Living in Piha is a dream come true for serious surfers, but it's the sense of community, too, that makes it Craig Levers' favourite place to be. He tells his story to Peta Stavelli.
When I moved to Piha 20 years ago you could rent a three-bedroom place during the winter for around $160 a week. The owners would keep the phone and power going because they were happy just to have someone there caretaking. It was super cheap to live here and the baches were full of surfers like me whose driving passion was to live near the beach.
In my opinion, Piha has the most consistent surf in the greater Auckland region. It's a real community where you know your neighbours and the man who comes to fix the washing machine. And you've known them through all of life's ups and downs - through births, deaths and marriages. It's the sort of place where you pop down the road to get a coffee and get lost in a conversation for hours.
I bought my house up on the ridge that runs between Piha and Karekare 13 years ago. It has the most amazing views over Karekare and Whatipu out to the Manukau Heads.
For much of my time living here I was the photographer - later editor at large - of New Zealand Surfing Magazine, busy travelling the world looking for waves. During that phase, Piha was just a crash pad and somewhere to do my washing. But having travelled and surfed all over, I know that we have some of the best waves in the world and that makes for just one of the many compelling reasons to live here.
I've been lucky in my work not to be tied to my desk and even more so in recent years with technology improvements which allow me to do a great deal more of my work from home.
I've noticed that a lot more Piha residents work from home these days. It seems wasteful to drive if you don't need to.
Since I left NZSM I've branched out into other types of photography yet I'm still stoked to be able to walk out my back door and straight into the natural world. Earlier this year I was official photographer of the World Junior Surf Championships which were held at Piha, so it was down to the beach early in the morning, back to the studio to upload and back down to the beach to film again. The days were long but the distances short and going from the studio to the water's edge made for quite a nice commute.
There are no supermarkets at Piha which means you have to be really organised and check your supplies before going out. I tend to shop in Henderson at Lincoln Rd Pak 'n' Save - the biggest and cheapest in New Zealand - or so they say.
Socialising is mainly with friends. The majority of us live here because of the surf and Piha has been home to many New Zealand surfing champions. If the surf is good, we'll be in the water for a few hours then chill out in the shade at someone's house for a while before getting back in the water.
On summer evenings I don't think there is a finer place to be than having a meal at Piha Surf Lifesaving Club while the sun sets over the water.
And for those who love the bush, I'm really impressed with the work done on the Hillary Trail which opened in January. The trail connects the existing regional parks and is quite spectacular in parts. My favourite view is from Log Race Rd on the Mercer Bay Loop track. Log on to http://www.photocpl.co.nz/ and scroll down to Beaches, then flick through the images until you come to that one and you'll see what I mean.
When it comes to my favourite part of the beach, I'd have to say it's North Piha. I reckon the surf there is the best.
But it doesn't really matter where you are. I don't think there is a place in the world that compares to the rugged beauty of the west coast.
* The Piha Surf Lifesaving Club Bar and Restaurant. The club restaurant and bar is available for private functions during winter. Phone: (09) 812 8896.
* The Hillary Trail is around 70km, takes four days to complete and is suitable for experienced trampers. Bookings: (09) 366 2000. Check out the views from the Mercer Bay Loop track. www.photocpl.co.nz
* Pak 'n' Save. 202 Lincoln Rd, Henderson. (09) 837 1830.
* North Piha Beach. There's no finer surf in the greater Auckland region.