Northland and the Bay of Islands Feature
- Places to Explore
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- Fodor's Choice
No matter where you are in New Zealand, within two hours you can be at a beach from the long white-sand beaches on the East to the black-sand rugged coastline of the West Coast.
The beach experience in New Zealand is dependent on where you are. City-side beaches in Auckland are for families while the West Coast and Far North beaches attract the surfing set.
The best beaches for people staying in Auckland are Mission Bay, Kohimarama, St. Heliers, and Ladies Bay. If you take the ferry to Devonport, you can walk to a number of fine beaches popular with locals.
West Coast beaches feature black sand, which gets very hot during the day. Make sure you wear sandals while you select your spot. Swim between the flags on beaches with surf patrols; the rips can be sudden and dangerous but the pounding surf is like a free massage.
The Far North beaches are glorious and often deserted, but inexperienced swimmers should not venture in over waist height.
BEST TIME TO GO
New Zealanders say the best time to hit the beach is anytime they are not at work. For swimming, November through early April is best. The farther north you go the warmer the weather and water. In summer avoid the beach mid-day—the sun can be scorching—and take a hat. In winter carry a raincoat, because weather changes quickly.
At 15,134 km (9,404 mi) the New Zealand coastline is the 10th longest in the world and varies from wide sand and stone beaches to sheer cliffs and forest where the bush meets the sea.
Film buffs will recognize KareKare from the dramatic opening scenes of The Piano. Its size means you will never feel hemmed in, even in the peak summer months. The pounding waves make for great swimming, but again, go in only when the surf patrol is operating. Fit walkers should explore the southern end of the beach and past the point; go at low tide because getting back is difficult when the water comes in.
A warm evening at Mission Bay off Tamaki Drive—about 10 minutes drive from the central city—can see families and community groups picnicking side by side. There is a wide range of food outlets adjacent to the beach, and all have take-out options. Three extremely good ice-cream parlors and an abundance of good coffee round out the culinary options.
The black sand of Muriwai Beach is a must for those exploring the west coast. Combine a trip here with a visit to Matua Valley or Babich wineries. The beach is great for surfing and swimming. Don't go out if the surf patrol is not operating, and always swim between the red and yellow flags. Or, get up-close-and-personal with the local gannet colony from the DOC viewing platforms; see the chicks in December and January.
You'll see some of New Zealand's most expensive houses along Takapuna Beach on Auckland's North Shore. If architecture (or being nosey) isn't your thing, it's a safe swimming beach in summer. It's good for walking, and sailors, kayakers, and triathletes all use this beach. The nice cafés in Takapuna township are two minutes away from the sand.
Stay the Night
The rhythmic sound of the sea, the salty air, the breeze against the tent; this is reason enough to try camping on a beach in New Zealand. The Department of Conversation runs cost-effective beachside campgrounds. The facilities, while basic, are generally well maintained. Go farther from city areas and you're more likely to have a beach (almost) to yourself, especially outside the peak summer period between November and March. Camping at beaches as opposed to staying in hotels offers a complete opportunity to unwind. Take some books and a towel, and spend the afternoon dipping, snoozing, and reading under the shade of a tree. If you are traveling with children, it's likely others there will want to mix and mingle which always adds to a holiday. Locals will point those who like fishing to a good spot. Almost nothing beats fresh fish cooked on a beach and eaten with fresh vegetables or even just on a piece of bread and butter.
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