Nearly three-quarters of New Zealanders live within five kilometres of a beach.
And they’re pretty gorgeous beaches. Even the average ones are far more picturesque than the likes of Skegness and Cleethorpes, which were my nearest beaches growing up in Britain – and they were each a long train ride away, as opposed to at the bottom of the road.
In fact, looking back, both Skegness and Cleethorpes are extremely depressing in comparison to what I have now. I remember weary stretches of grey punctuated by flaking piers and consolatory donkey rides.
You don’t seem to get donkey rides at New Zealand beaches, or those creaky, old-fashioned fairgrounds. What you do get is nature at its most glorious; views that outshine even the dramatic shores of Cornwall and Wales.
Still, New Zealand beaches aren’t what I thought they’d be when I was first told we were moving here. The ten-year-old me thought they’d be all sparkling, white sands, crystal-blue waters, and coconut palms providing shade and convenient snacks. Imagine my amazement, therefore, when we arrived in Waiuku and my dad drove us the ten minutes (the closest beach was ten minutes’ walk) to Kariotahi: rugged cliffs, wild waves and black sand.
Seriously – BLACK sand.
It’s volcanic, also called ironsand, and is mined on the West Coast of New Zealand to make steel, yet it’s the softest thing I’ve ever felt. When my tender, British feet stepped onto it for the first time, I actually gasped. I felt like I was walking on velvet – and silky, high-quality velvet at that.
There are only two problems with black sand: it gets way hotter than normal sand and can burn your feet, and it’s very difficult to rid yourself of. But totally worth it!
Two of the first things my parents bought me upon arriving in New Zealand were a wetsuit and a bodyboard. Bodyboarding – or “Boogieboarding” – is basically surfing for wusses. I loved riding the waves at Kariotahi, but it sometimes got too dangerous and we had to stop. Lots of New Zealand beaches, including Kariotahi, have Surf Life Saving Clubs operating at them. They put a pair of flags out to mark where it’s safe to surf, and watch for people in trouble. I’ve never had to be saved, but I have experienced being dragged a scarily large distance by a rip and battling to get back between the flags.
West Coast beaches may be more dangerous to surf at, but the soft sand means you don’t scrape your knees when you get beached!
It’s impossible to holiday in New Zealand without hitting a beach. Most of them have places to camp nearby, and many of these have barbecue facilities. A barbecue on the beach is a very New Zealand thing to do – it’s sometimes said that’s what the Kiwi Christmas dinner is – but the most traditional beach food is, as it is in Britain, fish and chips. Or “fush and chups” in the New Zealand accent.
And ice-cream, of course.
Beaches aren’t a special treat in New Zealand, they are a fact of life, and, as such, are often taken for granted. As a teenager, I was guilty of grumpily refusing to go to the beach – I would never have turned down an opportunity to go to the beach in England! Then again I was a little kid in England. Still, I recently told myself off for taking the Mount Maunganui beach (where I lived with my parents before moving away for university) for granted – a quick reminisce of Skeggy got me appreciating where I was once more.
Mount Maunganui is the perfect beach for sunbathing on. You can also surf, swim, fish, kayak, jet ski, paraglide, climb the Mount, cruise the harbour… But I’ll write a proper article about it another time. It’s very different from the beach at, say, White Island…
You probably wouldn’t want to sunbath on that.
There is, however, a volcanic beach where it’s absolute bliss to sunbath. At Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel, you can actually dig your own spa pool! You see, hot springs filter up through the sand, so at low tide it’s really warm. I must confess that I haven’t actually been there, but I’d love to go. Maybe next time we hire a campervan, we can stay a night around there. Hope so. It’s supposed to be one of the best beaches in the world.
No surprise it’s in New Zealand.