Cathedral Cove New Zealand is often listed in the Top 10 of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Located on the Coromandel peninsula, it is definitively a picturesque place with forest, cliffs, beaches and a giant archway. The Cathedral cove walk is worth the effort! Below is my guide to help you plan your visit.
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Why visit Cathedral Cove, New Zealand?
It is not just another simple beach...The Cathedral Cove walk will offer you:
- subtropical native forest filled with adorable birds
- costal views with cliffs and islet
- pristine beaches with a huge arch and sea-stacks
It is one of the 2 highlights of the Coromandel peninsula (the other is Hot water beach) and one of the most photographed landscapes in New Zealand (see my top 50)
Its Maori name is Te Whanganui-A-Hei. It means "the great bay of Hei".
The whole area is also often referred to as Hahei beach. But Hahei is the long beach South of the Cathedral cove carpark, at the town of Hahei.
This area was used as a filming location for the Chronical of Narnia (the tunnel used by the childre to re-enter Narnia in Prince Caspian).
Note: do not mix it up with the Cathedral Caves in South Island. Those are 2 different places.
Many more photos of Cathedral Cove after the practical information
Planning tips - Cathedral Cove NZ
Where is Cathedral cove location?
- On the Coromandel peninsula, great to visit on a NZ road trip
- On the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island
- South East of Auckland
- You can see my map of North island below where Cathedral cove is of the identified highlights:
How to get to Cathedral cove carpark - location
- Detour from road 25
- At the end end of Grange Road at Hahei. However the small carpark is only for drop off from October to April. In Summer, you have to park in Hahei (at the visitor park and ride) and take the shuttle or walk 25extra minutes from the north of Hahei beach
- Auckland to Cathedral cove = 2h20
- Rotorua to Cathedral cove = 3h
- Hot Water Beach to Cathedral cove = 15min
- You can also take a boat tour or Kayak from Hahei beach
- If you are staying in Auckland, you can book a day trip to the Coromandel peninsula that includes Cathedral cove - Check out program
- Cathedral cove (with GPS coordinates to carpark) is included in my eBook to help you plan an unforgettable road trip:
- 12 easy-to-plan Maps
- 200 scenic locations in NZ
- Tips to plan + make the most of your time
- 285+ large photos to decide where to go
- GPS coordinates direct to the carparks
Best time to visit Cathedral Cove NZ
The best time to visit this beach is at mid tide so that you can easily walk under the archway and explore the other beach but still have the water for great pictures and reflections.
And if you want to avoid the crowds better go early morning.
Visiting Cathedral cove, Coromandel
- Walking time - Walking at leisurely pace, the round tour can be done in 1h30 min.
- Length - under 5km return
- Difficulty - a lot of the walk is easy, the path is well maintained - Note that the last part to the beach is quite steep and hard on the knees
- Entry price - access to Cathedral cove is free
- Facilities - toilets and café at carpark
Where to stay near Cathedral Cove NZ
The best option if you want to go to Cathedral cove at Sunrise is to stay in Hahei.
You can see the best rated accommodations in Hahei here. You can find:
- Backpacker accommodation such as Tatahi Backpackers - Check out photos and availability
- B& B such as the Hahei Bed and Breakfast - Check out photos and availability
- A tropical retreat such as the Tatahi lodge beach resort - Check out photos and availability
Planning to rent a car in New Zealand? Check out the local company Snap Rentals
I selected it myself and paid my rental in full.
- They are not at the airport itself, but they come to pick you up and drop you off
- They were very nice and responsive, the car was in perfect condition.
- In addition, they have all-inclusive insurance packages with AAA roadside assistance, which means I didn't have to worry (I think it's worth the price)
The Cathedral Cove hike - track + difficulty
Cathedral Cove walk path
The official start of the walk is at the Grange road carpark. HOWEVER YOU MUST KNOW that from October to April, it is only a drop off point. You cannot park.
You can either walk from the North of Hahei beach (extra 25min) or park in town and take the Cathedral Cove shuttle (for 5 dollars - from around 10am to 6pm - this may vary) - the visitor carpark is well indicated at the entrance of town.
The path is well marked with indications at every crossing.
It is well maintained and generally easy. However there is a hill in the middle and getting closer to Cathedral Cove it is a steep staircase (remember that you have to walk back up).
