It’s no secret that Cathedral Cove is a MUST-DO when in New Zealand, but how can you make the most of your visit, so that it’s truly memorable?
Everyone remembers the first time they visit Cathedral Cove. That moment when you finally descend the last flight of stairs onto the pristine white sand beach and immediately gravitate towards the arch – the “cathedral”. The awe as you walk through the archway and set eyes on Te Hoho rock, which you’ve seen countless times on your Instagram feed, the rock rising from the bluest waters you’ve ever seen.
Those moments are oh so precious.
While all of those things are true of my first visit to the cove, my experience was slightly dampened by the countless tourists that were all fighting for the same photo, all waiting to stand on the same rock, for the same pose. There’s only so much space so if you catch it at the wrong time, then Cathedral Cove feels much more like a crowded beach in south-east Asia than the serene and peaceful spot that you imagined it would be.
Here’s my 3-step checklist to ensure that your visit is all you dream of.
1. Choose Your Timing Right
So here’s the deal, EVERYONE wants to visit Cathedral Cove. If you’re heading there on a summer’s Saturday at midday, you’ll be fighting for a spot of shade, competing for photos and watching tour boats come in and out of the cove. Trust me, I know this cause I’ve been there.
Sunrise & Sunset or Midday?
Whether it’s summer or winter, I recommend you visit for sunrise or sunset. Shuttle buses and tour boats operate between 8 am and 6 pm, so there’s bound to be a whole lot more people during those hours. If you’re taking a tour or shuttle, then choose the first group or the last, to avoid the midday peak. Since the beach faces east, sunrise is the best option – it’s pretty magical watching the sky change colours as the golden light first touches the cove. It’s the best lighting for photos too – a win-win! If you choose to visit at sunrise or sunset, read to the end, as it can be a little more difficult to get there, but I’ve explained it all.
Weekend or Weekday?
It goes without saying that there will be move people at the cove on a weekend. If you have the flexibility and choice, then opt for a weekday instead.
Summer or Winter?
The cove is magic, whatever the season. If you live in NZ, then I definitely recommend doing a trip both in winter and in summer. Make sure you’re prepared for the temperatures. During summer, it can be very hot and the track is not shaded the whole way. In winter, the mornings and evenings can be cold, especially when you’ve stopped walking.
2. Take The Right Clothes & Shoes
It’s important that you have the right clothes as the walk to the cove is approx 30-45 minutes. You don’t want to forget something, as you can’t go back for it. In summer, take your togs with you – even if you don’t think you want to swim, you may change your mind when you see how inviting the water is! At sunrise & sunset, ensure you have layers for the walk in or out as temperatures may drop quickly after sunset.
Make sure you have comfortable footwear as well. From the Grange Road carpark, the track is tarmac, but there is a fair amount of uphill & downhill so be prepared for that.
3. Stop At Stingray Bay and Gemstone Bay
As you follow the track to Cathedral Cove, you’ll notice signage to Stingray Bay and Gemstone Bay. Stringray Bay has the same pristine sand and blue waters as Cathedral Cove, minus the people. It’s a great spot to stop, even have a picnic. You mustn’t miss this bay, it is so underrated & has a perfect, instagrammable lookout as you walk down. Who knows, you may even see a stingray or two!
Gemstone Bay doesn’t have the white sand that Cathedral Cove and Stingray Bay have. Instead it has a whole lot of boulders and stones. There is a snorkeling trail, which is great for all ages and lets you get up close with the wildlife in the marine reserve.
It’s possible to get from Stingray Bay to Gemstone Bay by scrambling over the rocks and boulders, if you’re feeling adventurous, check the tides and give it a try! It will save you walking up to the top of the cliff and back down again.
Getting To Cathedral Cove For Sunrise
Since the Grange Road car park is closed outside of daylight hours, if you are wanting to be at the cove for sunrise or sunset, you will have to park at Hahei beach car park. This adds an extra 15-20 minutes of uphill to your walk, but it is completely do-able. If I can do this, so can you!
If you are planning to stay at Cathedral Cove for sunset, then plan accordingly – it may be best to park at Hahei and walk the extra few minutes.
Let me know in the comments below what your experience has been at Cathedral Cove. I would love to hear all of your memorable stories!