Special New Zealand feature
Bruce Elder names the best places to get beached on New Zealand's North Island.
What is meant by 'best beach'? Ask 10 people and they will have different answers. Some will say a best beach is all about surfing. Others will insist it is a beach of great beauty; it is safe for swimming; it is a great fishing destination; it is dramatic and lonely and there are dozens of other possibilities. The North Island of New Zealand has an excess of exceptional beaches. Here are some that are so good that no trip to the country would be complete without visiting them.
Anaura Bay, North Island
This was the second place where Captain Cook landed in New Zealand. Today the bay is noted for its excellent beaches which offer diving, fishing and excellent swimming. There is also an scenic walkway, the Anaura Bay Walkway, around the shoreline.
Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, North Island
At Hot Water Beach you park your car, get a shovel (you can hire them from the local general store), walk down onto the beach, cross a narrow stream, walk about 200 metres to a rocky outcrop and start digging. The result: you tap into waters that have been heated far below the earth's surface and you can make an instant warm bath for yourself. Located on the Coromandel Peninsula this is a fun activity and should be included in any visit to the area. Check out http://mercurybay.co.nz/activities/hotwaterbeach.php
Karekare Beach, Waitakere, west of Auckland, North Island
Famous as the location for the film The Piano, Karekare is a dramatic and beautiful beach with steep cliffs on either side. In winter and when the westerlies are whipping the waves up and hurling themselves against the beach it is dark, dangerous and passionate. Not to be missed.
Makoriri Beach, 10km north of Gisborne, North Island
This is recognised as the best of the beaches north of Gisborne. Everything you ever wanted. It is a glorious golden sand beach with easy access from the road.
Mount Maunganui, Bay of Islands, North Island
Stop off at the Surf Museum and check out nearly 400 old surfboards before heading for the beach. “The Mount”, as it is known, is not only a popular holiday destination it also has one of the best surf beaches in the country.
Ninety Mile Beach, Cape Reinga, North Island
Ninety Mile Beach (which is actually 64 Mile Beach) is one of New Zealand's great attractions. At the southern end is Ahipara Beach which is safe for swimming and up near Cape Reinga are the giant Te Paki sand dunes which have become hugely popular for thrill seekers who climb to the top and slide down the very steep slopes. There is also an annual Snapper Classic fishing competition which is recognised as the biggest competition of its kind. It offered $250,000 in prize money in 2009. Check out http://snapperclassic.co.nz for details.
Onetangi Beach, Waiheke Island, North Island
Only a 30 minute ferry trip from Auckland, Waiheke Island has vineyards, chic small villages with good cafes and Onetangi Beach, a 2km-long white sand beach which attracts surfers, kayakers and swimmers.
Otama Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, North Island
Located 5km from Kuaotuna many consider Otama Beach to be the best of all the white sand beaches on the Coromandel Peninsula. It is a beach that is as close to paradise as anyone can reasonably expect. With few houses and pristine waters it is ideal for swimming and snorkelling. Check http://www.coromandelbeaches.co.nz/beaches/otama for more details.
Piha, west of Auckland, North Island
Just up the coast from Karekare Beach is Piha with its remarkable Lion Rock and its houses nestled into the side of the steep hills. It is recognised as one of New Zealand's best surfing beaches but don't be fooled. It is notorious for its dangerous rips and the surf can be so rough that only serious surfers would attempt the challenges it offers.
Raglan, North Island
One of New Zealand's most famous surfing destinations, Raglan is located 50km west of Hamilton. It's famous for its left-hand breaks and its four main beaches – Whale Bay, the Indicator, Wainui Beach and Manu Bay – are known around the world. Check out http://www.raglansurf.com
Surf Highway, North Island
Between Taranaki and Wanganui is the Surf Highway, a particularly beautiful stretch of coastline in the shadow of Mount Taranaki. Given that it lies below Mount Taranaki the beaches are characterised by "volcanic sands", that is, black sand. Particularly impressive is Opunake Beach which is recognised by surfers as one of the North Island's top surfing destinations.
Wenderholm Beach, north of Waiwera, North Island
Ideal for a family day out this beach has everything – a fine sandy beach, an excellent picnic area, plenty of walks, beautiful pohutukawa trees and a sublime lookout with excellent views.
Whangamata Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, North Island
Recognised as the best surfing beach on the Coromandel Peninsula, Whangamata is a rare mix of rainforest and pristine white sands. This is holiday territory and you can expect the beach to be crowded and the town to be bustling with people exploring the arts and craft shops and the chic cafes. Check out http://www.thecoromandel.com/whangamata.htm
This series of articles has been sponsored by Tourism New Zealand.