Rule 1:

A great Kiwi beach must have a great ice cream shop.

To be picky, today's finalist for New Zealand's Best Beach doesn't have one. Opito Bay, about 30 minutes drive northeast of Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula, doesn't have any shops at all.

But just 10km up the road, the nearest retail outlet serves a legendary take on the country's favourite summer cooler. The Kuaotunu Killer, available only at the village's general store, is five scoops of ice cream ladled into a double cone.

Advertisement

Fran McCallum, the manager, was rushed off her feet when the Herald phoned. "It's been a very busy summer," she reported.

The present owners have been at the Kuaotunu General Store for three years and recorded their best Christmas and New Year figures this season.

Life slowed down afterwards, when storm warnings were issued. The place, and the pace, will pick up again at Anniversary Weekend.

The $9 Killers have been going down a treat, as usual. Sadly for this traditionalist, hokey-pokey is not the flavour du summer: "Passionfruit and boysenberry have been popular," Fran says.

Time to lick sticky fingers clean and get back on the road, because there's still a way to go to Opito Bay – about 15 minutes drive along an unsealed, winding road (beware logging trucks and vehicles towing boats).

When you've crested the last hill and reached the end of Blackjack Rd, you're there. But you'll know that, because as you've turned each corner you've glimpsed the ocean panorama to the Mercury Islands and beyond.

What you do when you get there? Everything and nothing, from swimming (safe for families) to snorkelling, diving, boating, fishing, shellfish hunting, picnicking, paddling, kayaking, water-skiing, sunbathing, snoozing in the shade of century-old pohutukawa.

If you must rouse yourself, walk along the beach to the headland. The earthworks of the abandoned Ngati Hei pa, dating from 1500, are largely intact. You'll be one up on the great explorer: Captain Cook came here in 1769 but did not notice one of the coast's largest settlements and battlements.

Few people live at Opito Bay these days but there's plenty of rental accommodation. Freedom campers, play by the rules, please.

For surfers, it's a fairly sheltered bay, needing a decent swell to get it working, rated good for beginner to expert surfers.

It's a fisher's dream: snapper and john dory, among other species, taken just off the beach; scallops from the sea and tuatua from the sand. Again, play by the rules on the Ministry for Primary Industry website.

When our expert panel met to choose 10 finalists for our quest to find New Zealand's Best Beach, singer-songwriter and surfer Jamie McDell put her hand up for Opito Bay.

What's so magic about it? "The fishing and the diving," she said.
Waikato University's Karin Bryan liked that you have to drive a long way, around a big headland, to get to the beach.

Surf Life Saving's Matt Williams agreed: "It feels remote, doesn't it? You're in the heart of Coromandel but you have to make a big effort to get there."

That, and the lack of shops, means you have to take all your food and camping supplies with you. Otherwise, you'll have to drive back to the Kuaotunu General Store. Luckily, you're likely to arrive at ice cream o'clock.