Hot Water Beach

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The sign is not kidding.

New Zealand has many, many natural wonders. For me, Hot Water Beach was one of the best. As soon as I read about it I decided it would be on our itinerary. Upon our arrival, we thought we’d spend an hour, maybe two. We were wrong.

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Hot Water Beach is exactly what it sounds like. How water, on the beach. Very, very hot water. At the center of the hotspot, which moves around slowly, the water is hot enough to scald the skin off your feet in an instant. The nifty sign above explains what’s going on – two springs of thermally heated water emerge on the beach. When the tide is high the frigid ocean water keeps things cool, but during low tide the area turns in to a spa.

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My South American tan, gone.

You can see us lying in a dug out pool of hot water, borrowed shovel to the left, pale white skin threatening to burn. The trick is, dig a hole such that you can control how much water is coming in and leaving – the water near the center is boiling, and the water further away is pretty cold. Mix the two just right and your pool will be perfect. I personally prefer it very hot, which often turns into jumping out of the way of a nearly-boiling stream of water.

Since this place is rightfully very popular and people leave all the time, it’s common to wait for a pool to free up and jump in. This is especially useful for those of us who didn’t bring a shovel and didn’t want to rent one. The trowel really doesn’t do much, a small shovel at least is needed to move the sand quickly enough. Switching pools is also really the only way to get hotter water if you’re out on the periphery.

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The beach is a great place to go with friends in groups big and small. It’s hard to make a huge pool, so everyone splits off into smaller groups in the sandy tubs. Despite the large crowd of people, there are plenty of free spots and you rarely have to wait longer than ten or fifteen minutes to grab one. Notice the people-free zone to the right in this photo – the water there is scalding hot.

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The day is not particularly cold, but everyone huddles in the pools of hotspring water like monkeys on a snowy day.

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I am unabashedly one of the huddling people, wanting to soak in the amazingly hot water as long as possible.

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Some people relaxed and lounged on the sand. How they resisted the siren call of hot water I do not know. In the far center back you can see someone repairing their pool. Digging sand out to keep the pool deep and heated is a constant source of amusement and activity at the beach.

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One of the best parts of this beach is the waves. They’re mighty strong, enough to send you flying shoreward if you ride one, or kick you into the water if you’re not paying attention. It’s great to ride the waves until you’re numb – the water is refreshingly cold – and then run over to a hot pool and soak until you’re sweating and ready to cool down again. Swim, soak, repeat.

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As the day wears on and the tide starts to come in, the pools are eaten away and flooded with cold water. At this point, you have to move further up, away from the waves, to keep a warm pool going, and it won’t be as hot as it would have been during the earlier parts of the day.

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Eventually, all the pools are wiped out and flooded. The day of soaking in hot water on the shore is over. Six hours after our arrival we were kicking sand off our feet and driving to the next camp spot.

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A wrinkly adios! My hand was like this for hours.