Best Beaches

10 great New Zealand beaches

(CNN) — Awe-inspiring. Relaxing. Picturesque.
From the golden bays of Abel Tasman to the naturally heated waters of the Coromandel Peninsula, beaches in New Zealand pack as much sunshine and clean water as they do creative adjectives.
Here are 10 beaches in New Zealand that visitors may want to see:

1. Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Peninsula

Stunning -- and surprising.
Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images
Hot Water Beach is a gorgeous beach has hidden depths. In-the-know visitors to this best New Zealand beach candidate pack shovels and arrive around two hours before or after low tide.
That's so they can dig a hole at the tide line and relax in a personal, natural hot springs spa -- at least until the tide comes up and the waves end the fun. The coastal springs are unusual, and the water that burbles up is full of healthy minerals -- calcium, magnesium, potassium.
For anyone feeling energetic, the majestic Cathedral Cove is an easy 40-minute hike away.

2. Piha Beach, West Auckland

The view is even better from atop Lion Rock.
Courtesy Murat WithHat/Creative Commons/Flickr
The birthplace of Malibu board riding in New Zealand, Piha is the country's most famous surfing beach as well as one of best New Zealand beaches. But it isn't just a surf beach -- rugged cliffs frame the sea, the commanding Lion Rock stands guard and the lush bush of the Waitakere Ranges provide plenty of opportunity for exploration, walking and picnicking.
Located on the wild west coast, a half-hour drive from Auckland, it's also a quintessential black, iron-sand destination, moody and misty. Definitely not a swim and sunbathing spot, the vibe is more windswept and mysterious.
Rips and currents abound. Swim only in areas patrolled by lifesavers.

3. Karekare, West Auckland

The isolated beauty of Karekare.
Courtesy russellstreet/Creative Commons/Flickr
Easily accessible from Auckland, Karekare was immortalized in the 1993 film "The Piano." As seen in the movie, a grandiose sweep of black sand stretches as far as the eye can see, with bush-clad hills backing an isolated, wild beach.
Karekare tends to be less inundated with tourists than nearby Piha. If you prefer a quieter beach, this is the one for you. The water can be extremely rough and swimming only "between the flags" is advised.
Karekare is popular for its annual beach race day, in which local ponies and horses race to raise money for local causes. Beach race day is usually held in early April. Karekare is signposted off Piha Road.

4. Kaiteriteri Beach, Nelson

On your way to Tasman Abel National Park, make time for Kaiteriteri Beach.
Courtesy Javier Losa/Creative Commons/Flickr
Golden sand and the highest rate of sunshine hours in New Zealand mean Kaiteriteri Beach has all the prerequisites for an idyllic seaside experience.
The gateway to magnificent Abel Tasman National Park, the beach is located at the top of New Zealand's South Island. From here you can hike the area's well-known walking tracks, swim, sunbathe, enjoy a lunch of local seafood or hire a kayak to paddle around the many coves and lagoons that surround Kaiteriteri.
The golden color of the sand comes from a high quartz content, which produces a glittering, Midas-like effect. Penguins, seals and dolphins are common, so make sure your camera batteries are fully charged. A short drive from the Nelson Township and picturesque Motueka, Kaiteriteri is decidedly the best beach in the South Island.

5. Whale Bay, Raglan

You'll likely see more surfers than whales
Courtesy Florian Bugiel/Creative Commons/Flickr
A quiet and environmentally minded coastal community situated between Mount Karioi and the ocean, Whale Bay is just five minutes' drive south of Raglan.
The hills are covered with native trees, while the beach itself is world-renowned for its surf. The left-hand point break is a favorite of surfers. This is a great place to learn how to ride the waves, and there are plenty of surf schools in the area. Without guidance and tutelage, however, this isn't a place for "grommets" or beginner surfers.
The laid-back surfer vibe has attracted plenty of organic food shops and restaurants, eco-resorts, massage studios and, of course, relaxed riders.

6. Mission Bay, Auckland

From central Auckland, kayaking heaven at Mission Bay is just a short drive away.
Courtesy russellstreet/Creative Commons/Flickr
With its bustling feel, vibrant restaurants, ice cream parlors, cafes and pubs, Mission Bay is definitely a city beach. A short drive from Auckland's central business district, on a sunny day this best New Zealand beach entry hums with people playing Frisbee, taking walks and paddling in the ocean.
Mission Bay is blessed with golden sands, an expansive grassy area with plenty of picturesque Pohutukawa, New Zealand's native "Christmas tree." The trees are bedecked with oversized red blooms during summer. This is a great spot to grab an ice cream from the beachfront Mövenpick store and kick back for a little relaxation in the heart of the city.

7. New Chums Beach, Coromandel Peninsula

The payoff makes it worth the effort to get to New Chums Beach.
Courtesy Kiwi Flickr/Creative Commons/Flickr
New Chums Beach is one of the last undeveloped beaches in New Zealand. It's a little hard to get to, but that's part of its charm.
First, you have to walk for 40 minutes through the bush. Then, you have to wade through a lagoon at the northern end of Whangapoua Beach to a set of rocks. At the rocks you access the track leading to a saddle that reveals the beauty of New Chums Beach. And beautiful it is, with large Pohutukawa trees and native bush set against a sweep of white sand.
Words such as "pristine" and "breathtaking" are bandied around in travel literature -- at New Chums Beach, one of the best New Zealand beaches, they're well-deserved.
To get to New Chums, head to the northern end of Whangapoua Beach (follow Whanapoua Road from the Coromandel township). Follow the coast over the boulders until you come across a rough track that takes you over the headland and down to New Chums Beach.

8. Ocean Beach, Mount Maunganui

"Surf City," Kiwi-style.
Courtesy Christoph Strassler/Creative Commons/Flickr
Mount Maunganui is something of an oddity in that it has both an ocean beach and a harbor beach, Pilot Bay. The placid harbor beach is good for swimming. The Ocean Beach is more dramatic, and popular for surfing and bodysurfing.
For good reason, Mount Maunganui is dubbed "Surf City." Good weather year round and a great cafe scene make "The Mount," as locals call it, an easy holiday destination.

9. Wainui Beach, Gisborne

Where else do couples go to surf and get married?
David Hallett/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Near the city of Gisborne, Wainui Beach is surrounded by reserves and protected land.
It's a huge beach, with everything you could possibly need for a day by the ocean -- car parks, idyllic picnic spots, walking and jogging tracks, secluded spaces for sunbathing and easy put-ins for boats. The beach is popular with local surfers, as well as wedding parties.
The area near the Wainui Surf Lifesaving Club is the good for families, while the walk to the picturesque Makorori Headland offers sweeping views of both Wainui and Makorori Beaches, as well as the Mahia Peninsula to the south.

10. Ninety Mile Beach, Northland

Whether you count in miles or kilometers, it's still a really long beach.
Courtesy Adamina/Creative Commons/Flickr
While the name Ninety Mile Beach is actually a misnomer (it's really only 55 miles long, and New Zealanders use kilometers rather than miles), it is justly a top tourist destination for its staggering beauty. With sand dunes reminiscent of a desert landscape, it stretches from just west of Kaitaia right to Cape Reinga, the northernmost tip of New Zealand.
Golden sands and impressive breakers alongside the magical Aupouri Forest make this perhaps the most famous beach in New Zealand -- it's certainly the biggest. The long stretch of beach is best accessed from Ahipara township at the southernmost point of the beach. Follow Sandhill Road north with various access points dotted along the way.
Editor's note: This article was previously published in 2011. It was reformatted and republished in 2017.
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