The Mysterious Beauty of Bethells Beach

Te Henga, or Bethells Beach, is a properly mystical place. No wonder so many films, TV series, music videos and commercials are shot there. Being on the west coast of Auckland, its sunsets are especially spectacular. Many’s the time I’ve watched blazing threads of gold weave themselves into the pink sky above the wine-dark sea. I wouldn’t say it’s New Zealand’s best beach, but it’s pretty damn close.

The sand is a sparkling, bluish black that feels like velvet on your feet. As you walk along, you notice a haze over the dunes and the towering rocks that extend into the water – a mist over the ruins of a lost civilisation. A sort-of island – a chunk of cliff disconnected from the rest – rises out of the waves, cloaked in bush. The curves of its hills look like the Earth Mother sunbathing. Seriously, from the right angle you can see the swell of her breasts, stomach and colossal thighs.

A cave winks at you from the end of the beach – the left end, if you’re facing the sea. You can explore it at low tide. If you go right, you’ll find another cave waiting for you in O’Neills Bay. It’s a charming tunnel, a magical gateway to a “secret” beach beyond.

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Bethells Beach is a great place to surf and bodyboard, but don’t do it when the Surf Life Saving people aren’t there. It really is dangerous. Keep between the flags and don’t go too far out. If you’ve got small children, they can swim in the lagoon. (Yes, there’s a lagoon. It’s really pretty.) Incidentally, the Surf Life Saving tower makes for a rather striking silhouette against the Bethells sunset.

Between the lagoon and the car park, there’s a locally owned outdoor café. The food’s nice, and during the summer months, on Friday nights, they host various local bands. It’s a lovely community event. People come with blankets and deckchairs, and sit around drinking and being served pizza, later getting up to dance on the sand.

The Bethells locals often complain about Aucklanders (city slickers) and tourists overrunning “their” beach. Some even warned me, (jokingly, I think,) about publishing this article. I’m flattered they think my blog reaches so many people.

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Bethells Beach is a special place. It has the wild, rugged beauty of Auckland’s other west coast beaches, like Piha and Muriwai, but it also has a mysterious beauty. There’s something otherworldly about it; something that draws people back again and again. I’ve already written about the necessity of visiting the amazing Muriwai gannet colony when you’re in Auckland, but do that during day and then, before sunset, head to Bethells.

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Gandering at the Muriwai Gannet Colony

One of the first places I remember visiting in New Zealand was Muriwai Beach. It was just over twelve years ago, (although I’ve been back many times since,) and my mum, my little sister and I had just got off the plane, and my dad, (who had already been in New Zealand for six months,) was eager to show us all the wonderful sights our new home had to offer. The ten-year-old me was quite impressed with Muriwai. It had the luxuriously soft black sand that was still a novelty back then, (and still is, frankly,) but what made it special were the breathtaking views of its massive gannet colony.

Muriwai’s only a forty-minute drive from Auckland City, on the wild west coast. It’s a good surfing beach – I’ve done a bit of boogie boarding there myself – and there’s a campground right next to it, complete with powered sites for campervans. It’s also a good fishing beach, which is probably why the gannets like it too.

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The gannets can be seen from viewing platforms on the cliff above them. They really are beautiful birds. They’re streamlined like arrows with golden heads and electric blue eyes. And there are shedloads of them. It’s amazing to watch the couples dancing about their nests, taking it in turns to fly out to sea, dive into the waves and return to feed their chicks. Even if you’re not someone who likes bird watching, you’ll be entranced by this.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the blowhole. It’s rather exciting waiting for the water to spurt geyser-like up from the round hole in the flat platform of rock. I remember begging my mum to stay for “just one more big one” and wanting to get as close as I could to it. My parents were right to be cautious though – I don’t know how many people have fallen down it and died, but the most recent one was last year.

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If you’re travelling around New Zealand, Muriwai Beach is definitely a location for your must-see list. I recommend taking a warm jacket, as it’s really windy on the cliff where you watch the gannets and you’ll want to linger awhile. Writing about it now is making me want go there again. Well… summer is practically here – it was boiling today… and my boyfriend’s parents do live out west…