New Zealand Walk: Cathe­dral Cove - one of our clas­sic walks

Walking New Zealand - - Contents -

It’s one of New Zealand’s clas­sic walks – the coastal walk to Cathe­dral Cove in the Coro­man­del. Sheer cliffs, dra­matic rock for­ma­tions, is­lands in cu­ri­ous shapes and Cathe­dral Cove it­self -- named for the arch through soar­ing nat­u­ral rocks.

It may not last for­ever, though, says the of­fi­cial vis­i­tor guide. In time, this arch will col­lapse due to nat­u­ral forces.

So we de­cide we mustn’t de­lay! The Cathe­dral Cove Walk is our first day’s ac­tiv­ity af­ter we ar­rive at our Christ­mas hol­i­day house at Ha­hei, on the Coro­man­del’s east­ern coast. This whole area is an early New Zealand his­tory les­son. Ha­hei is de­rived from the Maori name for Mercury Bay, Te-Whanganui-A-Hei or The Great Bay of Hei. Ac­cord­ing to tra­di­tion, Hei was one of three broth­ers who ar­rived in New Zealand with Kupe around 1350 AD – one the­ory says that the hei-tiki was made orig­i­nally to com­mem­o­rate him.

With his fam­ily Hei set­tled in the area now known as Ha­hei. They be­came the an­ces­tors of the Ngāti Hei who were re­puted to be peace­able sea­far­ing peo­ple. Un­for­tu­nately, Ngāti Hei suf­fered through­out his­tory at the hands of raid­ing par­ties who re­peat­edly stripped them of their as­sets and slaugh­tered many with mus­kets.

In Novem­ber 1769, Cap­tain James

Op­po­site page left:: An­other view of Cathe­dral Cove, from a boat trip. Above right: Cathe­dral Cove frames Te Hoho, like a prow of a large ship. Be­low left: Some­times the track takes us through arch­ing fronds of ponga. Be­low right: A rest­ing-lion is­land, viewed from the track. . Cook sailed into the area. Cook’s ship

En­deav­our was met by Ngāti Hei ca­noes on ar­rival. Seven days later he ob­served the tran­sit of Mercury across the sun. This de­ter­mined the lon­gi­tude and thereby es­tab­lished the ex­act po­si­tion of New Zealand on the world map. So he named the area Mercury Bay.

No mus­kets, but plenty of cam­eras, are ob­vi­ous the morn­ing we walk the track. It starts at the top of Grange Road where our hol­i­day house is sit­u­ated, so it is a short walk up to the track’s start­ing point. The ve­hi­cles cram­ming the car park warn us of high num­bers at this well-known at­trac­tion. (You can park at the vis­i­tor car park on Pa Road and walk round the beach to the start of the track

(al­low an ex­tra 20 min­utes) or take one of the shut­tles ($5 re­turn per adult) which, in sum­mer, run from Ha­hei shops to the track’s start).

The walk is an easy paved clifftop walk – 40 min­utes each way of­fi­cially, but an hour at my leisurely pace. From the track you can look out to sea where a va­ri­ety of is­lands have been carved by the ocean into ex­tra­or­di­nary shapes. There’s one shaped like a vol­cano, an­other is a clas­sic rest­ing lion, there’s a top-hat shaped is­land and sev­eral tiny pim­ple rocks. Some­times the walk is open. Some­times through bush with ponga fronds arch­ing over the track. There are steep stairs down to the beach at Cathe­dral Cove.

This is the dra­matic fi­nale to the walk. The ma­jes­tic arched cav­ern passes through a white rock head­land topped by po­hutukawa. Ris­ing to a sharp point, the arch­way links two sweep­ing cres- cents of sand, though at our visit it is high tide and we can’t walk through. A little way off the beach is a large pin­na­cle of pumice brec­cia rock known as Te Hoho. Sculpted over cen­turies by wind and wa­ter, it looks like the prow of a large ship steam­ing into the beach.

Life­savers are present keep­ing an eye on the crowded beach and es­pe­cially the swim­mers.

My two grand­sons leap into the wa­ter and we join them for a re­fresh­ing swim. (Later we take a glass-bot­tomed boat trip round the Te Whanganui-A-Hei ma­rine re­serve near here and see Cathe­dral Cove from a dif­fer­ent an­gle. The re­serve was opened in 1992 and was New Zealand’s sixth ma­rine re­serve, the first for the Coro­man­del).

Cathe­dral Cove and its sur­round­ings were used in the film The Chron­i­cles of

Nar­nia where the sib­lings dis­cover the ru­ins of Cair Par­avel. Other ar­eas of the Coro­man­del served as set­tings for scenes in which the chil­dren took their first steps back into Nar­nia.

The re­turn walk is over the same track but we de­cide on the way back to de­vi­ate and take a track down to the shore­line. This track is a more tra­di­tional bush track with ferns and vines arch­ing above your head, then a pleas­ant walk along the beach back to Ha­hei where we en­joy a cof­fee and a bite of lunch.

My son and two grand­sons ex­plore St­ingray Bay with its lovely curve of white sand and rocky Gem­stone Bay where, later in the week, they fol­low the snorkel trail which has buoys an­chored at var­i­ous points for snorkellers to hang on to for a breather.

In hind­sight, I would have planned to walk the track very early in the day or in the early evening, to es­cape the crowds. For the same rea­son, per­haps I’ll re­turn one day in Win­ter or Spring.

Right: We de­vi­ate from the main track onto one that leads to the beach.

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