A Beginner’s Guide to Cathedral Cove

May 3

Feature photo Source 

Just southeast of Auckland, sticking 100km into the Pacific Ocean, there’s a magical piece of land which has captured the hearts of many. On a clear day, the Coromandel Peninsula is visible from the big smoke, but the fuzzy blur on the horizon doesn’t do it any justice. With beautiful beaches, crystal clear waters and laid back little towns, the Coromandel Peninsula (or the Coromandel), is one of the most popular playgrounds in the North Island of New Zealand.

For most, summers in the Coromandel spell out long lazy days, late sunsets and locally-loved woodfire pizza joints with hard-earned reputations. It’s the kind of place where one day quickly becomes five, and you forget how to do things in a rush.

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How big is the Coromandel?

The peninsula is about 30km wide for most of its length, and 892 meters at its highest point at the top of Moehau Mountain. To circumnavigate by road, it’s about 200 kilometers.

What is the Coromandel known for?

Come summer, the Coromandel it’s full of Kiwis doing what they do best: kicking back. It’s a place of ice cream, t-shirt tans, campsites that quickly become homes, and long afternoons playing cricket on the beach and cooking food outside. It’s known for its beaches, but the peninsula is also covered with hills and native New Zealand rainforest, with walking tracks that snake their way up for world class views.

It’s not just the locals that love the Coromandel Peninsula, and anybody who’s typed it into Google will be familiar with its most photographed spot: Cathedral Cove. Adored by beach lovers and Instagrammers alike, this gorgeous, golden sand beach is reachable only by foot, boat or kayak. We reckon it adds to the charm, and it doesn’t seem to put anyone off making the trip to visit Cathedral Cove.

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Why is it called Cathedral Cove?

Cathedral Cove is named for the regal, cavernous rock structure that arches over the beach and joins its two little coves – you can’t miss it. The huge cave makes for brilliant echoes, sought after silhouette shots and (naturally), Cathedral Cove is one of the most popular spots in the country to tie the knot. Just off the shore of Cathedral Cove, Te Hoho, a wind and rain-sculpted pumice rock formation, looks like the bow of a ship approaching the shore.

With the water temperature in summer just delicious, and the back of the beach shaded by native Pohutukawa trees, Cathedral Cove is a perfect spot to park up for the day – chill, read, play beachball, find a stingray to snorkel with, dust off your mankini. You know the drill.

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Where is Cathedral Cove located?

Cathedral Cove is close to Hahei Beach, a popular Coromandel holiday spot in Mercury Bay on the eastern side of the peninsula. You can’t drive to Cathedral Cove, and the fact that everyone has had to schlep their towels, picnics and sunblock by foot or by boat to get there makes it all the more special. It gives it an almost desert island feel. Almost. If you ignore the iPhones, Cathedral Cove brides and aforementioned mankinis.

If the Cathedral Cove walk isn’t spinning your wheels, you can always approach by sea, whether that’s by water taxi, glass bottom boat or one of the popular kayak tours offered from Hahei. The kayak tours cost up from $120 per person, offer half or full day options, and usually involve docking for cookies and hot chocolates at Cathedral Cove. A water taxi from Hahei usually costs around $15 per person. It’s a good option if the track is too muddy or you prefer the views from the ocean side.

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Cathedral Cove is part of the Te Whanganui-A-Hei marine reserve, one of the few in New Zealand, and its clear waters are filled with beautiful sponge gardens, schools of fish, crazy reef formations and the odd stingray. The marine reserve was established in 1992, which means the marine life have had plenty of time to do their thing uninterrupted, so the snorkeling and scuba diving is unreal. There’s even a snorkel trail which starts in Gemstone Bay (10 minutes from the start of the Cathedral Cove track) and follows the coast up to Stingray Bay and Cathedral Cove. Or, if you want the world of Te Whanganui-A-Hei at your feet, jump on a glass bottom boat tour from Whitianga. A tour guide will talk you through both the marine life and the history of the beautiful volcanic rock formations and sea caves that make up the peninsula.

How long does it take to walk to Cathedral Cove?

There are a couple of options for the Cathedral Cove walk from Hahei. From the northern end of Hahei beach, there’s a clifftop walking track that takes about an hour each way. If you fancy a slightly shorter track or your picnic bag is on the heavier side, the most popular start of the walk to Cathedral Cove is from the carpark at the top of Grange Road, just up from the main shops in Hahei.

From this top carpark, the 2.5 km Cathedral Cove Track is about a 45 minute walk, swinging past Gemstone Bay and Stingray Bay along the way. Don’t be tempted to rush past in your haste to get to Cathedral Cove – Stingray Bay boasts glorious limestone cliffs and they both have incredible snorkeling.

One important thing to know before you go: only part of the Cathedral Cove walk is wheelchair and stroller friendly, and there are steep stairs leading down to the beach. Beachgoers can get picked up and dropped off by a shuttle bus at the top visitor car park on Grange Road, as there’s no parking during the summer. Parking is available at the car park down by the Hahei shops, and the most popular option is the Cathedral Cove Park n Ride, which goes from the Hahei Visitor car park on the right as you enter the little town, where more car parking is available.

Quick words to the wise: visit Cathedral Cove around low tide, as the famous archway floods at high tide so there’ll be no venturing round to the next bay. Also, bring plenty of food and water, as there are no vendors at or around Cathedral Cove.

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How do I get from Auckland to Hahei?

The most popular way to get from to Hahei from the city is to hire a car. This way, you can make a road trip out of it, stopping for every snack break, photo op and nature pee that beckons. If you manage to secure your own wheels, make sure to visit Hot Water Beach while you’re in the area, where you can dig through the sand into hot thermal waters, sit and watch the pounding surf from your very own spa pool.

If hiring your own car isn’t an option, and you want to make a beeline for Hahei Beach and Cathedral Cove, jump on the bus. The Coromandel shuttle bus is a great option, and can drop you right in the middle of Hahei, or even better, at the Cathedral Cove Park n Ride car park.

How far is Hahei from Auckland?

It takes about 2 and a half hours in the car, or 4 hours on the bus. Or, you could set sail (okay, engine) on the ferry.

How long is the ferry from Auckland to the Coromandel?

The ferry is a 2 hour cruise through the Hauraki Gulf to Hannafords Wharf, which is close to Coromandel Town. From Coromandel town, you’ve got easy access by shuttle to all the beaches, including Hahei and Cathedral Cove.

How do I get from Wellington to the Coromandel?

It’s quite a long journey to Cathedral Cove from the capital. Worth it, though. The best way is either to stock up on snacks and podcasts and drive (it’s about 8 hours) or save some time and travel by plane up north to AK and then drive or bus down.

How do you get around the Coromandel?

We reckon the best way to travel around the Coromandel is to drive (apart from Cathedral Cove, obviously – you’ve got to earn that one) . Everything is fairly close which means you’re never driving for long, and you can stop off at anything that tickles your fancy along the way. Hitchhiking always makes for a good story, helps to save some coin and the people are friendly in New Zealand, but it’s a roll of the dice all the same; Option A should definitely a rental car.

How long is Hahei beach?

Hahei is a charming stretch of coastline, boasting a couple of kilometers of beach which owes its pinky golden hues to sand made up of tiny crushed fragments of seashells.

How long does it take to drive around the Coromandel Peninsula?

It’s about 200km round trip around the Coromandel Peninsula, and, for a decent road trip, you’d want to leave yourself at least a few days. There’s no point rushing through paradise, after all.

This is one of the most popular spots in New Zealand, so to avoid the crowds, visit in spring or autumn (or the endless summer, as it’s known locally). And, just before you go – remember to check the tide!


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