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The road to Sir Edmund Hillary's favourite beach in New Zealand is as rugged and unrefined as the man himself.

Anawhata Rd - gravel-strewn and at times not wide enough for two cars to pass - meanders through the Waitakere Ranges for those who spot its exit off Piha Rd.

About 10km along, there's space for perhaps half a dozen cars to pull over at the top of Rose Track.

The path, named after the family of Sir Ed's first wife, Louise Rose, leads steeply down to Whites Beach.

Sir Ed travelled the world, but in a 1991 interview with the Herald, he picked this beach as one of the most special places on the planet.

Part way down the 20-minute walk to the beach is the cottage he owned, about 100m directly above the surf-thrashed rocks. Only the hardy make the journey, particularly on a hot day. A sign at the top warns there are strong currents, large waves and submerged rocks.

There are no lifeguards at this beach.

Yesterday, about two dozen people had made the journey.

Half of them swam or lazed on the beach, while the others stood on the rocks with their lines cast hoping for a bite.

None were here because it was the favourite beach of arguably the greatest New Zealander that ever lived.

But none were surprised he loved this spot.

"It's just gorgeous," said one woman. "You can have privacy. You make it hard to get to for a reason - not many people come."

The black-sand beach, north of bustling Piha which can be seen on the walk down, stretches about 400m across. Secluded by cliffs and native bush, all you can see from the beach is the water.

"Swimming here is like swimming in champagne," said one person fresh out of the sea yesterday. "Of course it would be his favourite spot."

Sir Ed often stayed in the finest five-star hotels as he travelled, but he said that although they could be "most pleasant", nothing competed with the outdoors.

Nepal had a special place in his heart, of course, and Rajasthan in northeast India was a favourite overseas place in the sun.

But there was nothing like wallowing in the fury and beauty of the coast.

"That is the thing that international travel brings home to me - it's always good to be going home.

"This is the only place I want to live in; this is the place I want to see out my days."