There's one major sight on the Coromandel coast which we didn't see on our first visit to the region just after Christmas. Some 7 to 8 million years ago, volcanic activity led to caves being created. Enlarging through erosion, they formed an archway near the little resort of Hahei. Cathedral Cove is undoubtedly the number one crowdpuller in this most northeast part of North Island, and particularly popular with Germans and Japanese.
On the day we go in March we're under heavy competition from these nationalities for the few remaining parking spaces on the hill above the cove. Motorists are parked all along the double yellow lines leading up to the small carpark. If this had been Germany traffic wardens would be having a field day. We're actually 60 km from the nearest town, and there's not a single warden in sight. Come to think of it, I've not seen a single traffic warden anywhere so far on this trip round NZ. It makes you wonder why they're not tapping such an obvious source of revenue.
As we set off on the 30-minute walk down to the beach we pass large numbers of walkers huffing and puffing their way back up the hill. It sounds like they're doing this more out of a sense of duty, as if they're simply ticking off another box on the to-do list.
Cathedral Cove - so named because it looks like the nave of cathedral - is needless to say, teeming with tourists. We've been so used to having beaches almost to ourselves in this country that the sight of all these crowds comes as something of a shock. The archway looks totally different from how it's portrayed on postcards - water flowing through, sun shining, and not one single tourist to be seen. Today it's overcast, the tide's going out, and the archway's full of trippers literally tripping over themselves to snap selfies.
A little further down the beach another attraction awaits. An enormous piece of rock stands sticking up out of the water. It looks like the hind leg of a horse. This too, we learn, is the result of cave formation. Only this time the caves collapsed to form an off-shore stack.
As we sit on the sand eating our picnic and admiring the stack, about a dozen kayaks suddenly appear in the cove. They queue patiently in a long line, as if lying in wait to ambush the enemy. We watch as they start paddling beach wards, landing one by one. On shore a leader goes around and high fives everyone. He looks like a sports teacher, so I go up and ask if this is a school trip. No, he replies, explaining that his kayaking company runs trips every day round the bay, and these are mostly backpackers. "We let them run around a bit and give them a hot drink, then take them back to Hahei". They're certainly running around, but only ankle deep in the water - just enough for a facebook selfie and to snap shots of each other posing in front of the archway. No one seems interested in swimming.
The New Zealand tourist board has done a great job of marketing Cathedral Cove. Sometimes though large numbers of tourists can spoil the very attraction of the attraction they're visiting. Just as we're leaving this tourist trap we notice a Japanese couple. Actually you can't help notice them. The husband has an enormous selfie stick and is shouting orders at his wife. It sounds a bit like "Oyoyoy!". He's obviously looking for the perfect pose in front of the perfect backdrop. She evidently dislikes being bossed around, because she's replying "Wawawawawa!". That's what it sounds like, at least. We hear them repeating this hostile exchange until we're finally out of earshot halfway up the hill.
The best antidote to somewhere with too many tourists is to go somewhere where there are no tourists at all. The following day we head for Pokohino, accessible only by a 6-km dust track and a half-hour downhill trail. We have this gloriously remote beach all to ourselves the whole afternoon, except for one short moment when an elderly man appears and asks if we've seen a blowhole. We have, but quite by accident, while looking for shells in the rocks along one side of the beach. The archway entrance to the hole is actually quite similar to the one in Cathedral Cove, only much smaller of course - you have to almost bend over double to enter. Grateful that this geological wonder hasn't yet made its way into the guide books, we decide to call it "the no-name blowhole".