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Complete Guide to Visiting Cathedral Cove, New Zealand

Complete Guide to Visiting Cathedral Cove, New Zealand

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The walk to Cathedral Cove, New Zealand is something every tourist should do! Not only is it a beautiful walk, but the end result of Cathedral Cove is even more amazing! This is my guide about visiting Cathedral Cove including all of the information you would need to know to get there as well as some extra handy tips!

Last weekend Daniel and I ventured to the Coromandel Peninsula to check out Hot Water Beach, and while we were in the area we decided to also walk to Cathedral Cove.

Although we were tired from our 4 am wake-up call (to make low tide at the Hot Water Beach) we are glad that we found the energy to walk to Cathedral Cove – it was awesome and we think of it as one of the best beaches in New Zealand!

In this blog, I will share with you everything you need to know about the walk to Cathedral Cove based on our own personal experience!

Topics included in this Cathedral Cove, New Zeland guide are:

  • About Cathedral Cove
  • How to get to Cathedral Cove and parking
  • The walk to Cathedral Cove
  • Alternatives to walking (the boat)
  • The price and facilities
  • Other important tips

About Cathedral Cove, New Zealand

cathedral cove, new zealand
Dan and I inside the cove!

Cathedral Cove is a famous cave/rock formation on the Coromandel Peninsula. It is located right on the edge of an ocean-side bay and has been carved by the rough sea. A visit to Cathedral Cove is considered one of the best things to do in New Zealand.

Cathedral Cove is located only a couple of kilometers from the town of Hahei on New Zealand’s North Island. It is 175 km (47 mi) from Auckland about 2.5 hours to reach by car so it’s one of the best day trips you can take from Auckland. From Cathedral Cove, you can reach the famous Hot Water Beach in 10 minutes by car.

Cathedral Cove was also a film location in the Narnia films and since then has shot to international fame.

Cathedral Cove is an extremely popular place among photographers, locals, and tourists. One of the reasons many people can’t help but visit is because this amazing attraction is 100% free and requires no national park or entrance fees.

Visitor numbers to Cathedral Cove exceed 500,000 people per year and as such, Cathedral Cove in New Zealand is a very busy attraction in New Zealand.

With that said, you can avoid the crowds at Cathedral Cove and below I’ll tell you how!

The Walk to Cathedral Cove

A map of the walk to Cathedral Cove. from the top parking lot.

While visiting Cathedral Cove is the main attraction, half of the fun is the walk to Cathedral Cove. This beautiful trail follows the rocky coastline and passes a few other beautiful bays and stunning lookouts.

Here’s everything you need to know about the walk to Cathedral Cove including the best places to visit along the way!

How long does the walk to Cathedral Cove take?

the walk to cathedral cove new zealand is gorgeous
The start of the walk to Cathedral Cove (this is in the parking lot.)

Without stopping, it takes just under an hour to walk the 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) to Cathedral Cove from the top parking lot (that’s closed for parking, more info on that below).

However, there are some nice viewpoints to stop at and two other bays for swimming (keep reading for details on Stingray and Gemstone Bays.)

This means it can take much longer to really enjoy Cathedral Cove and with stops along the way, I would allow 4 to 5 hours of your day to enjoy this stunning attraction.

How difficult is the walk to Cathedral Cove?

staircases along the walk to cathedral cove, New Zealand
There are a few sets of stairs to and from the water at Cathedral Cove.

The walk to Cathedral Cove is pretty easy in my opinion. The trail is paved the entire way so the path is flat and there are no hazards on the trail.

The only hard part of the trail is at the halfway point and here you’ll need to climb a small hill. This will have you out of breath slightly, but it is quite short and easily done with a couple of breaks.

All of the bays including Cathedral Cove do require you to walk down staircases to access the water from the main pathway. This means climbing the stairs on the way back up.

There are only a few flights though and tons of elderly people and children were doing the entire walk with ease.

Parking at the Cathedral Cove trail

the top car park at cathedral cove was all fenced off
The top parking lot at Cathedral Cove is all fenced off. Visitors must walk or take a shuttle from town instead.

There is absolutely no parking at the start of the walk (the allocated parking lot ) during the summer. The parking lot is small and causes many accidents so the council has temporarily closed the parking lot with the idea to open it back up again during the slowest months, however, it may remain closed permanently.

As for now, you can only park at the Grange Road top parking lot between the 1st of May and the 30th of September for a fee of $15 NZD for 4 hours.

For this reason, you will have to make other arrangements to access the parking lot. Below I have listed four ways to get to the starting point of the Cathedral Cove walk, as well as a brand new trail with a parking lot that has just opened up nearby.

