiday homes.
At Hahei, another incredible beach and the starting point for an one-and-a-half hour hike to Cathedral Cove, a must-see natural attraction of rocks reminiscent of a cathedral, we lunch in a café that has a wide range of homemade casseroles and freshly baked goods. We try to figure out how to do the hike without having our bicycles and luggage stolen while we are gone. Signs posted everywhere warn visitors to:
– Lock it or Lose it!
Not willing to chance it, we continue up and down steep deserted hills, passing a pretty girl pulling a trolley in the middle of nowhere. Wondering what she is doing here, we watch her hitch a ride with the first car that passes. She is gone long before we reach the top of the hill.
At Hot Water Beach we set up camp in a gigantic Holiday Park catering to tourists arriving in cars, camper vans and buses. We cook our dinner in an oversized kitchen, with twenty other people and eat at one of the picnic tables set up in a high ceilinged hallway, equipped with wifi and a massive TV where children watch cartoons with the volume tuned on high. There are picnic tables outside on a stone patio, but it’s too chilly to sit out there comfortably. In the bathroom, sandy, wet Chinese girls, shivering from cold, push and shove each other, giggling and make a deafening, raucous noise while waiting for the showers. The bathroom is dirty and sand-strewn when they are finished.
We rent a shovel for $5 at the camp store where we bought milk, eggs, cheese and bread for supper. A long wooden board- walk traverses the marshes, and we arrive at the beach just as the tide is receding, the best time to experience the underground hot water springs. Groups of children and adults from all parts of the world are energetically digging holes or stretching out in warm water pools. We throw ourselves into the fray, enthusiastically digging a pool which quickly fills with ice cold water.
Talking to people already basking in hot water, we learn that you have to find a ‘hotspot’ before starting a hole. We skid around in the cold wet sand, feeling the temperature differences with our bare feet, and are surprised at the ease with which we find hotspots, once we know what to look for. This time we dig a pool in warm sand and are thrilled to feel hot water gushing up out of the three hot springs that feed our pool. The water is boiling hot and to avoid getting burnt we stand away from the springs. I’ve just taken off my jacket and am ready to ease into our newly created bathtub, when the water disappears. A group of English lads digging a pool just below us drain out the water. Initial annoyance melts when I get the idea of suggesting a joint-venture. Soon we’re all soaking companionably in one giant hot tub, occasionally dipping into the ocean to cool off.
Tonight is a clear star-studded evening, the first since we arrived in New Zealand. I find Orion’s Belt – an old familiar – although it’s upside down and in the wrong place, but can’t spot the Southern Cross.