Hot Waves Cafe on a wet winter’s day

By Emma Darragh

Today is my favourite type of Hot Waves day.  It was a spur of the moment decision to come, as is often the case.  It’s an ordinary mid-winter Wednesday morning. The rain is an isolated cloud shadowing the entire Coromandel Peninsula.

“Shall we go for a drive?” I ask my boys. “Maybe have lunch somewhere…”

“Hot Waves!” they instantly reply.

Coming to Hot Waves Cafe triggers a pleasurable back-catalogue of memories of previous visits.  Over eleven years, all my Hot Waves memories are happy ones, filled with good times, good vibes and good company.  I have brought many a friend and visitor over the years, as I know I can rely on Hot Waves to provide consistently friendly service and fresh, tasty food.  I wonder what kind of memories today’s visit will make.

Twenty years ago, Mary Channings and Terry Bright bought the Hot Water Beach property where Hot Waves now stands, with a view to do something with it.  Mary had worked in cafes and restaurants for years and loved it, and partner Terry worked as a house and landscape designer. Developing a custom-designed space where people could enjoy good hospitality was a logical decision.  In January 2005, Hot Waves Cafe opened its doors.  Terry designed the mudbrick building and together they planted the garden. 


Today we are greeted by Mary’s warm smile, friendly greeting and quiet voice.  Her staff all seem to possess a similar easy-going, calm nature, which I find welcome relief from the usual crop of noisy wait-staff clashing with coffee machines at cafes nowadays.  The cakes cabinet is filled with familiar favourites, as well as a couple of new and tasty-looking savouries and sweets.  There is something reassuring about seeing Hot Waves’ signature staples - nainamo bar, chocolate brownie and carrot cake, and seeing the friendly, familiar faces of Mary’s staff, many who have worked there for years.

Mary says her staff are ‘the most important thing’.  “We all get on. There’s a good energy.  The secret to enjoying your work is the people you work with.  You get to know them so well.”

Back when my boys were babies, I would drive the 20 minute Tairua to Hot Water Beach distance, in desperate attempt to get them to sleep.  Mary would make me a takeaway coffee and serve me a slice in a brown bag.  Hot Waves provided solace then and it does the same thing now. 


Today those same babies - now teenagers - have gravitated towards the comfy couches by the open fireplace. Chai, the fluffy black cafe cat jumps from her box and plonks herself on my lap. There are two thick stacks of magazines on the coffee table and a pile of board-games.  The boys launch into a Connect 4 war, while my americano arrives quickly, followed by their spider, iced chocolate and our shared plate of steaming cheesy nachos.


Looking outside to the cafe’s garden and outdoor seating area makes me wonder whether Terry Bright had this exact vision when him and Mary established the space years ago.  It is a New Zealand garden of eden; so lush, so many versions of green, so many shapes, sizes and textures of native fauna.  The garden is studded with outdoor sculptures, which provide a pleasing contrast to the nature. They are both ‘really into gardening,’ says Mary.  “It’s great now the gardens are established, but it’s always a work in progress.  There’s still lots we want to do.  At the moment we are creating paving down the centre and a water feature in the garden area.  Hopefully it will be finished in the next month.” 

As morning becomes midday, the cafe has filled up behind me.  Most of the tables are now occupied.  I am surprised, as it hasn’t altered the serene atmosphere at all.  The space seems to accommodate any number of people with ease.  You never know who’s going to be at Hot Waves and which languages you’ll over-hear. Today, a table of local ladies have gathered for a birthday lunch.  There is a warm hum of chat and bubbles of laughter billow over the sound of increasingly heavy rain and crackles from the blazing open fireplace.


Locals are important to Terry and Mary; they value their custom and go out of their way to accommodate community events such as the Mercury Bay Art Escape, and activities for locals in the winter months.  The art on the walls is all created by local artists. Hot Waves has become a recognised destination for people seeking Coromandel art.


For several years, Hot Waves have hosted open mic nights on Friday evenings.  Mary is animated talking about the range of people who bring their musical talent to the cafe.  “They are going so well! It’s just amazing,” says Mary.  “Usually in the winter months it would quieten down, but not this year.”  The casual and relaxed open mic night is well supported by regulars, who bring their instruments to jam with whoever shows up on the night.  Terry, himself a long-time singer and guitarist, brings all the equipment and sets everything up, providing opportunity for anyone to pick up a guitar and give it a go.  The kitchen is open for pizzas and burgers to enjoy with Friday night drinks. In the summer the music happens in the garden so people can enjoy the evening twilight.  During winter, jam sessions happen around the fireplace. 


And through it all, Mary moves quietly among everyone.  From the fireplace with an armful of wood, to the kitchen carrying plates of food, to the tables taking orders - she is unhurried, yet efficient and remarkably unflappable. Those porous mudbrick walls have a way of absorbing sound, taking the sharp edge off shrill voices and containing the good atmosphere the cafe provides.  


Mary considers the significance of owning and operating a cafe in the Coromandel for eleven years, and says the memories of so many small events and occasions are all highlights for her.  She recalls the various quiz nights, weddings, celebrations and community commemorations Hot Waves have played host to.  She is happy they have been able to provide a serene backdrop to many people’s memories.


As for my memory of our ordinary Hot Waves Wednesday?  It is a happy one indeed, featuringme and my growing boys sharing nachos and time, together on a sofa while the rain comes down.  Hot Waves is therapeutic. We are better for visiting this place; more connected, more relaxed, well-nourished and inspired by the peace it provides.  Long may this slice of Coromandel Goodness last.  We love it.


Photos: Jackson Bright