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Building a bath on New Zealand’s thermal beach


The best way to get to New Zealand’s “Hot Water Beach”—the North Island stunner cloistered at the northeast tip of the Coromandel Peninsula–is to stick out your index finger “downunder”-style (forget the thumb) and hitchhike, mates!

Safe enough on a sleepy island idyll resembling a bad English painting, and pasturing more sheep than people. If you resemble Rutger Hauer (from the film “The Hitcher”), though, maybe it’s best to disguise your identity by swathing yourself in a native Swandri parka and presenting a sign: “Help Us See NZ!”

A large muscle-bound Maori, resembling an extra from “The Piano,” with intimidating tattoos and a good-luck greenstone (New Zealand jade) amulet around his neck, at last pulls over. Then you’re off like an aggro cassowary down scenic State Highway 25, speeding toward an uncanny meeting with serendipity and epiphany: nature with its knickers down and ready to put out.

A thermal beach! Come hither and watch the hissy prelapsarian steam rising out of two vents of a volcanic beach which leaks volumes. On Hot Water Beach, all you need to do is dig holes in the sand at low tide. Soon the spaces start filling up with hot water—just like a regular bathtub or Jacuzzi—at a rate of 15 liters per minute, and at temperatures of up to 64 C (147 F).

With an alchemical admixture of salt, calcium, magnesium, potassium, fluorine, bromine, and silica, the otherworldly hot springs may make it seem like you are sitting in a gigantic glass of Pellegrino, a thirst-quencher for Polynesian gods.

Luxuriating in your private pool, brain blotto on dancing dolphinesque endorphins, you stare vacuously out at the endless horizon of deep blue ocean that seems to be spinning out of control, wobbling like a vinyl 33 rpm record. Ah, bliss! Oh, oblivion!

Cleansed, you arrive much later at the Commonwealthy bucolic Brian Boru Hotel (luckily, your Maori host is a co-owner of the inn) for a free room and mouth-watering meal of moist lamb, mushy peas, and frosty mugs of Steinlager beer. Or perhaps, just “fesh and chups,” as the Kiwis crow in their yokely accent, influenced by an alien topography and the strange endemic languages of peculiar birds.

For just dessert, your new Maori mate steers you away from the ubiquitous meringuey pavlova (invented in New Zealand) and shows you the succulent six degrees of separation between a bagful of kiwis and feijoas (the second is sweeter). You’ll take your tea “white”: that is, with fresh New Zealand milk, which in these parts arrives at the door in glass jars with crowns of rich cream on the top. “We don’t get many visitors out here, but we live well,” the kind Kiwi commiserates by way of explanation.

Turning the antiquey tap in your gratis hotel-room “WaySay” (WC = water closet), to wash the sand, salt, and siren spit out of your mane, you marvel at how here in the upside-down Antipodes, the seasons are reversed and water spins counterclockwise down the drain. Simply knackered, you fall off of the map and catch some kip, slipping into a dream—one in which all international flights back to JFK Airport are canceled indefinitely.

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