Roll up the beach towel, pick up the picnic scraps and toss the melting ice out of the chilly bin on to the grass. The votes have been tallied and our quest to find the Best Beach in Aotearoa is done and dusted, like sand from wet togs.
Time to name the winner from our readers' 10 favourite beaches and three wildcards the Herald Travel team added to the shortlist.
New Zealand's Best Beach 2021 is Ōhope, narrowly pipping the winner of our 2018 contest, Whangamatā.
Why does Ōhope's fan club rate 11km of Bay of Plenty sand as the best beach in the land?
Three reasons kept coming up in our readers' replies: space, safety and fun for families.
Robin Deal bullet-points it: "Safe. Very gradual incline. Perfectly suitable for bodysurfing. Northfacing. The Pacific. Offshore islands. Beachside playgrounds. Vast pōhutukawas perfect for climbing. Shops selling ice-creams. All you could want."
The place has unique charms, too. For several readers, pet-friendliness is one. "It's the perfect beach for dogs. No matter the tide there's always space for dogs to run and play, the gentle slope is perfect for any size dog to chase sticks in water… There's plenty of other dogs about to make friends with but it's not too crowded… You can walk for hours, depending on your dog's exercise needs," writes Kate Campbell, who's lived there most of her life.
As we've noted throughout the series, beachside cuisine is a deal-breaker. Em Rampling agrees – "Great food options from fish 'n' chips to fine dining" – as does Katrina Elder, plumping for "the sunniest, surfiest, friendliest and yummiest (fish and chips) beach in the land."
For Simon Stokes, there's history: "It is still the way beaches used to be – fun, family and freedom. It is also probably the first beach that our early Polynesian seafarers walked upon."
Apart from water activities, Lara Dixon appreciates the wildlife: "Shell collecting, driftwood huts, biking, NZ birds and sometimes even sea lions. Home to NZ fauna, and humans, with spectacular views to the East Cape and rolling ranges and sea for miles."
Jos van de Laar adds a daytime bonus – "It enjoys more sunshine than the rest of the country almost every year" – while Rachel Gilden favours the twilight zone: "It has the most spectacular sunsets."
Several visitors enjoyed encounters with lucky folk who live there: "Mostly it's the friendly locals who stop and chat when you meet them on the beach," writes Julie Jukes.
Last word to Abby Tozer, who reminds us that a great Kiwi beach is for all to share. "It welcomes surfers and kids and families and cool teenagers and kite-boarders and fishermen and people in wheelchairs and paddleboarders and everyone - you can come and enjoy."
The best of the rest
The other 12 beaches in our finalist list received plenty of love themselves. We're not going to rank the rest of the list but here's a selection of why readers think they're pretty special. There's plenty of summer left for you to see them for yourself:
The Coromandel's popular Whangamatā remains a reader favourite. For Dennis Wiley, it's the "great, consistent surf in a relatively safe beach without dangerous rips. Beautiful soft white sand. A lovely, curved beach with a harbour at the northern end and an estuary at the southern end which both provide options for families to swim in if the surf is up.
"Stunningly picturesque with two islands just off the main beach and beautiful headlands at either end of the beach... Home to the world-class Whangamatā Bar, a unique left-hand surf break near the harbour entrance… great boating and fishing from a safe harbour," and the two-hour drive from Auckland or Hamilton makes it accessible to a large proportion of New Zealand's population, he enthuses.
For many, Whangamatā has the Hotel California vibe: you can check out any time but you never really leave.
"We have been holidaying here since I was a teenager and now our daughters have as well. Love the beaches - and the choice of where we can go. Surf beach, harbour, estuary or Granny's Beach, named because when we were teenagers that is where our mums went! The view gets me all the time," muses Jo Brooks.
Kyla Hughes is a little more sentimental: "I've cried on that beach. Laughed on that beach. And grown up on that beach. Everywhere I go I can't help but compare it."
Christine Robertson takes a long-term view: "Its glorious white sand, its friendly people and fabulous cafes make it the go-to place in the Coromandel. E-bikes cruise the streets and Beach Hop once a year is a highlight for NZ rockers young and old. Our lifeguards keep us safe all summer and the weather is tropical most of the year. If you want to wake up in paradise every day, make Whangamatā home."
"Pristine white sand, crystal-clear water, safe sheltered swimming. Fantastic beachcombing, awesome rockpooling at low tide. Best of all, unless it's peak season, it's semi-deserted." - Rebecca Weigh
"Lots of baches, nothing there but an old-fashioned dairy selling the biggest ice-creams and fish'n chips, great safe beach with fun for all ages, awesome boogie boarding waves, surf waves at the other end, an amazing estuary which acts like a lazy river at tide change, two rivers for kayak exploring." - Tracey Day
"Not only does Wainui greet the sun before any other place in NZ, it has a lovely, nurturing community, excellent surf and beautiful clear water. There are rock pools at each end with interesting critters. The Okitu Store has excellent summer food." - Shona Blaylock
A stunning 5km white-sand beach where families gather for picnics and BBQs, children spend hours digging sandcastles hunting for the perfect shell and couples bathe in the sun. Swimming in the clear brilliant sea is for all ages and abilities with gentle waves and warm water as it passes over hot flat sand… Gathering tua tua, cockles and mussels or casting your rod from the beach to catch the snapper of a lifetime... a very special New Zealand paradise." - Susi Matz
8 more slices of heaven
If there's one thing Kiwis get worked up about, it's their beaches. Here's a selection of beaches that weren't on our shortlist, but got a lot of love from around the country:
Ruakākā, Northland: "The soft white sand and pristine clear waters which run for miles makes this our favourite beach. The ice-creams at the Chilly Bin after a day in the sun are an added bonus."
Tāwharanui, Auckland: "One of the prettiest beaches in NZ. It also has grassy, shady areas, great rock pools, excellent safe surf, the famed eco walk with amazing birdlife and bush. Have visited beaches all over NZ, and there is nothing to approach this combination of features."
Karekare, Waitākere: "Despite being close to Auckland, this moody beach feels like it is isolated from the rest of the world. On fine days, it is beautiful and playful. Most days it is respite, a place of solitude and peacefulness. Finally, every so often nature reminds you of its magnitude and fury as it unleashes its angry power. Karekare is a beach that offers you what you are looking for, but on nature's terms."
Hahei, Coromandel: "Beautiful soft white sand with pōhutakawa lining the dunes, the ultimate Kiwi beach. Well-protected seas mean swimming all year round for all ages, and it gets sun all day. A stone's throw away from popular Cathedral Cove too."
Waikanae, Kapiti: "Because it is a long beach with lovely white sand, an amazing outlook, the temperature is usually warmer and more pleasant than Wellington and the water produces good bodysurfing waves."
New Brighton, Christchurch: "The sun rises from it every day and 'brightens' our hearts. It has space for everyone… beach track, swimming and surf, a pier, and views. It has a new water playground and new saltwater hot pools... Kiwi as."
Doctors Point, Dunedin: "Peaceful, beautiful and birdsong. Safe waters for children to learn a variety of water skills and great dog walking."
Awaroa, Tasman: "Lovely sandy beach, water super blue! And being far removed makes it very special." Special indeed: Kiwis raised $2.8 million to buy this slice of heaven out of private ownership in 2016. Where better to end this series?