We spent three days staying near Hot Water Beach and it quickly became one of our favorite spots in New Zealand. It’s not a super straightforward beach experience, so we wanted to put together a few tips to hopefully help you make the most of your visit to this unique spot.
Here’s what you need to know:
Hot Water Beach has two thermal springs under the sand. At low tide, you can dig a hole on the beach and have it fill with naturally heated water—a DIY hot tub!
The springs are accessible two hours either side of low tide and tide schedules are easy to find online. Arrive on the early side so you can enjoy your experience for the max time—it also helps in securing a good spot in this busy area.
There’s a parking lot for the beach area that has bathrooms, showers, a restaurant and a shop. It’s a Pay and Display lot and it’s apparently monitored closely. Alternatively, you can park at the free lot farther down the road. You’ll have to walk down the beach a bit more, but it’s really not much more of a walk than the other lot.
Around the hot springs, the beach is very crowded, particularly in the summer (December-February) and on holidays. But any time of year, there will be loads arriving from tour buses in time for low tide along with plenty of other travelers and a few locals. Our advice: embrace it. Chat, make friends, be cheerful and pleasant. Yours will probably not be a solitary experience, but it can still be an extremely fun and convivial one. And your fellow beachgoers can help you find the best spots to dig and model the art of tub-building—the idea is to build up sandy walls around your hole to keep the warm water in and the tide out.
You’ll need a sturdy spade to make a good-sized hole; you can rent one at the beach, or it’s likely your accommodation will have one for you to borrow if you’re staying nearby.
Not all spots on the beach are equal; the closer you are to the springs, the hotter your water will be. You can find your preferred temp by sticking your feet into the sand a few inches. Be careful—the water can get extremely hot. Be especially cautious with letting your kids walk around on sand you haven’t tested. Even at surface level, the sand can scald your feet.
If you dig very near a spring, you might want to bring along a bucket to fill with cool sea water and keep the temperature in your hole down. More likely, you’ll end up in a spot with more moderate temps, which is still a warm and pleasant experience.
If you don’t want to go whole-hog and dig your own hole, you can still have a fun time swimming in the warmed water at the tideline, people-watching, and testing abandoned holes.
Even though the beach gets crowded, most people don’t seem to stay the full four hours that the springs are accessible. This means there should be a variety of empty holes for you to try once the crowd has cleared.
If low tide hits late in the day, most people will probably leave after sunset, but you should stick around—the stars are fantastic here on a clear night and it’s very pleasant sitting in warm water and watching them appear in the sky.
Low tide happens every twelve hours; whichever hits during the daylight hours each day will be crowded, but the other will likely be nearly empty. If you’re looking for a more solitary experience, go at the off time. It’ll probably involve a very late night or very early morning, but could give you the peace and quiet you’re looking for.
Have fun! And if you have any questions, let us know in the comments—we'll do our best to answer them for you!