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.
Kiwis can do just about anything on their beaches – from leisurely sunbathing andpicnicking, to more active pursuits like swimming, surfing, and the all-important family test match, of course. Few of our beaches, however, can claim to have been a port, airport and racetrack.
Maybe that comes with being the biggest beach on a fair-sized island – the clean waters and 1.87km golden sands of Onetangi on Waiheke.
The name is drawn from “One”, a beach, and “Tangi”, a funeral and has been interpreted as “weeping sands”. It’s said to date from an 1821 battle in the Musket Wars.
Pākehā were attracted to Waiheke by its thick forests, especially kauri, logged for house and shipbuilding in Auckland. By 1850 most of the large trees were gone, although the industry continued into the 20th century.
Onetangi was a hub of island life early on – the first beach races were contested in 1880, the first (licensed) pub poured drinks in 1956 and the sands served as the airfield. Popular and safe for swimming, it has more surf than the island’s other north-facing beaches.
And because this is Waiheke, food and beverage providers are several cuts above some of the other beaches featured in this series. As well as ice-creams and takeaway options, Charlie Farley’s modestly claims to be New Zealand’s #1 beach bar.
Three Seven Two and Ki Māha are more recent arrivals, contemporary bistros that have received critical acclaim, and Casita Miro is a longtime island favourite. Three vineyards have Onetangi addresses on their labels: Te Motu, Stonyridge and Tantalus. All have dining options.
Highlight of Onetangi’s year is the beach races, held each year to raise money for island charities. Started as a family fun day, their popularity increased until local authorities pulled the plug in 1924. They thought people were spending too much money on betting.
Keith Haub, regarded as New Zealand’s leading racing commentator, who owned the now-demolished McGinty’s Pub on The Strand in Onetangi, revived the races in the 1970s, but they faded once again until the Waiheke Rotary Club resuscitated them in 1998.
This year’s meet will be held on March 28. Expect horse races, waka ama, kids’ sulky races (those words are in the right order) and less traditional events like tractor, Sealegs (amphibious vehicles) and Thundercat (high-powered inflatable boat) races. And Fashion in the Field. Shouldn’t that be Fashion on the Sands?
Some might say Taupō Bay is off the beaten track. Locals (not that there are many) and longtime holidaymakers would say it’s so stunning they beat a track to the place in the 1950s, and got around to tarsealing it little more than a decade ago.
The beachfront, on the Far North’s northeastern coast 13km off SH10 near Mangonui, has 180 private properties and only about 40 permanent residents, most from the region.
The spot is innoculated from over-development, thanks to nature and bureaucracy. The bay rears into shrub-covered mountains just 150m from the beach, so housing is only a couple of blocks deep, and the council has been pretty sympathetic about planning restrictions.
The beach is described as “one of Northland’s best”, which is high praise, because they do beaches pretty well in this part of the country. It’s extremely wide, slopes gradually into the sea, and curves in a gentle arc for almost 1.5km.
Surfers, fishers, boaties and families reckon it’s worth the trek, although Surf Life Saving NZ’s findabeach.co.nz urges caution: “Surf is common during summer and anybody going into the water should be careful and avoid the days when the swell is large as strong rips will be present. Taupō Bay has no lifeguarding service.”
Surfers favour an easterly swell when the well-formed 4m Dog Leg break unfolds across the bay. For fishers, snapper and kahawai are just a dinghy ride away, rockfishing and surfcasting are other options. Diving is good, with plenty of crayfish but – again – watch the tides.
The holiday park has cabins, backpacker accommodation, tent sites and powered sites for caravans and campervans, plus the only shop.
• Enjoy the sun, enjoy the water but keep yourself and your family safe this summer. Check out these sites before you hit the beach – watersafety.org.nz/beaches and surflifesaving.org.nz/stay-safe for water safety basics and lawa.org.nz/explore-data/swimming for water quality.
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