Steam rises from hot springs dug on Hot Water Beach in New Zealand

Dig Your Own Hot Spring on New Zealand’s Hot Water Beach



June 17, 2024

6 min read

When my son was a toddler he was a ball of relentless energy, always running around and making sure his parents were on high alert for danger, death, disappearance, or the creation of chaos. His idea of a fun beach trip was gathering handfuls of sand and throwing them into the air while cackling with laughter, only to chuck it into our faces if we suggested this might not be the best idea. 

Then, when he was three years old, thanks to the geothermal springs that give Hot Water Beach its name, our high-octane child discovered the joys of simply laying back and relaxing.

How did we achieve this small miracle? By traveling across the globe from England to the Coromandel Peninsula in the northeast of New Zealand’s North Island. From the Hot Water Beach parking lot, we followed a small path through the trees for about 10 minutes until we reached the beach, then turned left to find a narrow strip of sand with a striking collection of rocks, not far from the shoreline. At that point, we saw several groups of people clutching spades (small shovels) and checking their watches for when the water would recede for low tide—we knew we were in the right place.

The coastline from Hot Water Beach in New Zealand

The experience is simple: Find the spot where the sand feels hot under your feet, and start digging. You’ll soon see steam rise up, and the hole you’re digging will fill with hot water. Like any good thing, however, you have to know what you're doing. You can’t simply dig anywhere on this beach that stretches on for more than half a mile and expect to tap into its geothermal joy. 

The hot springs are deep underneath a stretch of sand spanning just about 328 feet, accessible only during low tide. As a result, when the retreating sea water exposes this section of the beach (you’ll need to keep an eye on the tides timetable to find out when, as it changes daily), it becomes busy with people digging side by side.

We checked the time, made sure that, yes, the sea was going out, and gathered alongside a bunch of people we’d never met. Bathing suits on and shovels poised, we got to work, my son all the while desperate to run into the sea. It was winter and not exactly swimming weather, but the digging warmed us, even as the wind whipped against our skin. 

Groups of people dig their own hot springs on Hot Water Beach in New Zealand

Our first pool was a disaster. Some of the springs, which are near boiling at their underground source, can be burning hot. Underestimating the temperature of the springs is the main danger to watch out for. We had to hold our son back from leaping in and burning himself. I held him while my boyfriend dug our next attempt, which was nearer to the seashore. 

Once it was deep enough we jumped in and laid back, enjoying the warmth spreading across our submerged limbs and observing the rolling waves out in the distance. My son giggled with enthusiasm as our three bodies floated side by side in the steaming water, still and calm—a moment which felt impossibly rare. 

Our enjoyment was short-lived, however, as within around 30 minutes a large wave washed the sides of our spa pool in and the cold seawater that came with it brought quite a shock. Thankfully, a group of German tourists who had made a bigger, better, much deeper pool farther back welcomed us into theirs. It was a social affair, chatting and taking it in turns to maintain the sandy defenses. 

The pools are all dug in close proximity on such a small stretch of sand, so there is plenty of laughter and conversation from groups who have not met before. Those who hadn’t brought spades were lent ones from others who’d finished with theirs, the language of smiles and digging universal.

A hole fills with hot water on Hot Water Beach in New Zealand

Relaxing waters aside, what makes Hot Water Beach so special is how virtually free of development the landscape is despite being a tourist destination. This is thanks to Ngāti Hei, the Maori tribe living along the Mercury Bay coastline, which has prevented Hot Water Beach from being built upon for generations. 

“Hot Water Beach is historically and culturally significant to Ngāti Hei,” says Sarah Handley, General Manager Americas & Europe at Tourism New Zealand. “Archaeologists believe the Whitianga locale has been inhabited by members of the Ngāti Hei iwi (tribe) for a thousand years, making it one of New Zealand’s longest-settled areas. To this day Ngāti Hei endeavors to protect this taonga (treasure), which is near an Urupa (burial ground) and Pa site (fortified settlement), and hope that visitors too will respect this special location.”

After approximately two hours of floating calmly in the hot water, our toddler laying back and smiling up at the birds flying overhead, it felt difficult to leave. Better still, this activity had cost us nothing beyond the $10 NZD (less than $6 USD) we’d paid to hire the spade from a local cafe. 

As we were on a big driving trip around New Zealand and had no fixed itinerary, we decided to stay for several days. One of our new pool mates told us the nearest accommodation was Hot Water Beach Top 10 holiday park, an option if you have a camper van or tent or are up for staying in a glamping pod. Once the seawater washed into our pool and we’d managed to dry off and warm up, we headed straight there and booked a stay for several nights.

Staying just moments from Hot Water Beach meant we were also able to experience the pools at night. Laying in the hot spa water and looking up at the stars is a memory we’ll never forget. Our toddler, who was allowed to stay up for the experience, slept beautifully afterward and still talks about it years later. 

Each time we’ve visited New Zealand since, our first stop has always been Hot Water Beach. It is the best and fastest way to tap into the relaxed vibe of this beautiful country after a long journey to reach it.

Getting there 

  • The nearest international airport is Auckland airport (AKL), located about 100 miles away from the Coromandel Peninsula. By car, Hot Water Beach is around a two-hour drive from Auckland, and the nearest towns are Tairua and Hahei. If you’re traveling by train, the nearest station is Papakura Train Station, but you’ll need to hire a car or taxi from there, as it’s still two hours by car to Hot Water Beach. A Go Kiwi shuttle bus from Auckland will also get you to Hot Water Beach directly, but it takes closer to four hours to get there, as there are several stops along the way. Tourism operator Kiwi Dundee includes Hot Water Beach in its Coastal Highlight Tour, but due to tide times, it often doesn’t include a spa dig.
  • Average Going deal for cheap flights to Auckland: $861 roundtrip $1,500 

How to do it

  • Best time to go: You can experience the hot springs any time of the year, even in winter. Just remember, the temperature difference between the air and water is more pronounced in winter, as it can get pretty cold. Dig quickly, so you can jump in and warm up. Keep an eye on the tides timetable, and time your visit for maximum hot spa hours.
  • Cost: It’s free to dig a pool, but if you don’t have a spade, you can hire one locally for approximately $10 NZD (less than $6 USD). Spades can be hired nearby at Hotties Eatery, Hot Waves Cafe, and Moko Artspace. Once you reach Hot Water Beach itself, there's no spade hire, shops, or other facilities. Nearby accommodation ranges from $30–$90 NZD ($18–$54 USD) per night to park your van or hire a cabin at the nearby Hot Water Beach Top 10 holiday park, to around $100–$200 NZD ($60–$119 USD) per night for a holiday cottage or hotel in Tairua and Hahei.
  • Safety considerations: The water can reach very hot temperatures, so make sure you check it before jumping into your freshly dug pool. If you’re going for a swim in the sea while you’re there, always stay between the flags. The rocks in front of the hot springs are hazardous due to strong currents, holes, and rip tides.
  • Tips: Don’t dig too close to the shoreline because your pool will be washed away before you can lie back and enjoy it. The best location is approximately 80 feet inland from the rocks. If you dig down and make a strong wall of sand on the side nearest to the sea, you should have a good two hours of spa time before the tide comes in and all the heat (not to mention your hard dug pool) vanishes. Pay-and-display parking is available at the Main Beach and Taiwawe (also known as the Bull Paddock) public parking lots. There are no toilets or restaurants near the beach. The area also has strict rules about not eating, drinking, or leaving trash on Hot Water Beach, so eat before you get there and use the public toilets near the parking lots.

More aqua-adventures around the world

Published June 17, 2024

Last updated June 17, 2024

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