Cathedral Cove: Must-do Beach Walk in New Zealand

Cathedral Cove is a beach hike that was recommended to us by a fellow 2016 AT thru-hiker, Pocahontas!  We trusted her judgement and made arrangements to WWOOF in the Coromandel area to be close to this hot spot.

From the trailhead, it is a 45 minute walk to Cathedral Cove (Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve) and a 30 minute walk to Hahei Beach in the opposite direction.  This article will cover both, as well as a short hike to Te Pare Historic Reserve on the far side of Hahei Beach.

Find a map here.


Inside Cathedral Cove, New Zealand

 Cathedral Cove

  • Distance: 2.5 km each way (45 minutes each way)
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Difficulty: Easy

Cathedral Cove to Hahei Beach

  • Distance: <2 km (30 minutes each way)
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Difficulty: Easy

Hahei Beach to Te Pare

  • Distance: <2 km each way (30 minutes each way)
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Difficulty: Easy

Getting There

The easiest and cheapest way is to hitchhike or drive to the trailhead.  There is parking available.  A shuttle  to the trailhead is available but it is a little pricy.  If you want to skip the hike, there is a water taxi (not recommended because the hike is amazing).


Hiking in to Hahei

The Trek

Car Park to Cathedral Cove

The trail is very well marked and easy to follow.  It dips into a shady puriri grove near the start of the hike.  We passed a few turn-offs, which we were glad we explored.

First, there was a side trail to our right for Gemstone Bay.  It’s a rocky cove but a great place to see marine life.  There is a “snorkel trail” marked out with buoys in the water.  Educational placards on shore feature local fish and information pertinent to keeping the marine life healthy.  Andrew made it to a few buoys but the cold water got to him pretty quickly.  The underwater landscape here is varied and beautiful in this area. A wetsuit would be handy for doing the snorkel trail!

The second side trail is to Stingray Bay.  It was much less crowded than neighboring Cathedral Cove and still very lovely.  We hiked down just to see the ocean from another angle.

Hiking down to Stingray Bay

Cathedral Cove

The trail will be up on the ridgeline for a while with expansive views of the Pacific.  Gradually, it descends until turning into stairs that lead to 2 main beaches.  The first beach was amazing in it’s own right with enormous trees and rocks.  Looking to our left, we caught our first view of the massive arch that separates the 2 beaches.  It’s a long, tall tunnel with paradise on either end.

We walked through and found a spot on the second beach.  Naturally, the water was frigid but it was a nice sunny day for sitting in the sand.

1st beach with Cathedral Cove in background (stairs come down near the wooded beach area in the picture)

View of Cathedral Cove from 2nd beach


Cathedral Cove to Hahei Beach

The hike to Cathedral Cove is out-and-back with no other way in, except by boat.  We hiked back to where we started and kept going to Hahei Beach.

This stretch was one of our favorites.  It took us along a ledge with an open view of the Pacific.  From that vantage, the water is so blue and appears to go on forever.

The beach itself is sandy and inviting.  There are public bathrooms and tons of people soaking up the sun.  Few were swimming due to the water temperature.  The locals use old tractors to haul their boats right down to the water.

Hahei Beach to Te Pare

At the far end of the beach, we crossed a small stream.  There was a rope swing and wooden stairs that led to the trail.  Alternately, you can walk through the neighborhood and follow signs to Te Pare (which will take you up to a low view and then back down to the rope swing).

Te Pare was a prime Maori defense spot due to the steep cliffs on all sides.  Now, it makes for a beautiful view of the surrounding islands and Pacific waters.  We sat on the peak and contemplated the waves flooding and draining over the tidal areas. The trail goes through a pohutukawa grove before leaving the shade. Wear sunscreen because most of the trail is very exposed.

View from Te Pare


Looking back to Hahei Beach from Te Pare… crystal clear waters of the Pacific


Bottom Line

Why drive when you can hike?  I love that Kiwis prioritize walkability over drivability.  Check out these amazing spots that are best accessed by foot.  The trail is easy, the scenery is stunning, and the water is freezing.

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