We have all asked the question, "Could there be a better beach in New Zealand?", usually when we are basking on one of the enchantingly beautiful crescents of sand and surf that stud our coasts. So just for fun this summer the Herald invited readers to nominate their best.
Those who took the trouble gave us more than a hundred, some of them not well enough known for a popular vote. For many, its seclusion is the main reason it is their favourite beach and we do not want to change it. So we presented an expert panel with 26 of the better known beaches and asked them to whittle it down to 10 for the popular vote.
Of the 10 they chose, eight are on the east coasts of the Coromandel, Auckland or Northland, which may disappoint devotees of the wild west coast beaches and southerners. But let us face it, the south has beautiful alpine scenery and glacial lakes but when it comes to sublime coastal attractions, the north's warmer water and pohutukawa-fringed bays cannot be beaten.
Unless of course you prefer Castlepoint on the Wairarapa coast or Kaiteriteri near the top of the South Island. Golden sand takes some beating. But you be the judge. It is a chance to think more carefully about what makes a great beach.
Our experts, Surf Life Saving NZ's northern region chief executive Matt Williams, surfer and songwriter Jamie McDell and Associate Professor Karin Bryan, who studies the movement of coastal sediments and nutrients, were given set criteria that included on-shore facilities and accessibility as well as water quality. But as Williams said, "You don't visit a beach and say, 'That was a great toilet'. You walk there and it hits you, it's spiritual, it captures you."
Many of the 10 offered for your vote have that stunning visual impact, New Chums, Taupo Bay, Matapouri, and all have the inviting sound of surf. But what more makes a great beach? The reliability of the currents and the waves, not just their height normally but the way they roll and whether they offer a relaxing swim or a battle in the breakers.
The shape of the bay and its shelter from wind will be important, as will some shade on or just behind the beach. Safety should be considered. Rips and holes are not welcome. The slope of the beach should provide shallows for infants to enjoy but also let you swim at low tide without wading too far.
With two weeks to vote there is time to check out one or two of the 10 you have not visited. Matai Bay in the Far North perhaps or Te Arai in the Auckland region. Bay of Plenty people, justifiably disappointed that the Mount, Papamoa or Ohope has not made the cut, will know Whangamata, Hahei and Opito Bay on the Coromandel.
Aucklanders too might be surprised that none of the beaches they enjoy around the Hauraki Gulf are among the finalists. Perhaps the city's drains are to blame though Waiheke's beaches appear as clear as anywhere.
Not to worry, consider what makes a great beach, compare the 10 and pick the best. It may mean picking the exceptional from the excellent but the exercise should increase our appreciation of the coastal blessings we enjoy.
And if your real favourite remains a secret, keep it.
THE TOP 10 BEACHES
• Castlepoint, Wairarapa
• Hahei, Coromandel
• Kaiteriteri, Tasman
• Matai Bay, Northland
• Matapouri, Northland
• New Chums, Coromandel
• Opito Bay, Coromandel
• Taupo Bay, Northland
• Te Arai, Auckland
• Whangamata, Coromandel
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