A cold, wintery day on The Queen’s Birthday weekend, Jono and I drove 5 hours up North to the Coromandel Peninsula.
There, we met his sister and her family where they were staying in Whitianga. Whitianga is situated near two iconic Coromandel must-dos: Hot water beach and Cathedral Cove.
I had already visited hot water beach on a previous occasion but Cathedral Cove was not accessible at the time. Now I was finally able to visit this gorgeous beach and natural archway. Perhaps you’ll recognize it from a famous movie, music video, or both!
A marine reserve
Te Whanganui-A-Hei (the Great Bay of Hei), or Cathedral Cove, became an official marine reserve in 1992 because of its rich and diverse environment untouched by destructive southerly winds.
About 2100 acres of protected coastline and marine landscape are a part of Cathedral Cove making it rife with marine and plant life from fish and mollusks to kelp and crustaceans.
The reserve allows for some excellent snorkeling, diving, kayaking, and boating but fishing and other disturbances to the area are forbidden.
When we visited, the weather was a bit cold and rainy to take part in any in-the-water or on-the-water activities but we were able to enjoy the beach and its amazing views nevertheless.
The track down
An hour walk along the coast winds through forest and next to farmland within the reserve.
Typical for a hike in New Zealand, cows and sheep may be encountered on parts of the path on the way down.
The group of us, including four children, walked the track together. The weather was rainy but the sun greeted us every so often, producing a rainbow on one lucky occasion.
The most obvious island seen out on the water on the way down is Montueka Island said to be great for kayaking around.
Gemstone & Stingray Bay
Along the way are several offshoots down to various bays and points of interest.
Two side tracks take about 10 minutes each to walk down.
Gemstone beach is filled with boulders and stones on which to climb. A plaque at the site marks the beach as a part of the “snorkel trail.” It describes the marine life to be found at various depths out into the bay.
Stingray bay similarly has great snorkeling. The beach is interesting with wind and wave beaten ignimbrite rock walls behind it and steep cliffs on its western side.
A name like Stingray Bay warrants noting a safe method of entering the water from the beach. Locals know to shuffle their feet along the sand floor rather than step so as to shoo away any stingrays lurking there.
Stepping causes stingrays to attack with their stinger which will send you straight to the hospital! Avoid the displeasure and follow the shuffle method when entering the waters of any beach known to inhabit stingrays.
After exploring the various bays, we finally arrived at Cathedral Cove.
Cathedral Cove got its name from the archway or cave there. The ignimbrite walls were formed from volcanic explosions over 8 million years ago and were easily sculpted over time by weather and tide. Many archways, crevices, and caverns can be found underwater and along the beach.
The ignimbrite is constantly eroding. In 2009 a huge chunk of the archway fell narrowly missing a family of tourists. Now there is a sign warning visitors of the potential hazard.
After ascending the stairway, we first entered onto a large beach area with rock formations out in the water. On the far side of the beach is a small freshwater waterfall—perfect for rinsing off after a day in the salty waters.
On the Western side of the beach is the large archway that made the beach famous.
At low tide, we could walk through the tunnel created by the arch to a second beach with a rock formation in the distance. This huge rock protruding out of the water is also an icon of Cathedral Cove.
It’s often photographed through the archway on postcards and in stills.
The tunnel was where the Pevensie children enter the world of Narnia for the second time in the Prince of Caspian movie. The same location was where Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis filmed the music video for “Can’t Hold Us.“
The lyrics from the song are rather ironic considering the eroding archway—“so we put our hands up like the ceiling can’t hold us!” Nope. Cathedral Cove’s ceiling definitely can’t hold you, Mackelmore and Ryan.
It’s no wonder this beach has gotten so much attention from Hollywood, though—it’s absolutely stunning.
Even though the weather was too cold to jump in the waves, we were able to enjoy the views as we had a small picnic.
Jono’s nieces and nephew took full advantage of the place. I had a photoshoot with them as they raced up and down the beach and played in the sand just like the Pevensie children.