New Zealand’s Best Beach: Northland’s Matapōuri, and Mount Maunganui in the Bay of Plenty

Each day this week, we’re profiling two much-loved Kiwi seaside spots in our quest to find New Zealand’s best beach. We asked readers for nominations and we’ve narrowed that down to 10 finalists and three wildcards chosen by the Herald Travel team.To vote for your favourite and help us crown a winner, scroll down to the form at the bottom. The Best Beach 2021 winner will be announced in the Herald on Sunday on January 31.

Rated one of the world’s top coastal destinations by National Geographic, it’s only half an hour’s drive from Whangārei to Northland’s Tutukaka Coast. Past the historic seaside village of Ngunguru and the beautiful deepwater harbour and marina at Tutukaka is Matapōuri, always close to the top of any “best beaches in New Zealand” list.

Baches, holiday homes, lodges, freedom campsite, tents on the lawn and rocky bush-covered headlands ring the large, horseshoe-shaped beach. Forest green against the clear blue water and white sand, it’s the archetypal Kiwi summer (or anytime) destination.

What do you do here, apart from lying on a towel until it’s time to meander to the store for an ice-cream, cold drink or fish’n chips?

Hit the water for a swim or whatever floats your preferred mode of personal aquatic transport.

Surf Life Saving NZ’s rates the beach safe for families but recommends staying around the centre of the bay, avoiding the rocky headlands and the inlet at the southern end. It has no lifeguard service.

There’s good surfcasting from the beach, especially around the headlands. Offshore fishing is excellent, but you’ll need a dinghy because the beach is too shallow to launch bigger boats. Diving is good, but watch those currents.

Surfing ain’t great: head a few k’s north to the famous Sandy Bay breaks.

Make sure to take the 30-minute Headland Track across the hill to Whale Bay, which possibly shades its sister as one of our most pristine, scenic and swimmable beaches.

Until recently, Matapouri’s claim to Instagram fame was Te Wai o Te Taniwha Mermaid Pools, natural rocky swimming pools on the shore which drew thousands of visitors. Sadly, filthy and thoughtless visitors trashed the site; the pools have been placed under a rāhui and are closed to the public.

For divers, the offshore Poor Knights Marine Reserve is regarded as one of the world’s top 10 sites – clear waters, colourful underwater scenery including cliffs, caves and arches, and unique fish from as far as the Coral Sea.

Which brings us to the 10th and final reader favourite, and it couldn’t be more of a contrast from the Northland bays. The Big Kahuna. Our golden coast. Tauranga’s The Mount.

Ranked in the world’s top 25 beaches by more than one of those internet listicles, thousands kick back on the sands of the 700m Main Beach. Beaches stretch more than 30km from the base of Mauao (that’s the extinct volcano’s name, not Mt Maunganui), past the bigger and getting even bigger and more urban Pāpāmoa, to lazy Maketu.

You can surf in the warm ocean waves, swim (families may prefer the calmer waters of Pilot Bay), kick back and people-watch. Stroll across the road and choose a table at beachside cafes and restaurants. Lounge on the balconies of high-rise apartments or sunbathe on the grass.

Relax in the hot saltwater pools, charge about at beach, ocean and multisport events. Walk around or up the maunga. And every New Year’s Eve, 25,000 or more people see in the new year at The Mount.

On the Main Beach is considered great for families large and small but is prone to large waves and at high tides – it’s patrolled and may be closed if conditions are dangerous.

It adds an unusual warning: “Beach users are advised to… be careful as collisions with swimmers, boogie boarders and surfers are a real and present danger.”

It’s not suitable for fishing because there are usually too many people around.

Which wraps this road-trip around Herald readers’ 10 favourite beaches. What better coda than these words from Tiki Taane, who lives just along the coast at Pāpāmoa?

He wrote the song “No Place Like Home” to capture the essence of the Bay of Plenty but the words could apply to all Aotearoa’s beaches: “A place where the ocean meets the sky, Everyone is welcome here, With open arms and plenty to share … For this is our homeland and sea, And we are the guardians, We are kaitiaki.”

Enjoy the sun, enjoy the water but keep yourself and your family safe this summer. Check out these sites before you hit the beach – and for water safety basics and for water quality.

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