Which is the world's most famous beach?
A number of contenders spring to mind. Copacabana, in Rio de Janeiro. Bondi, in Sydney, Langkawi, in Malaysia, Venice Beach, in California. Mt Maunganui, in New Zealand.
All the above can stake a claim in the sand, but my nomination for the most famous of all is Waikiki, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
This 4km stretch of golden sand on the island's southwest coast was once the domain of Hawaiian royalty. Waikiki means "spouting water", a reference to the wetland behind it, which was once given over to taro plots and fishponds.
Then Kamehameha the Great (1758-1819) conquered Oahu and brought his royal court to Waikiki, changing its nature forever. From the 1880s Oahu became the home of wealthy Hawaiians, and then America's tourism industry discovered its attractions.
The first deluxe hotel, the Moana, opened in 1901. After that, it was all on.
Not being a fan of mass tourism, I was prepared to find Waikiki tacky and overblown. High-rise hotels filled with obese Americans wearing lurid tropical shirts and sipping gaudy cocktails did not appeal.
Yes, all of the above are present. But Waikiki is much more than that.
First, there's the beach. It stretches from the huge Hilton Hawaiian Village along to Kapi'olani Park.
A walkway runs along the front, which takes about an hour to cover, sometimes on sand, sometimes on a boardwalk.
The sand is golden and slides into water that is beautifully warm and clear.
Past the walkway I can see, behind restaurant windows, elderly people scoffing their luaus. They look as glassy-eyed and open-mouthed as goldfish in an aquarium. I turn my attention back to the beach.
From Waikiki, Diamond Head to the south is always in sight. It's spectacular, its ribbed slopes and prow-like profile as emblematic of Hawaii as board riding. Diamond Head is to Waikiki what the Statue of Liberty is to New York.
Is Waikiki crowded? It certainly is. This is not your secluded Kiwi beach, reached after
a challenging bush walk. This beach is accessible, all along the path. On the beach people of all ages are devoted to every beach activity and water sport imaginable: lounging, sunbathing, paddling, snorkelling, aqua-cycling, boogie boarding, lilo-lying and, naturally, surfing.
As a one-time board rider I was expecting to be disappointed by Waikiki's surf. Must be overrated, surely.
Not so. For my entire stay, the swells roll in constantly from the ocean and rear into shapely, pale-green waves.
The only surprise is that they break some distance from the shore. But this keeps the board riders well away from the swimmers, which is good.
It's endlessly entertaining to watch the surfers performing, which they do, all day and every day, dawn to dusk. Long boards, short boards, boogie boards. Never mind the length, just go with the waves. They're not the monsters of Waimea Bay. At the north end of Oahu, they're gentler and more predictable.
I don't surf, but my favourite draught beer at Waikiki quickly becomes something called Longboard Lager.
And every day I slip into Waikiki's tepid water, wallow and stare, mesmerised by the board riders and Diamond Head, overlooked by a radiant blue sky.
Out beyond the reef that creates the waves are still more activities: a cruise ship sails up and down, para-gliders soar and sightseeing helicopters fly back and forth.
A submarine takes people into the depths and presumably brings them back up again.
Jets from Honolulu's airport, a few kilometres to the north, soar into the sky and hang motionless for a few seconds before banking, then flying on to Hawaii's other islands and to all parts of the Pacific.
For people-watchers, the beach and sea provide endless fascination.
On Waikiki there are Japanese, Chinese, Indians, Caucasians and African-Americans, mostly from the US mainland. There are bronzed men and women, ageing hippies and cool surf dudes.
An elderly Hawaiian woman performs a seductive hula under a canopy, accompanied by a Hawaiian string band.
Predominantly, though, the visitors are Japanese, holidaying in family groups.
Grandparents introduce toddler grandchildren to the water, honeymooners walk hand-in-hand along the beach and girls in bikinis squeal as they take endless selfies.
The Japanese love plastic lilos, which they flop onto, then paddle out into the water.
What strikes me is that despite the seething, splashing crowds, I witness not one instance of antisocial behaviour.
No drunkenness, no loutishness, no hostility. There's an absence of litter. Smoking is banned from the beach. Cool outdoor showers are placed at regular intervals, for rinsing off after a dip.
The beach is spotless, not a drink can, a plastic bag or a chip packet, anywhere. How does this happen? I don't know, but in view of the numbers of people at Waikiki, it seems unbelievable.
There are hucksters, though. The beach boys work from behind counters set up on the sand, hiring out loungers, sun umbrellas, surfboards and aqua cycles. Sunglasses sellers are everywhere.
A man has four colourful macaws on a perch, which you can be photographed with for a fee; a man in a Father Christmas suit walks up and down in the 30C heat, seeking to be photographed.
Several big catamarans take passengers out on the water, then come hurtling back in and slide up on the sand.
Big sea turtles graze on the coral beside a concrete jetty in front of my hotel. They're lovely creatures and everyone tries to photograph them when they pop their heads out of the water.
It's surprising one of the hucksters hasn't worked out a way of charging people to photograph the turtles.
When you're tired of the sand and sea, right behind Waikiki Beach is Kalakaua Ave, one of Hawaii's most stylish shopping streets. Here you can buy anything, from a surfboard to a tattoo to carved hardwood jewellery, and sample every type of cuisine imaginable.
The avenue is lined with coconut palms and banyan trees. And miraculously, in the centre of the avenue, is the original 1901 Moana Hotel, whose other frontage opens out on to the beach. Now called the Moana Surfrider, it's as dignified a building as you'd find anywhere.
Is Waikiki the world's most famous beach?
In my book, it definitely is.
Graeme Lay is an Auckland author. His most recent book is the novel James Cook's Lost World. He paid his own way to Waikiki.