Photographer's guide to visiting and photographing Cathedral Cove
There are so many incredible spots to photograph when visiting The Coromandel. One location I always end up returning to is Cathedral Cove, a few bays from the beautiful Hahei Beach and township. With its white sand, photogenic sea stacks (Te Hoho and Sphinx rock) and of course that iconic view through the cave, it is little wonder Cathedral Cove attracts so many photographers. In this blog, I will provide some tips on accessing the cove, as well as, when and how to photograph this amazing location.
Cathedral Cove is situated 2.5 hours drive from both Auckland and Tauranga. The closest township is Hahei, which is a small beach town with a holiday park, a couple of cafe’s and a restaurant. The closest supermarket is in Whitianga, which is a 40 minute drive from Hahei. It definitely pays to bring food with you if you are planning on staying a couple of days.
Location of Cathedral Cove in relation to Auckland and Tauranga
Access to Cathedral Cove
Cathedral Cove is not tide dependent, which means you can visit regardless of whether the tide is high or low. However, accessing the beach to photograph looking back towards the cave is tide dependent and is not advised two hours either side of high tide.
In the off peak season (01 May - 30 September), the best route to Cathedral Cove is via the track at the top of Grange Rd. There is a large car park nearby and you shouldn’t have any problems finding a park. The track down to the cove winds through native bush and takes me around 35 mins, but it is best to leave yourself a bit more time if you want to enjoy the walk at your own pace. The path is well paved, with some stairs towards the end of the trail as you make your way down to the beach. Keep an eye and ear out for some of New Zealand’s native birds such as Tui, Bellbird, and Riro-Riro.
When visiting in the off season, follow the white path from the Grange Rd car park.
In peak summer months (01 October - 30 April), the car park at the end of Grange Rd is closed off to cars due to the high number of visitors. There are a few options to get to Cathedral Cove. The first option is to catch a shuttle bus for $5 from the Hahei Village car park (on Hahei Beach Rd.) and right up to the start of the track. Because the busses only run from 9am to 6pm, this option is not ideal for photographers who aim to shoot the nice light at sunrise and sunset. The best and fastest way for photographers to get to the cove is to park at the car park at the end of Hahei Beach Rd. You start off walking along the beach for a few minutes and then start a coastal track on your left hand side. This track takes me about 25 mins before it joins up with the main track down to Cathedral Cove, all together taking around 1 hr to get to Cathedral Cove.
In the peak summer months, follow the white path until it meets up with the main track.
Best times to photograph
Because Cathedral Cove is on the eastern side of The Coromandel, the best time to photograph is sunrise and the hour that follows.
Screenshot from Photopills app showing the suns path throughout the day (obviously this will change slightly throughout the year, but use this as a rough guide).
On a clear morning, once the sun is up, you will get beautiful golden light illuminating the bay and spilling into the cave. The issue with photographing this spot at sunset is that the hills behind the beach block the sunlight around as hour before official sunset time. This means that although you might be able to get some colour in the sky (i.e. reverse sunset colours), the beach and whatever subject you are shooting will be quite dull. That’s not to say you can’t still get a killer image at sunset, just something to think about if you have the luxury of spending an extended period of time here!
Cathedral Cove is also a great spot for star gazing and astrophotography as there are very few artificial lights around. Hahei township gives off a little bit of light, but luckily it doesn’t effect the sky too much. The best time to capture the Milky Way is from late February until early August, after which the Milky Way will be directly overhead and setting in the west. You will spot the Milky Way by looking southeast. It is possible to capture the Milky Way rising over the cove:
As well as, over Te Hoho Rock as seen in this image, with me in the foreground for scale:
As I mentioned earlier, access to this end of the beach is dependent on the tides, so make sure you are aware of what the tide is doing, especially if you are at the beach at night.
By using the app Photopills, we can see where the Milky Way will be positioned at certain times of the year.
Where to stay and eat
Please note that it is illegal to sleep in your car or camper in the car parks and fines are handed out regularly for those that do. I recommend staying at the Hahei Holiday Resort (https://www.haheiholidays.co.nz). With non-powered sites available for campers starting at $20 per night, including access to toilet facilities, showers, kitchen, as well as, not having to worry about being woken up and handed a fine - it really is a no brainer! It is also great to support a local business while visiting these beautiful locations.
The Hahei Beach Cafe (http://www.haheibeachcafe.com) does a great breakfast and amazing coffee. We have spent many mornings getting our pick me up here after an early wake up to shoot sunrise. The Pour House with its own brewery (https://www.thepourhouse.co.nz) is a great option for dinner and beers, especially if the conditions aren’t great for photography!
Please play your part in keeping this amazing location pristine for generations to come. There are no rubbish bins at the beach so make sure you take all your rubbish back out with you. Pay attention to signs and please don’t interfere with any wildlife you might be lucky enough to come across.
I hope this guide is helpful in making your visit to Cathedral Cove a success. Hopefully you get some amazing photography conditions and enjoy your stay in The Coromandel.
Be sure to share your shots with The Coromandel page on Instagram and Facebook using the hashtag #goodforyoursoul.
If you have any more questions, I am more than happy to answer them and if you would like to see my work check out my pages on Instagram and Facebook by searching for Jackburdenimages, or by checking out my website: http://www.jackburdenimages.com.