Try fish and chips at the beach — washed down with as much wildlife as you can handle, says Elisabeth Easther.
Where is it? On the Manawatu-Whanganui coast northwest of Foxton, about 30km west of Palmerston North.
Origin of name: Himatangi stems from a legend about a famous warrior chief, Matangi, who fished and killed a taniwha that was eating his relatives. The verb "Hi", meaning "to fish", was added to create the name Himatangi.
Population: About 600 — more in summer when it swells to several thousand.
Town mascot: At the centre of Himatangi Beach village, by the beach entrance, sits a giant sculpture of a buoy, covered in a mosaic-tiled scene of sea life. Each year, the buoy wears a giant Christmas hat to embrace the festive spirit.
Back in the day: Many years ago, the coastline was a seasonal gathering place for Maori who camped in the area specifically to gather and eat kaimoana. Today, traces of their camps can be found near a series of lagoons 4km inland, indicating where the beachline must have been 500 years ago.
Famous locals: Margaret and Dennis, owners of Himatangi Beach Holiday Park, are renowned for their care and friendliness, which turns guests and locals into lifelong friends. Winners of the 2013 AA Spirit of Hospitality Award for their exceptional service, they beat holiday parks in Opunake, Rotorua and Martinborough, which is no mean feat.
Work it: The award-winning holiday park is for sale for the first time in 13 years.
Best website: himatangi-beach.gen.nz
Source of pride: The local Surf Life Saving Club won the Supreme Award at the Trustpower Palmerston North Community Awards in recognition of their mammoth efforts to raise $900,000 for new clubrooms that opened last summer.
Big event: The Big Dig brings coastal community residents, visitors and holidaymakers to the beach each January to dig for buried beach booty. As a fundraiser for the Surf Life Saving Club, More FM buries 100 tags along the beach, which all correspond to prizes for icecreams, movie vouchers, outdoor furniture and more.
Big event No2: On January 2, the annual Fireman's Football tournament is held. A good old-fashioned hose-down, this is not your usual football match — instead the firemen use their high-pressure hoses to get the over-sized ball into the opposing goal. The tournament raises funds for the town's fire station, and has been running for 25 years.
Best reason to stop: Aside from the beach itself, you have to try the fish and chips, and the icecreams have to be seen to be believed. Whoppers.
Best park: As if the beach isn't enough to keep everyone entertained, the local park has a skating rink, a minigolf area, a tennis court and plenty of space to play. Plus it backs conveniently on to the stream that heads out to the beach.
Best playground: The kids will love the adventure playground, complete with a flying fox, swings and all the trimmings required for hours of fun.
Community spirit: The Himatangi News comes out monthly and is created by locals, the library is run by literary volunteers and the health clinic is backed by a community trust. Everybody lends a hand in Himatangi.
Best facilities: The Himatangi Beach Hall is used for weddings, birthdays, and meetings and is the heart of the community — from karate classes to sports groups, this hall has it all.
Best walk: At low tide, you can walk from Himatangi down to Foxton Beach. At just over 9km, you'll have the chance to see all sorts of wildlife swimming, flying and crawling past. For shorter strolls, there are a range of tracks that run through the sand dunes, leading to hidden gems and moon-like landscapes.
Best view: Anywhere along the beach, but for a higher elevation, stretch your legs with a climb up the highest sand dune you can find. Most days you'll be able to see Kapiti Island and, if you're lucky, the South Island and Mt Taranaki.
Best place to pull over: Thanks to local digger owners and a fair bit of hard yakka, you can drive on the beach year-round. Stick to the hard sand, find your preferred parking spot and drink in those views.
Best swim: Kids love to paddle and boogie board in the waves, and the length of the beach means there's room for everyone. Streams dotted along the coast make great spots for the young ones to splash about in and build a miniature dam or two if they fancy embracing their inner beaver.
Top shop: The local store serves all the essentials as well as coffee, takeaways and everything else you'd expect to find in a decent dairy.
Fishing: Long-liners, boaties, kayakers and surf-casters unite for the fishing season each year, hauling in snapper, gurnard and kahawai. Legend has it that the odd kingfish has been caught off this coast, but you'll need to befriend a local to find out where the best spots are.
Cream of the coffee: The local store does a fine brew — grab a takeaway cup and saunter off down the sand.
Baked: The local story again, they make scones to give your grandma a run for her money, pastries and large crusty loaves on Sundays. The aroma will pull you in.
Best food: The local Cosmopolitan Club serves hearty meals and puts on entertainment too, from trivia nights to live music and more. Slightly inland, The Wines Bar & Grill is much more than a roadside restaurant, with a menu that has everything from burgers to chowder. Great atmosphere too.
Best holiday ever: The aforementioned Himatangi Beach Holiday Park lets visitors enjoy holidays not far from a city, yet so removed from hustle and bustle. Plenty of holiday homes are available to rent here, and farm stays too.
Lazy afternoons: Fish and chips are best enjoyed in a driftwood hut and this rugged West Coast beach has a Lego-like collection of driftwood that people use to create bivvies, teepees and huts. Build your own or move into one of the many existing ones dotted along the coast.
Best mountain biking: If sand between your toes isn't enough, get it between your wheels. Keen mountain bikers love to ride between Himatangi and Tangimoana in the north or Foxton Beach in the south. Best done at low tide, but do check the local tide charts before setting out.
Best adventure: BloKarting and horse riding are popular beach activities with the wide expanse of flat, smooth sand providing plenty of space to cruise around on. Look out for the fisher people, surfers, paddleboarders, kayakers and swimmers who share the beach.
Best kept secret: Explore the massive sand dune field, said to be the largest one in the Southern Hemisphere at over 20km long.
Wildlife: Little blue penguins and royal spoonbills know a good thing when they see it. Or if you're lucky you'll spot a fur seal basking in the sun - but don't get too close. The endangered New Zealand black widow spider, latrodectus katipo, also resides in the sand dunes here and is monitored by DoC.
Safety warnings: Be sure to swim between the flags, and check the forecast before heading out to go fishing or kayaking.
Locals say: Time here stands still, kids safely can ride around on their bikes, backyard cricket involves the whole street, everyone knows their neighbours and there's always a helping hand when you need it.
Visitors say: Sounds like paradise.
Thanks to Janet Reynolds from Destination Manawatu.