So you’re in Auckland, the sun is out and you’re thinking, wow this is a great day to go to the beach: where do you go? West to the black sand and surf? North to the sandy suburban shores? Or closer to home to a city beach?
Auckland is located on an isthmus between two coasts – east and west – so there are many beaches to choose from. For some you’ll need a car, for others a bus ticket or short ferry ride will get you there in no time.
West Coast Beaches
If you’re a movie buff or TV fan you’ll have seen Auckland’s dramatic west coast beaches onscreen. Piha is a popular black sand beach with the spectacular Lion Rock rearing up in the middle. Karekare Beach both feature in The Piano by Jane Campion, and Bethells Beach (Te Henga) is the home of Xena Warrior Princess and Hercules.
Bethells has a wonderful desert-like sand dune beside the beach and it’s a bit of a walk to the sand from the carpark. One of the most northern beaches on this stretch of coast is Muriwai, a huge expanse of black sand. But if you want secluded and spectacular, find your way to Anawhata which is near Piha off an unpaved road and then down a steep track – but be warned the sea here is treacherous with many rips and there’s no surf patrol.
These are windswept, surf beaches with that famous black sand. If you don’t see Xena riding up the beach – and we really did see a lone rider and horse galloping along the sand, which made the visit to Bethells quite surreal and wonderful – you’re very likely to see a Japanese wedding couple having their photo taken against the dramatic backdrops (which we saw at Piha).
The west coast beaches are about 30 km north-west (40 minutes drive) of central Auckland through the Waitakere Ranges Regional Parkland, which is right on the edge of Auckland and a lovely scenic drive (though Aucklanders will often refer to these beaches as remote!). There are four main coastal resorts here: Piha, Bethells Beach, Muriwai and Karekare which are small sleepy towns in winter and explode into busy holiday spots during summer. If you’re a surfer these are the beaches to head to, especially Piha, and the area is also great for hiking.
North Shore Beaches
The north shore across the water from the Auckland CBD is known for its beachside living. Hop on a ferry to Devonport or drive across the Harbour Bridge and head to one of 10 white sand beaches for swimming, surfing and good beachside café life.
Takapuna is the most popular of the north shore beaches, known as much for its shops and nightclubs as for its white sand beach. Try the Takapuna Beach Café, a glass box with great views located at the top of the beach. On Sundays there’s the popular Takapuna Market and when you’ve had enough shopping and dining, you can give standup paddleboard riding a try down at the beach. Or just relax and gaze across the water at Rangitoto Island.
Devonport is the easiest to reach by ferry from central Auckland, taking just over 10 minutes. A short walk from the ferry pier is Cheltenham Beach, a lovely long sandy beach, very safe for swimming. At the end of the beach is a short walk to North Head which gives great views of Auckland and across to Rangitoto Island.
Long Bay is one of Auckland’s most popular – and longest – beaches. Great for families. North of this bay are two smaller beaches which you can only reach by walking. One of these – Pohutukawa Bay – is a popular nude beach.
If you’re feeling energetic you can explore this eastern coastline on foot, following the East Coast Bays section of the Te Araroa Trail which covers the whole length of New Zealand. This north shore section is 14 miles long (23km) and follows the clifftops and beaches, though there are some road sections. It takes about 7 hours to walk.
Only 10 minutes drive from the city center along Tamaki Drive are Mission Bay and St Heliers, two lovely sandy beaches with the added benefit of restaurants, shops and ice cream parlors just across the road from the sand. These beaches are great if you don’t have time to venture further afield as they are so close in to town.
Mission Bay lies only a few km from the city center on the southern shore of Waitemata Harbour. This old-fashioned historic family beach has restaurants, ice-cream parlors, a grassy parkland adjacent to the sandy beach and warm, calm water perfect for swimming. It also has Auckland’s best fountain that lights up with different colors at night. Mission Bay is also just around the corner from one of Auckland’s best-known tourist attractions, Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium.
A little further on, St Heliers is one of Auckland’s most affluent suburbs and the pretty village of shops sits opposite the sandy cove. In summer it gets very crowded but for good reason as this is a great safe swimming spot for families.
No matter what sort of beach-mood you’re in, you can be there within an hour from central Auckland. Just another reason to love New Zealand so much.
– Philippa Burne