Summer is well and truly here. The sun’s out and so’s school. The cicadas are chorusing and I’m lying here on a picnic blanket, surrounded by my nana’s flowers, trying to forget my hay fever. This, as it happens, is easy: my mind is drawn irresistibly towards what is coming, fast approaching on the cycle of inevitability – barbecues and beaches.
One beach in particular comes to mind, an enclosed stretch of golden-white sand at the foot of a forested cliff, its crystal-blue waters a stage for magnificent rock formations, so beautiful they seem deliberately sculpted.
I’m just going to go ahead and say it: Cathedral Cove is the best beach in New Zealand.
Oh, I’m not saying it doesn’t have stiff competition and plenty of it – this is New Zealand we’re talking about, but its magic is undeniable. Clearly. I mean it was used as a location in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, the bit where Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter have just made it back into the fantasy world. You thought that was CGI? I wouldn’t blame you if you did, but Cathedral Cove really is that gorgeous.
You know why it’s called Cathedral Cove? The beach’s crowning glory is a large cave that forms a natural archway, pointed like a cathedral. When you walk under it, it really does feel like you’re in a man-made chamber with a high, vaulted ceiling. People get married underneath it! It’s amazing.
I’ve been to it a grand total of once. It was ages ago now. My family had taken a six berth campervan rental up to the Coromandel, which is one of the best places for camping in New Zealand, but what I didn’t realise was you can’t get to Cathedral Cove via any road vehicle. It can only be reached by boat, or by quite a long bush walk. We walked, and let me tell you now: BRING A BOTTLE OF WATER.
The walk to Cathedral Cove takes about forty-five minutes, but it’s worth it. More than worth it. The sight that met me, gasping and sweating at the end of the track, was… well…
Coming from England, I was used to nicely ordered beaches, stretches of grey sand and grey water bisected by a pier, possibly lined with garish beach huts, definitely with a fish and chip shop, a tacky arcade, and somewhere that sold buckets and spades and plastic swords close by. New Zealand beaches aren’t ordered. What they have is the random beauty of nature and, at Cathedral Cove, the beauty of nature is in evidence on a dramatic scale.
Cathedral Cove is a marine reserve. That means there’s an abundance of colourful fish and corals, and on top of that the water is quite clear, so it’s great for snorkelling in. Kayaking is popular at Cathedral Cove as well, but at the time we went the sea was unusually rough and we saw a couple of guys capsize! Also, as my family have just reminded me, my dad lost his sunglasses in the surf.
I don’t remember swimming much; I spent ages splashing around in the shallows and scrambling on rocks. Cathedral Cove is fantastic for kids. The beach on either side of the big cave offers a slightly different experience and, of course, unlike most other beaches, there’s available shade.
My little sister’s just said that she remembers chafing. That’s because she didn’t dry herself off properly before setting out on the forty-five minute walk back to our campervan. So there’s a cautionary tale for you.
It’s unfortunate that Cathedral Cove is so difficult to access in comparison to most other beaches. You can’t simply park a minute away from the sand. On the other hand, its relative isolation is part of what makes it so magical.
It’s different. Once you go to Cathedral Cove, you’ll never forget it. It’s not just beautiful, it’s spectacularly beautiful, which is why I say it’s the best beach in New Zealand. Either by boat or by bush walk, you just HAVE to go there.
More articles I’ve written about beaches in New Zealand:
- Beached As, Bro
- The Mount
- Awhitu: A Special Place in My Heart
- Gandering at the Muriwai Gannet Colony