Auckland tends to be the start or end of every New Zealand road trip and many visitors flying in to experience the best of Aotearoa, typically cant wait to get away from the big city and hit the road. This is a mistake some tourists make.
Auckland may fall within the realms of a big city which many came to New Zealand to avoid however, Auckland’s surrounding areas are dotted with spectacular areas and you’d be foolish to miss them.
But what makes New Zealand such a great summer destination is its abundance of beaches. Now I grew up in New Zealand so this blog post isn’t strictly impartial, but I can assure my top choices are!
Auckland’s best beaches
Tawharanui / Anchor Bay
Seventy minutes north of Auckland is Tawharanui Regional Park and literally the most aesthetically picturesque of Auckland’s beaches. This 588 hectare park is decorated with rolling green hills, low level wetlands, a host of birdlife including the elusive Kiwi and blue-beaked Pukeko as well as gorgeous fine white sand that stretches into the distance.
A common favourite with stand-up paddle-boarders, surfers and kayakers, this expansive beach is a great place for body surfers, joggers or simply those after a paddle, a BBQ and day on the sand (gas BBQ only). If you plan to stay (and you should) there are basic campsite facilities but book in advance, and campervans can stay a maximum of two nights. There is absolutely nothing wrong with waking up to views of Tawharanui!
If you’re not a beach bum, there are plenty of hiking trails in the surrounding hills:
North/South Coast Track is a three hour return hike from either the Lagoon car park or the hut at Anchor Bay and extends out to Tokatu Point to enjoy views of Great barrier Islands, Kawau and Little Barrier
Ecology Trail is a two hour return walk from the Anchor Bay hut and crosses streams, native bush, wetlands and coastal areas
West End Track is two hours (return) from Anchor Bay hut with awesome coastline views
Top tip: After a day on the beach, stop off in Matakana for ‘the longest drink in town’ milkshake (spearmint is my choice)
Piha is 40 minutes from the city and arguably Auckland’s most famous beach which can be found in the Waitakere Ranges on the West coast. Being one of Auckland’s true last wilderness areas the drive to Piha is through virgin bushland and windy roads which deliver you to this black sand favourite. The crowning glory of Piha Beach is Lion Rock which separates Piha in two. It is named so because it looks like a sleeping lion which you can climb but if it’s raining go easy. Piha is a favourite with surfers and those that love surfers. The strong currents and rip-tows mean this isn’t a safe beach so if you do want to get your hair wet, stay within the flags so life guards can see you. If you’re swimming outside of the flags don’t go deep as it really is dangerous. Facilities at Piha Beach include a cafe, dairy (general store), camp site and surf school.
Top tip: Be sure to buy a pair of kiwi jandals (flip flops) to stop your feet buring on the volcanic sand!
Goat Island Marine Reserve
Goat Island Marine Reserve is roughly about 1hr 20 minutes outside of Auckland City and a great way to get close to marine life. The reserve is shallow so the sheer volume of fish makes it the perfect place for snorkelling or diving, plus its common place to see dolphins basking in the salty water. You’ll need to bring your own mask and snorkel but there is a dive shop nearby to Goat Island where you can rent tanks. If snorkelling isn’t your thing then why not rent one of the glass bottom boat/canoes which are a fairly new addition to Goat Island. Just down form the carpark and before reaching the beach is Goat Island Marine Discovery Centre where you can learn more about the sea life before hitting the water.
Top tip: After a day on the beach at Goat Island, make a beeline for nearby Leigh Sawmill Café to sample craft beers made at this micro-brewery.
Waiheke is the second largest island in the Hauraki Gulf and only a short 40 minute ferry from Auckland centre. Anyone from Auckland knows that a day on Waiheke Island is a truly awesome day. Think lazing on bean bags in the sunshine, views across the gulf towards the city, some of New Zealand’s finest wines and Michelin star food or taste dependant, dirty pizzas to line the stomach. If a day trip isn’t enough, I recommend renting a bach (holiday house) and commuting into the city during the day.
So what is there to do on Waiheke you ask? Check out this blog for more info but you won’t want to miss the Waiheke Community Art Gallery before heading to any number of the islands 25 established vineyards. Don’t forget to take your togs (swimsuit) because when fine wine becomes too much to bear (if it does), you can head to Oneroa Beach which will help you forget the price of the wine.
Top tip: Cable Bay vineyard is amazing, don’t pass this one up! Also Waiheke is not a day for sticking to a travel budget! Let yourself go, order that extra glass and snooze all the way back to the city with everyone else.
Only a few kilometres from Piha, Anawhata is more isolated and worth every bit of the hike to get down there (and back up again). This secluded black sand beach is situated in the Waitakare Ranges only 40 minutes from central Auckland. Yes it’s another black sand beach but you can go anywhere for boring old white sand. The best advice is drive towards Piha Beach but keep your eyes out for a small sign (and I mean small) on the right directing you towards Anawhata. You’ll drive down a dirt road for 25 minutes before reaching the car park. Don’t leave valuables in the car as there have been break-ins although I’ve never had any issue. Next is a 20 minute walk down to the beach which will more than likely be empty. It is truly stunning and platforms the wild and rugged coastline which is concealed by lush and dense bushland. If you plan to swim there is no lifeguard so best on an incoming tide and don’t go deep otherwise the rips and undertows will have their wicked way with you. Anawhata is the real essence of New Zealand’s wild coastline!
Top tip: There are no shops so take a bottle of wine and climb the hill on the beach for panoramic views and a taste of New Zealand.
I like this beach because the expansive stretch of sand makes it perfect for a run, or just a day by the sea. There are gas BBQ’s you can rent and cafe’s to buy snacks at. It is also home to one of Auckland’s rare nude beaches so if the thought of tan lines is too much for you, you can walk for 25 minutes to Pohutukawa Bay. Long Bay is perfect for a nice long walk for views of why you came to New Zealand in the first place.
Top tip: Buy meat at the butchers and cook your own food at the beach. Kiwi’s take BBQ’ing very seriously and enjoy the smell of one cooked nearby, you might even make a few new ‘friends’!
Only 40 minutes from the city centre, you can either spend the day or stay a few days longer and rent a bach. Apart from being a magnificent, windswept beach on Auckland’s west coast, it is also home to the nesting wildlife gannet colony. Please don’t think this is just a side activity to a great beach day because it is amazing to see. Each year you can watch the comings and goings of a busy gannet colony as their young prepare to take the first flight. Close by to the car park, a short track leads to a viewing platform right above the main colony area. About 1,200 pairs of gannets nest here from August to March each year.
The beach itself is popular with surfers and swimmers who brave the heated black volcanic sand. There are strong rip currents so swim between the flags or don’t go deep but do yourself a favour and buy some lunch at the local cafes before hitting the sand. This beach is an awesome day out!
Top tip: Be sure to buy a hokey pokey ice-cream on the way home. This kiwi creation has a special place in the hearts of all New Zealanders.