Aotearoa has spoken – okay, rolled over on the beach-towel and clicked. To find New Zealand's finest beach, we asked Herald on Sunday readers to nominate their favourite and tell us what makes it so special. Yesterday we named the 13 finalists – our readers' 10 most popular seaside spots and three wildcards chosen by the Herald Travel team. Each day this week, we'll profile two of the public's most-loved beaches each day as the country votes for the ultimate winner, to be named in the Herald on Sunday on January 31. To vote for your favourite and help us crown a winner, scroll down to the form at the bottom.
We start in the Really Far North at remote, unspoiled Maitai Bay on the tip of Karikari Peninsula, 2½ hours' drive north of Whangārei. We should also start by clearing up the spelling – it used to be "Matai Bay" but it's been awarded an extra 'i' in recognition of local legend and dialect.
Te Tai Tokerau Northland's east coast – the Pacific side – unfolds in dreamy harbours, pōhutukawa-fringed bays, secluded coves, rocky headlands, sometimes white, sometimes golden sand bays. Many have thoughtfully been located just a few clicks away from main roads.
To get to Maitai Bay, we recommend quitting SH1 at Kawakawa and taking the more scenic SH10 past the Bay of Islands, Whangaroa Harbour and Doubtless Bay. Leave the highway for the peninsula - once an island, now a low-lying sandy strip connected to the mainland with gorgeous beaches on both sides. Shallow Lake Ohia was once home to Croatian gumdiggers; now rare seabirds nest here.
You'll already feel a million miles from anywhere, apart from olive and avocado groves, dairy farms, baches and the occasional dairy. There's one more surprise on the last hill before leaving the tarseal: the manicured golf course, villas, spa, pool, restaurant and helipads of 1200ha Carrington Resort and its nearby Karikari Estate, New Zealand's northernmost winery, cellar door and wedding venue.
At the bay, a 100-site DoC campground nestles among native bush, waves crashing metres away, perfect for doing nothing or doing a lot. Maitai and its cousin across the hill, Waikato Bay, are curved, sandy, protected beaches, safe for swimming, kayaking and paddling, shady for picnics, and the rock pools off the headlands offer excellent snorkelling. There's happy wandering on the Headland Track (3.5km, 90min return) with stunning views over the Pacific.
This has long been a prime fishing and shellfish-gathering spot, but be aware that Ngāti Kahu iwi and its hapū have declared a no-take zone in the bays and into the ocean to allow over-fished marine life to recover.
Clean, crystal-clear waters; white, soft sand; scorching hot sun … and not a lot else – the quintessential Kiwi summer holiday spot.
Same coast, different vibe at Ōhope, frequently voted New Zealand's most-loved beach. More sunshine than just about anywhere else in the land; long, white, sandy bay lined with pōhutukawa; warm water; family-friendly; seaside village of ice-cream and fish'n chip shops, cafes and motels: it's a Kiwiana tea-towel come to life.
Just 10 minutes over the hill from Whakatāne, Ōhope is famous for its 11km (or 14, depends who's telling the story) beach on one side and calm Ōhiwa Harbour on the other.
West End is the most popular playground. The sand slopes into the sea very gradually all along the beach, but especially here. At low tide you can walk hundreds of metres offshore before you'll be up to your waist in the surf. This makes West End great for swimming, especially for kids, and it's patrolled. Great, too, for surfing, kayaking and most water sports.
Ōhiwa Harbour offers sightseeing, walks, kayaking and more. Take the kids and enjoy fishing; experienced surfers can try their luck near the harbour entrance. Zones for some water sports are restricted so check local guides and read the signs at boat ramps first.
All Ōhope is dog-friendly: canines can frolic off-leash or swim as long as they're under control and owners clean up.
Secluded Ōtarawairere is the area's hidden jewel, accessible only on foot or by kayak, a peaceful picnic, swimming and chilling spot to forget about what's happening in the rest of the world for an afternoon. If you're walking, check tide times before you go.
Greg Turner rates scenic Ōhope International Club, on a narrow finger of land between the Pacific and Ōhiwa Harbour, as a links course "to match the very best anywhere".
As Kiwi as jandals and hokey-pokey, you could say the same about Ōhope.
• Enjoy the sun, enjoy the water but keep yourself and your family safe this summer. Check out these sites before you hit the beach – watersafety.org.nz/beaches and surflifesaving.org.nz/stay-safe for water safety basics and lawa.org.nz/explore-data/swimming for water quality.