- Magnetic black sand, thundering surf and golden horseshoe bays - in NZ, we have it all.
How is it possible to lay claim to having the best beaches in the world, when there is no universal consensus on the essence of what it is that makes a beach great?
Human taste dictates that one person's magnetic black sand, thundering surf beach personal paradise rubs like wind-blown grit against the idea of delicate horseshoe bays, pure white sand, and water calmly lapping against a shoreline broken by the lazy lean of a cliched palm tree. Each depiction lies in such stark contrast to each other.
So rather than falling into the trap of judging a beach by ideals entrenched through an unhealthy diet of tropical travel brochures and TV shows like Home and Away, Baywatch and Magnum PI, let's go-for-woke and celebrate instead the diversity we have, because I'd argue that in NZ we truly do have a complete box-set.
Having spent more than two score and four years poking my nose out to sea from shorelines across both hemispheres, like Uncle Travelling Matt scribbling a postcard, I can confidently report back that few countries come close to representing the range of beaches we have quite literally on our doorstep. Given our unique geography, this is hardly surprising. The long sexy country that we are creates more doorsteps closer to the water than just about anywhere else. I've spoken before about the odd complex we have thinking of ourselves as a small land, but when it comes to the seas that lap our beaches, we are an oceanic powerhouse, with more coastline than mainland China.
The other advantage of our position on this spinning blue mass that it provides an incredible temperate range. We have beaches and estuaries in the north that have turtles living there year-round, and Antarctic leopard seals visit us from the south. We have had documented giant trevally, coral trout, Queensland groper and sea snakes visiting our beaches from the tropics, alongside elephant seals, emperor penguins and almost every one of the world's 22 albatross species from colder climes.
Of course, beaches aren't just about wildlife, and although some people see a preferable beach choice as being a black-or-white decision, we literally have our choice of black or white sand beaches here.
There are the west coast black-sand shores built from iron ore deposits ground down over millennia from Mt Taranaki, fine noir sand that travels hundreds of kilometres just to lie sparkling in the sun, eager to work its way into the seams of your togs . . . or worse.
And there is the pure white silica sand beach of the Pārengarenga Harbour, made from ground quartz and said to be the whitest sand in the Southern Hemisphere. So pure is it that when lightning strikes a dune, the crack of electricity fuses the silica to glass in a spectacular branch-like pattern. Prospectors with long poles sought these out in years gone by, carefully digging around these incredible art pieces of nature, and many now sit in baches and homes nearby.
We have beaches with world-class waves for surfing, described in surfer speak as "point breaks" and "beachies" and "perfect A-frame rollers peeling left and right". We also have beaches with none, perfect swimming spots for little ones.
We have beaches with sand so hot even your Christmas pudding uncle will magically transform into Usain Bolt trying to get back to the car. And beaches where the frost can crack underfoot walking on frozen dunes.
About the only thing missing from our beaches found internationally are crowds, unless you want to count New Zealand's Florida - Mount Maunganui - and even in peak holiday season, there's still plenty of room for your towel.
Right now, as I write, I have my 2.5-year-old pulling at my laptop asking loudly to go to the beach. This is understandable given our Tairāwhiti stay with family means I can hear the surf crashing on the shore close by. "What do you want to do there?" I ask; "Jumping, and swimming and surfing!" comes the reply, followed by, "Sandcastles!" and, "I'm a surfer baby!"
Re-experiencing the joy of our beaches again through her has been the perfect confirmation of just how good we really do have it here.
This piece originally appeared in New Zealand Herald Travel here.