Cathedral Cove walk map
Below is the map of the walk as presented at the beginning of the trail (sorry for the bad picture)
As you can see on the map, there are 2 other bays where you can go down during the walk (adding 10min return each). Staircases to reach them.
Note that both are flooded during high tide. But they are known for the snorkeling opportunities.
Cathedral Cove Walk - views
I really enjoyed the Cathedral cove hike with coastal views and forest to reach the amazing sight of the Cove. It made it to my list of best beaches in New Zealand.
The fact that reaching the beach feels like a ‘treasure hunt’ makes it even more special.
Open sections with Cliff views
Some sections of the walk have open views with lookouts.
You can see:
- the white cliffs covered by dense vegetation,
- the many islets spread in the bays,
- the beautiful blue of the water.
Below is the view from the lookout at the beginning of the walk:
If I zoom you can see Te Hoho rock and the sand of Cathedral cove.
And below are a couple more pictures from the walk:
And at other times, you are walking through the forest. Enjoy the sounds and feel of the vegetation.
Pay attention, you might notice one of the many splendid New Zealand birds!
Coromandel Cathedral Cove beach - Mares Leg cove
Once at water level, you arrive in the first part of the beach. In the map it is identified as Mares Leg Cove.
This first cove is quite deep and it has its own rock formation: the Smiling Sphinx rock.
Everybody rush to the archway and Cathedral Cove. So if you want something quieter, you can swim on this side.
And from this beach you discover the giant impressive archway. More on it in the next paragraph...
The Cathedral Cove Archway - photos & geology
Cathedral cove geology
The main interest of this beach is the sizeable archway cut into the white rock.
It is made of ignimbrite, a rock produce by explosive eruptions of volcanoes from millions of years ago (the Coromandel Peninsula has seen many volcanic periods from around 18 million years ago to about 2.5 million years ago). The rock is created from the cloud of volcanic particles, gas and blocks of different sizes. They welded before cooling down.
Why did it create such an archway here?
Sea water entered small cracks were the rock had vulnerabilities. And slowly it created a small opening. Over the years the sea eroded the cliffs making the archway bigger and bigger.
The erosion continues, and one day the roof will collapse and a lone rock will remain standing in the water
Of course, it is a marvel for photographers with the cathedral shape of the archway aligned with the pinnacle in the water.
Be careful to come back before high tide because the archway fills up with water!
The pinnacle Te Hoho Rock
You can walk through the archway to access Cathedral cove beach. It has beautiful white sand and you can walk all the way to the pinacle called Te Hoho rock.
It has been sculpted by wind and water for centuries. So you can let you imagination go wild looking at it from different angles;
Different people see different things. I don't tell you, I let you imagine for yourself.
Historically Captain Cook noticed the natural wonders of Cathedral cove and recorded it in his journal. Apparently its Botanist was fascinated by the location.
Cathedral Cove Marine reserve
If you are fan of snorkelling, the whole area is protected as a Marine reserve and reputed for its underwater wonders.
It is home to reefs, sponge gardens and a good variety of marine life.
Only 10min from the beginning of the trail you can turn to walk down to Gemstone bay. This is the most reputed place to snorkel (without taking a boat to the islands). There is a snorkeling trail with buoys and species information.
Want to see more of NEW ZEALAND?
Inspiring scenery, isn't it?
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The last reflection shot is superb! Never heard of hot water beach. Looks good! Sounds like an exciting vacation.
Claire Robinson says
Thank you. I saw this reflection on my way to the beach and when I realized I would not have anything interesting there, I run back to that tree!
NZ Muse says
Ah lucky you! It was just me and my BF at Hot Water Beach and I think you definitely need a big group to stake a spot and dig a hole – we didn’t really manage it. I was also surprised at how freaking SCALDING the water was.
Claire Robinson says
LOL. Yes it was nice to see them do all the work. Yes the water is scalding as you said.
benjamin Lloyd mason Captain, USN Retired says
Where is Christchurch on your maps? Is there a U.S. Navy Presents there now?
Claire, the Travel Planning Geek says
I am sorry but I don’t understand your comment.
This article has a map of New Zealand North Island. So Christchurch is not on it, since it is located on the South Island.