Motorists are turning up at 6am to claim a spot as the popularity of Long Bay Regional Park increases.
Police and park rangers controlled the entrance to the beach at Long Bay.
Police have been called in to manage traffic at a beach where facilities have struggled to cope with up to 25,000 visitors a day during the holiday period.
But despite a wait of up to two hours for a carpark, beachgoers at Long Bay say the area's attractions mean they will keep coming back.
A "one out, one in" system was in operation after the 4000 carparks at Long Bay Regional Park were filled by 11.45am yesterday.
The regional park, Auckland's most popular, lures more than a million people a year with its 1km-long beach, cliff-top walkway, views of the Hauraki Gulf, safe swimming, playground, picnic spots and marine reserve.
Regional parks on metropolitan Auckland's doorstep have soared in popularity, with use growing at twice the region's population growth.
To avoid the rush, some beachgoers have been waiting at 6am for the carpark to open.
Yesterday afternoon the queue for parks stretched back more than 270 vehicles, blocking neighbouring streets. Some passengers left their cars to lie on shaded grass verges, while others opened van doors and windows to try to cool down.
Fa'avae Gagamoe, of Mangere Bridge, said he finally made it to the beach with his family after queuing in traffic for two hours.
"We took some shortcuts along ... but our folks are still in the queue. And our cousin turned up today at 6am."
Mr Gagamoe, speaking as he watched his 18-month-old daughter Salamasina play in the shallows, said the beach was the safest in Auckland.
"We've been coming here as a family tradition for years, going back about 30 or 40 years. Every holiday."
He and others spoken to by the Herald said that despite the traffic hassles, its strengths were safe waters and a family atmosphere.
Its size also meant there was still room for beach cricket and touch amid the thousands of people yesterday.
"You can be with a lot of people and still feel like you've got a bit of beach to yourself," said Leslie Fraser, of Albany. "Fortunately we used to live in Torbay, so we knew the sidestreets to use up on the hill there.
"But it would have put us off coming - I wouldn't have waited in the queue."
Nicola Ov, at the beach with her husband, Kheang, and 2-year-old daughter Jade, said Long Bay was a regular choice for her family.
"I think it's the area as well as the beach, which is why we live here. And on a day like today, everyone is having a good time.
"It's just a friendly environment to come to, just enjoy the holidays and get outdoors, really. It's a great start, to be honest."
Mrs Ov said yesterday's stunning weather was a great way to bring in 2013. She was not one of the many treating New Year hangovers with a swim.
"With a 2-year-old somebody has to get up in the morning. Times have changed for us."
Long Bay Regional Park is only 26km from downtown Auckland, and serves a wide area beyond East Coast Bays.
A Todd Property Group 160ha development will see 2500 new houses built on land neighbouring the park.