Greg Bruce and family enjoy a Coromandel break, despite the weather
A couple of weeks before our weekend in Hahei, we made the mistake of talking about Hot Water Beach with our nearly-4-year-old, and from that point on, all she could talk about when we mentioned the trip was "digging a hole in the beach".
We tried to tell her any beach visit was weather-dependent, the forecast was not great, and we were going to do other things during our weekend away, but she didn't seem to care.
From the time we left home, the most common question from the extreme back seat of our luxurious, semi-self-driving Skoda Kodiaq was "When are we going to dig a hole in the beach?"
As it turned out, the rain started as we left Auckland late on Saturday morning and continued through the day. Late that evening it reached near-Biblical levels and was pretty much the same way throughout the night. Several Coromandel locals had told us to not be too worried about the weather forecast, that the area has its own microclimate, which tends to be better than advertised. They were wrong.
The previous day, after our improbably comfortable and quiet drive from Auckland, we had stopped at Mercury Bay Estate, a beautiful little winery halfway up a hill, looking back down the slope and out across the bay.
We had a flight of wines and a platter of cured meats, olives, cheese and crackers. It was cosy and wonderful, in a warm, glassed-in room, looking out at the heaving rain in the bay.
There was something equally appealing about the wild weather at the near-empty Hahei Holiday Resort where our family spread out in an enormous, comfortable new beachfront bach, with pizza and some good fish and chips from local craft brewery/beach eatery The Pour House.
Because our youngest child is 4 months old, we were up to perform multiple checks on the weather throughout the night. The rain seemed like it might never stop.
As the sun came up on Sunday morning, I was shocked to discover the sun coming up. It was soon obscured by cloud, but because the cloud was not yet producing rain, we raced to get in the car. About 8.30am we finally joined 20 or so others at Hot Water Beach, digging a communal pool in front of some rocks and barricading it against the incoming tide.
Our nearly-4-year-old pitched in with her tiny plastic spade, and eventually we all sat down in the lukewarm pool that resulted. It was horribly cold out of the pool, but the kids didn't care and because all our eldest daughter's holiday dreams had come true, neither did we.
The Hahei Holiday Resort, it turns out, does great coffee. We had hot flat whites and showers, then got back in the Skoda and drove 50 minutes to the tiny beach hamlet of Kuaotunu for lunch at local food legend Luke's Kitchen.
Luke bestrode the place with an air of warm, chilled-out hospitality. The place, which used to be his dad's garage, is across from the beach and has the open, beach-shack feel of the tropics.
Luke gave our children little balls of pizza dough, and once they had produced tiny squishy art with them, he baked them in the pizza oven and brought them back for eating.
The rain was clearing when we left, so we drove over the hill to Otama beach, a 2km stretch of white sand, bookended by high green headlands, with absolutely no one else on it. Not a car passed. As for so much of the weekend, we were alone.
That night, I drove through the rain back to Mercury Bay estate where local food truck Serial Griller was parked up for the night, serving up high-stacked burgers, based around top-quality, handmade meat patties that are smashed down hard on a hot grill, giving them great textural complexity. Sauces are all handmade too, and the buns are from one of Waikato's top bakers.
We ate them in the lounge of our bach with a couple of glasses of wine after the kids were asleep. We would be leaving in the morning and there was much we had planned to do but had been prevented from doing by the weather: a sunrise walk to Cathedral Cove, a family walk to New Chum Beach, a boat ride around the coast on the Hahei Explorer.
No matter. In the morning, the rain stopped long enough for a family walk on Hahei beach. Under some heavy overhanging trees, our daughters played on two rope swings and their laughter and squeals were more or less the only noise. The beach again was empty. Coromandel felt like it was only ours.