Beaches of the North Island
Concierge.com's insider take:
North Islanders are big-time beachgoers, and the island's thousands of miles of coast give them plenty of thundering stretches and sheltered bays to choose from.Near Auckland, the two best-known beaches are the wild, black-sanded Piha and Karekare, both about a 30-minute drive west of the city. Piha has one of the island's top surf breaks; on windy days, it's breathtaking to watch wet-suited locals brave the dangerous rips. Just to the south is Karekare, bordered by dramatic cliffs, which starred in the opening scenes of Jane Campion's The Piano. While the scenery at both these beaches is fabulous, inexperienced swimmers and surfers should be warned: Lifeguards are on duty solely during summer weekends.
The island's far north (known to Kiwis as Northland) is famous for the westerly golden sweep of Ninety Mile Beach (pictured). In fact, the beach is only 60 miles long, but nobody's quibbling. It stretches all the way to Cape Reinga, the tip of the island where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific. Although driving along the Twin Coast Discovery Highway and stopping at points along the way (such as the seaside towns of Ahipara and Kerkeri) is magical if you have the time, viewing the seascapes from the air is wonderful if you don't. Salt Air runs "flight-seeing" trips from Paihia, in the Bay of Islands, which take in locales like the Karikari Peninsula and the Cavalli Islands. Prices for these trips (in Cessnas carrying about a dozen passengers) start at about NZ$365 (US$270) per person. Pricier, individually tailored helicopter rides are also available (64-9-402-8338; www.saltair.co.nz).