Auckland's easternmost suburb offers the ideal family trifecta: bike trails, beaches and stunning beauty, writes Debbie Griffiths.
The boys' foreheads crease in concentration as they think hard before answering my query:
"Te Puru is a good beach," one ventures at last as he balances with one foot on a bike pedal and the other on the ground.
His friend chimes in; "Maraetai is awesome. It's much bigger."
By the end of the day, I've realised these Beachlands boys are spoiled for choice on the Pohutukawa Coast.
I've interrupted their bike ride at the dreamily named Sunkist Bay. There is a boat ramp and a small playground with a flying fox. A family group has set up camp on the grass above the small beach. We walk along a raised concrete path sheltered by pohutukawa until it ends abruptly when the sand turns to stone. People are rock-hopping and we see they're heading for a small island connected to the mainland by a sandbar.
"We call it Flat Island," says the man holding the hand of a pre-schooler. "But be careful, the tide is on its way back in and you don't want to get caught out."
We take his advice and decide to drive to Maraetai Wharf to bike back along the walkway.
The kilometre-long Maraetai Beach curves gently and is strewn with tiny white shells. It faces Waiheke Island, with Omana Regional Park to its left and Ponui Island to the right giving the impression of standing on the edge of a massive lake.
With a sad-faced backwards glance the kids turn their bikes away from the enticing water. I reassure them there's a great playground where we're headed.
The first part of the track undulates gently beside the water in the shade of the gnarled branches of the trees that give the coast its name. Within minutes we've rejoined the concrete when we emerge at Te Pene Beach. It's an easy cycle to the recently upgraded Omana Esplanade Playground. A timber boat-like structure accompanies modern colourful slides and tunnels and is right across from yet another great beach. From here, it's a gentle rise into Omana Regional Park. We stop for a break and a well-earned play on a hilltop that boasts 180-degree views from Auckland CBD, out to Rangitoto and towards Coromandel. The playground features Maori carvings and designs as a nod to its history. Sticks become paddles as the kids sit on the waka and a climbing wall is decorated with koru. Ngai Tai lived here for many generations, and built the O-Manawatere pa. These days, the name is shortened to Omana.
The park is a working farm so we need to cross a field to rejoin the perimeter track. It runs above the beach before dropping down to Te Puru Reserve via a wooden boardwalk and bridge. The tide is out, so the mudflats extend beyond the neat row of pohutukawa trees that provide shade for picnics. A sports field with a children's playground at the far side separates us from the road and to one side of the reserve is a skate park. The concrete path winds up a bluff and continues to Beachlands. For us, though, it's time to turn back for a swim.
The gradient of the north-facing Maraetai beach is steeper than our local North Shore coastline so the kids don't need to go far out and we're able to sit near the water to watch them. The wharf is a great place to jump into the water and the bustling cafes across the road provide outside seating and bike racks for hungry cyclists.
The entire six-kilometre Maraetai to Beachlands path takes an estimated 90 minutes to walk one way but the beaches, playgrounds and information signs make it into a lovely family day out. Take a picnic and enjoy.