In less than two weeks I am setting off into the big, wide world.
It was today the pre-travel anxiety began to set in- something I feel is completely normal for a young woman traveling solo.
This made me think of my first ever solo trip. I’d almost forgotten it had happened. I nearly drowned on this trip, and I ended up with second-degree burns. Aside from those two inconveniences, I had a great time.
I was 20 years old and had planned to spend a week in the Coromandel with a friend.
We hadn’t booked accommodation (out of laziness, back then I wasn’t really a ‘wing it’ kind of gal) and a few days before the trip, my friend pulled out.
“My parents are forcing me to go to Rotorua with them. You can join if you like!”
Being the stubborn woman that I am, I declined, and prepared to road trip several hours north solo. Even more stubbornly, I decided I would be camping. Had I camped before? Not unless school camp counts. Had I ever pitched a tent by myself? Negative.
After a quick tutorial on my parents lawn I discovered setting up an eight person tent was a trifle more difficult than anticipated. To hell with it, I thought, and shoved the tent in the back of my car, along with my suitcase, and set off.
I decided to do the drive in two chunks- firstly I would head to Taupo, spend a night, and drive the rest of the way to the Coromandel the following day.
When I got to Taupo, I decided to treat myself and booked a hotel on Lake Taupo. I spent the evening walking alongside the lake searching for pockets of hot pools I could dip my feet into.
The next morning I set off to the Coromandel. A childhood friend always bragged about her family’s annual trip to Waihi beach, so I decided I would stop off there seeing it was more or less on the way. It was a great way to break up the drive.
When I arrived in the Coromandel it was late in the afternoon. I still hadn’t booked a campsite, so I decided I would stay at the next campsite I passed. The campsite happened to be Hot Water Beach Camp.
Naively, I had never heard of Hot Water Beach. I’d done zero research for this trip, so it was damn good luck I ended up in one at one of the best campsites in the area. I paid five nights accommodation, and got to setting up my tent.
I was going to do it all by myself. Girl power and all that.
The family across from my site eyed me dubiously, no doubt waiting for my assistant to appear from the shadows to help me assemble this beast of a tent. I avoided all eye contact and offers of help; I squeezed the poles through thin bits of fabric, I dutifully hammered pegs into the ground. Half an hour later, I had a standing tent. I felt an enormous swell of pride.
Soon it was dark, so I set up the deck chair I had brought with me next to the tent, grabbed some snacks, and gazed at the stars. It was a wonderfully warm and clear night. I felt so close to the universe and I wondered why I hadn’t stared at the stars more often.
I saw two falling stars, and made two wishes.
The next morning I decided to check out Hot Water Beach. It was only a couple of minutes up the road, and I was intent on finding out if there was any hot water at this beach. Turns out, yes there was. You can hire a spade and dig your own hot pool in the sand at low tide.
I stayed there until high tide, watching the waves savagely crushing the shore, taking with them a few metres of sand so the seabed dropped sharply below my feet.
Hahei beach was a ten minute drive up the road. I quickly agreed this was one of my favourite beaches in New Zealand. While wandering in Hahei, I also discovered that there was a two-hour return bush walk that leads you to a wee cove.
This was, of course, Cathedral Cove. It is only accessible by foot, kayak, or boat. Years later Macklemore would film his music video ‘Can’t Hold Us’ here.
It was at Cathedral Cove I almost drowned. The surf was rough that day, and the seabed dipped sharply in some areas. I went from knee height water to shoulder deep water in a matter of metres. There I was, ignorantly swimming along, when a massive wave appeared behind me. It crashed down over me, slamming me into the ground. My hand protected my head from hitting a sharp rock nestled in the sand. Choking on salt water, I desperately tried to find my footing.
Except I couldn’t, because I was being dragged backwards by force that I could only describe as magnetic. I panicked and for a second and thought shit I’m going to drown.
I don’t know what happened next, but I somehow found my footing, and I sprinted back to the beach feeling like a prized idiot. No one knew I was here, no one was looking out for me from the beach. I could have drifted off into the surf and the holidaymakers would have been none the wiser.
This experience opened my eyes to the risks of solo travel. I decided to try a less life-threatening activity, sun bathing.
I’d been a responsible adult and applied my sun block before I went swimming.
“You’re looking a bit red girl,” a man, who looked to be in his fourties, remarked as he walked past.
“I’ve applied sun block,” I responded, wishing he would mind his own business.
I think I lay there for two hours. I say think because I may have fallen asleep, anywho, when I stood up to leave, I noticed my back felt like a thousand cats had scraped their claws down it.
Oh shit. My sun block had washed off when I was swimming.
Luckily, this incident unfolded on my final day of my holiday. I lathered on the aloe vera, bid my bra au revoir, and carefully put on the loosest, lightest shirt I could find.
On my final night I had fish and chips on the beach. There were times I wished I’d had someone to share the breathtaking views with. It felt odd hearing my voice when a holidaygoer would make a remark or start a conversation with me. On the flipside, travelling by myself gave me a lot of time to reflect on my life and the changes I wanted to make (e.g. applying sun block correctly). I made a resolution with myself that I would bring someone back here one day.
How to get to Cathedral Cove
Foot access to the Cathedral Cove car park is at the western end of Hahei Beach and vehicle access is up Grange Road (turn left past shops and go all the way to end of Grange Road).