Attractions along the Walk to Cathedral Cove, New Zealand

There are a few points of interest along the walk to Cathedral Cove. I have personally stopped at them all and if you’re a person who loves exploring, I recommend you should too!

1. Viewing platform

the start of the walk to Cathedral Cove
The viewing platform at the very beginning of the walk right next to the parking lot.

The first stop is literally right at the entrance of the trail next to the parking lot. There is a viewing deck showing visitors the whole coastline. Even if you aren’t interested in the walk to Cathedral Cove, you should at least check out this viewing deck!

2. Gemstone Bay

gemstone bay along the way to cathedral cove
Gemstone Bay, as you can see, at high tide it isn’t much of a beach at all

The next stop is Gemstone Bay which is only about a 15-minute walk from the parking lot. There is no hill on this walk, but there are stairs to access the bay.

Gemstone Bay is said to be a great spot for snorkeling! We didn’t know this so we didn’t have snorkel gear with us – next time I guess!

At Gemstone Bay, the beach completely disappears during high tide so if you want to hang out on the sand it will need to be during low tide.

To check out the current tide times click here.

3. Stingray Bay

Stingray Bay near Cathedral Cove in the Coromandel
Daniel hanging out in Stingray Bay.

Stingray Bay is only another 5-10 minutes of leisurely walking from Gemstone Bay.

This walk is also relatively flat with stairs down to the water at the end of the trail.

Stingray Bay is bigger than Gemstone Bay but also floods during high tide. It is still okay to visit during high tide though as there are lots of rocks that you can sit on.

4. Lookout on the hill

the lookout at the top of the hill on the walk to cathedral cove, new zealand
The lookout when you finally get to the top of the hill. This lookout means the hardest part is over!

The hardest part of the walk to Cathedral Cove is after Stingray Bay. Here, you start to climb a hill. The hard work doesn’t go unrewarded though, because at the top of the hill there is a pretty cool lookout and a bench to catch your breath.

How to get to Cathedral Cove (and where to park!)

hahei beach near cathedral cove is pretty nice
Hahei Beach right in the town of Hahei. You can walk from here to Cathedral Cove by following the beach to the left until it meets a trail.

Since the parking lot at Cathedral Cove has closed there is now a lot of confusion as to where to park to access the trail. So, below I’ve listed four ways you can get there and what they cost!

1. Take the shuttle from Hahei

This is what most people do. In Hahei town, there is a parking lot where regular shuttles operate to the start of the Cathedral Cove trail (the parking lot that is fenced off).

You can’t miss it, it is right at the entrance of town with lots of signage. The shuttle costs $5 NZD per adult for a return trip or $10 for a family of two adults and two kids.

The Cathedral Cove shuttle starts operating at 10 am and goes until about 6 pm (double check when the last return shuttle is with the driver though as it can change depending on the season,)

2. Park at one of the nearby houses

Homeowners near the Cathedral Cove parking lot have capitalized on the fact that the top parking lot is closed. Many houses sell parking for $10 per vehicle.

You will still have to walk five minutes to the entrance but this is a great option if you don’t want to wait for a shuttle or want to start walking before 10 am when the shuttle begins to operate.

Keep in mind that these parking spots do fill up quickly so they are best if you want to visit Cathedral Cove early in the morning before the shuttle starts operating.

3. Walk from the town of Hahei

the distances for the walk to cathedral cove
This sign shows how far it is to each point of interest along the way to Cathedral Cove from the top carpark.

Many people walk along the road from Hahei to get to the top parking lot where the Cathedral Cove trail starts. I’m not sure how long this would take…but it is a steep hill!

If you are going to walk, I recommend walking from the beach in Hahei. There is a path from the left side of Hahei beach which meets the pathway to Cathedral Cove. This walkway would be easier and a lot more scenic than walking along the road

4. Park at the Lees Road Carpark and walk (new as of 2020)

The latest addition to this list is the new privately-owned parking lot on Lees Road. From here, you can walk a new track to Cathedral Cove. This track is slightly shorter than the DOC track but doesn’t follow the beautiful coastline.

However, at the parking lot, there are 200 parking pays that cost $10 per car.

You can check out this map of where the Lees Road parking lot is. Please note, this map doesn’t show the road but Lees Road can be accessed from Hahei. There are lots of signs too!

The Boat to Cathedral Cove

view of the water taxi boat in the water at Cathedral Cove
For those who don’t want to walk, the water taxi is a great option! Photo Credit: Cathedral Cove Water Taxi

If the walk to Cathedral Cove really doesn’t sound appealing to you then there are another two options, taking the boat or kayaking.

