If you are traveling to New Zealand, you surely have a laundry list of Lord of the Rings sites, bungee jumps, hiking trails and epic vistas on your itinerary; the country is a veritable playground of beauty and fun! Take a breather from all the action and spend a day relaxing on one of these world class beaches. Somewhat under-rated, New Zealand’s beaches boast clear blue lagoons and fine sand that will make you feel like you’re in Bora Bora—except instead of cabanas and cocktails, you’ll have the opportunity to partake in a quintessentially “Kiwi” brand of beach fun.
Just west of Auckland, through winding, jungle, one-lane roads, you’ll suddenly find yourself overlooking Piha. This tiny town of 600 started New Zealand’s surf culture in 1958, when they caught the bug from Malibu. A dramatic black sand stretch, it is crowned by Lion Rock, a national icon and former Maori defensive citadel. Watch international surfing competitions from your vantage point atop the rock, or try “hanging ten” yourself, at your own risk. From Piha you can hike into the lush Waitakeres to find Kitekite Falls, where there are chilly swimming holes and 260 feet of tiered falls.
90 Mile Beach
Though someone got a little overzealous with this beach’s name (it’s really only 55 miles long), it is still a formidable stretch of golden sand. Reaching all the way to the northern tip of the country to Cape Reinga, it is bordered by the remarkable AupouriForest. Don’t miss a walk around the ancient and towering kauri trees in the forest just because you are too eager to get to the beach! You’ll want to rent a “dune board” before you head out onto the sand; sand-boarding down the massive dunes is a true thrill (much faster than you expect). Expect to be covered from head to toe in sand by the end of this day. You can also just hike to the crest of the dunes to relax and enjoy the windswept, far reaching view down the coast.
Hot Water Beach
If you venture out onto theCoromandelPeninsula, you’ll be treated to a truly unique beach experience. About two hours after low tide, bring your shovel to Hot Water Beach. The locals will show you how it’s done! Here, you can dig your own therapeutic spa in the sand! Packed with restorative minerals like calcium, magnesium and potassium, the warm water will sooth even the most harried traveler’s aches. Not the best swimming beach (rip currents are strong and sporadic), this is the perfect beach if you are feeling quite lazy and in need of some TLC.
The gateway to the famous Abel Tasman track, along the north edge of the south island, this beach is coveted for its hidden coves and scenic coastline. Rent a kayak and paddle to secret nooks where there’s no one else in sight. Let the pristine turquoise waves tickle your toes as you lounge on glittering gold sand or take a stroll along the coastal walking paths. This sunny town offers seafood right off the boat-style in its casual restaurants and will be the perfect start to your trek on Abel Tasman.
WaihekeIslandis just off the coast from downtownAuckland, but you’ll feel worlds away. Rural and old-school, some may say that Waiheke is stuck in the 60s, which you’ll understand when you catch on to the residents’ flower child, veggie-market, beat up ’70 VW Beetle vibe.Palm Beachis the biggest beach on the island, a white sand cove where visitors and locals alike chill with a picnic, take a dip and get naked. What?! You heard me: naked. The western cove of the beach is open for all of your unhindered and unclothed whims. Highly recommended for the ideal tan (as you’ll quickly notice from the condition of the bronzed veterans), but first timers best slather up with SPF, or be caught with sunburn where one never wants sunburn.
Noella Schink is a travel writer from Portland, Mainewho yearns for the year she spent exploring New Zealand. She recommends you start your Kiwi adventure with a hotel booking in Auckland and then losing yourself in these gorgeous islands.