We are in grave danger of overdoing, a by-product of the twin perils of travel planning from afar – too much enthusiasm and scant practical knowledge. So, instead of two nights at two places on the Coromandel Peninsula, I cancel one and book us into the one place for two nights. We have ended up in Whitianga (‘wh’ pronounced as an ‘f’) on Mercury Bay, so-called because this is where Captain Cook and his astronomer measured the transit of Mercury across the Sun in order to accurately determine the distance between the Sun and the Earth. Whitianga is now a yachty town with lots of second homes.
Last night I made, or tried to make, a 10:30am reservation for boat trip in the Mercury Bay that would show us the sights of the Marine Reserve. All’s well, it turns out, so off we go. The boat departs from the Wharf, which we are told, “You can’t miss”. Seven of us fit in a Zodiac, three pairs in personal flotation devices, and our captain, who has a badly wounded, but poorly bandaged, big toe.
Soon we’re skimming across the crystal clear water, while Captain Whosits points out real estate, both geological and residential. One of the first items of interest is a big old blowhole that we’re able to motor into and then stare up through foliage to the sky. There are many formations to see, Cathedral Cave, for instance, an enormous room that extends through a promontory separating two coves. We forego the snorkel opportunity. Still, it’s a pleasure to be on the water.
Post-lunch calculations indicate that we are in the middle of a low-tide window of opportunity to experience Hot Water Beach, so-called because hot springs seep through the sand. Therefore, if you dig a hole you may loll in bath-like temperatures or, if you’d rather, hard-boil a dozen eggs. Our lodgings will provide towels and spades for such an outing.
The beach is broad and the surf regular and mild. “Where’s the hot water?” asks Joss. I gesture to a cluster of people in the distance. “Let’s see what they’re up to.” Yep, these are the parboilers in their self-made pots. Some holes appear to have been abandoned. We claim one and begin to dig in search of hot water. It ain’t happening. “Well, this is a bust,” I say and take a step backwards. “Jesus, yikes!” I squeal. Hot fucking water. Hot, just like they said. “Wow, Joss, they’re not whistling Dixie.” We prance in the scalding water for a bit, but quickly lose interest in geothermal pools. “Let’s walk up the beach.”
A man and his son are whacking a ball about with a cricket bat while a dog chases after it. Further down the shore, high seagull drama develops as a bird attempts to claim and then escape with a very large dead fish. He has an equally stupid rival, who confronts the fishnapper only to forget what’s going on and fly off, then return to rejoin the conflict already in progress because the original bird can’t seem to get the fish aloft. Lots of noise and flapping and a really, really dead fish. Oh, birds.