You can get a boat from Hahei Beach to the Cathedral Cove for pretty cheap, we saw one company advertising for only for $20 NZD per person per way ($40 for a round trip.) Children under the age of 14 cost $15 per way.

The benefit of the boat ride is definitely the lack of physical effort required. Besides that, it’s quick and affordable and you’ll get amazing views of the coastline.

These boat rides do advertise themselves as “water taxis” so the idea is that they drop you off at Cathedral Cove and then you catch a different one back when you are ready.

Kayak to Cathedral Cove

group of people kayaking to Cathedral Cove in the ocean with cliffs in the background
Such an adventure! Photo Credit: Cathedral Cove Kayak Tours

If you want to, kayak tours leave right from Hahei Beach that go to Cathedral Cove. This guided kayaking tour comes highly rated and includes all safety equipment as well as tea/coffee once you get to Cathedral Cove. The tour lasts for about 3 hours with about 2 hours of paddling time. It is suitable for families too and there are two departures daily, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Expect to pay $125 NZD per person.

In the summer months, these kayaking tours are extremely popular, so you should book online in advance.

Alternatively, you can rent a kayak and go on your own, however, this is only recommended for those with experience. Also, the kayak rentals aren’t much cheaper than the guided tour and rentals are subject to availability.

Guided Tour to Cathedral Cove

a large rock formation sticking out of the water at a beautiful beach bay next to Cathedral Cove
This is an area you can explore at Cathedral Cove.

If you have a bigger budget there are a few fun tour options you can pick from that will make visiting Cathedral Cove a bit more eventful. This day tour trip from Auckland makes 1-hour stops at both the Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach, plus it starts out with a train journey through the Kauri Forest. If you don’t care much for lounging on the beach you can take the more photography-friendly version that makes several stops including Catherdal Cove, Cooks Blowhole, and Whale Cave via speed boat.

Facilities at Cathedral Cove

Along the trail to Cathedral Cove, there are no facilities. However, once you arrive at Cathedral Cove there are drop/pit toilets.

Although there is usually toilet paper, I’d recommend bringing some with you just in case.

Other than the toilet there are no other facilities you should bring enough water and snacks for your group.

Useful tips to know visiting Cathedral Cove

the views along the way to cathedral cove are amazing
The views along the way to Cathedral Cove are amazing
  • Plan your visit according to the tide – The best time to visit Cathedral Cove is when it is between low and high tide. At high tide, it is not possible to walk into the cove, and at low tide, the water is way out and makes for worse pictures.
  • Pack plenty of water – there are no drinking taps along the way to Cathedral Cove so ensure you bring enough water for the walk there and back. I would recommend at least 1.5 liters per person on a hot day.
  • Food is limited in the town of Hahei – we were there in the morning around 8 am and literally, nothing was open! Not even a service station. To get something to eat we had to wait until 8:30 am when the first Cafe opens.
  • Go early in the morning – Cathedral Cove is very busy in the afternoons in summer. It is a small beach and cove so if you want some peace and photo opportunities I would suggest getting there before 9 am. The earlier the better.

Where to Stay near Cathedral Cove

the courtyard at Tatahi Lodge, green grass with lounge chairs outside of the room patios
Such a great place to stay! Photo Credit: Tatahi Lodge

We love the area of Hahei, which is the closest town to Cathedral Cove. If you have time, we strongly recommend spending a couple of nights there. Not only will you be able to go to Cathedral Cove but you will also be able to enjoy Hahei Beach as well as Hot Water Beach!

Some recommended places to stay near Cathedral Cove are:

Tatahi Lodge and Backpackers – Perfect budget accommodation right in Hahei town center. A couple of hundred meters from Hahei beach and shared kitchen facilities onsite. This is perfect if you don’t want to spend a ton on accommodation (and why would you, you’ll be at the beach the whole time anyway!)

Robyn’s Nest – This little holiday home is gorgeous. It is actually where Dan and I stayed when we were last in Hahei. You can rent either the house or the studio apartment and have the whole place to yourself. It is around the corner from the beach and shops and super cute. It books up quickly though so book well in advance!

Church Accommodation – Offers super cute cottages that are perfect for the whole family in summer or winter! Centrally located and all the facilities you could possibly need, these guys are also top-rated for having exceptional customer service.

Thanks for reading!

at hahei beach
We love the town of Hahei!

Thanks so much for taking the time to read our blog on Cathedral Cove, New Zealand.

I hope that this guide has answered everything you need to know about visiting Cathedral Cove. If not please leave a comment below and we will be more than happy to help. We love to hear from our readers!

If you liked this blog then be sure to check out all our New Zealand blogs here or check out these great articles below:

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