When we launched our quest to find New Zealand's best beach, we gave readers the opportunity to vote for their favourite summer spots. This week we've been profiling your top 10. To spice things up, we asked the Herald Travel team to come up with three wildcards. Keep your votes rolling in (scroll down to the form at the bottom). We'll announce the winner in the Herald on Sunday on January 31.
Herald Travel editor Stephanie Holmes admits it was impossible to include every beach Kiwis know and love in our shortlist.
"In choosing our wildcards, we hoped to give a broader representation of the diversity of beaches around the country. Northland, Coromandel and the Bay of Plenty were already well represented, so we mixed things up a bit with a west coast beach (Ōakura, Taranaki), a favourite for surfers (Wainui, Gisborne) and a stunning southern city spot (St Clair, Otago)."
Head out on the Pacific Coast Highway and 10 minutes from the centre of Gisborne you'll come to Wainui, gateway to 4km of white sand and Pacific breakers, world-famous - and not just in Aotearoa.
"We live in a surfer's mecca," writes local journalist, photographer and surfer Gray Clapham.
"A huge proportion of people who live in our community would define themselves as surfers. The activity of surfing, and the culture that parallels the sport, continues to have a huge influence on the social and political dynamic of our community."
He quotes Garry Quinn, whose sons Maz and Jae took Gizzy's surf style around the globe: "Surfing pervades everything everyone does here. Our lives are designed around the waves. Up and down the beach there are people from all walks of life – doctors, lawyers, business owners, tradesmen, unemployed – all organising their lives around the need to go surfing."
Writes Clapham: "Surfing is now a benign blend of everything good about being at the beach... It's very colourful and very healthy. And it's still free. No one has yet come up with a concept to charge people for the use of the waves. The beaches and the waves belong to all of us."
People swim at Wainui too, though Surf Life Saving NZ's findabeach.co.nz cautions of swells, reefs, rocks and rips. "Swimmers would be well advised to swim in the patrolled area at all times as rips form quickly and the size of the surf changes rapidly."
To the outsider, Ōakura is a seaside village that takes 45 seconds to drive through on Surf Highway 45, though most will be tempted to stop for the famous black-sand beach, cafes and craft galleries.
The "world's biggest surfboard" just before the petrol station should hint there's something to see here.
New Plymouth locals know the place, 15 minutes' drive south of the city, as one of the district's most affluent suburbs. Houses on the water's edge are valued up to $2.6 million.
So, as in Mangawhai, another of our featured beaches, there was considerable angst when a developer planned a 399-home subdivision in 2018, later downsized to 144 properties. The community opposed the scheme and last year an independent commissioner supported them. The council has now voted it down.
For the foreseeable, Ōakura will remain as it's long been: a well-groomed, well-maintained seaside town.
Probably the most popular swimming beach in Taranaki, Ōakura has quite a steep gradient, strong rips around stream mouths and a nasty beach dump and inshore undertow, according to findabeach.co.nz. However, the beach is usually quite safe for families if waves are even and 1 metre or less. Swim between the flags and take the lifeguards' advice here.
While it's only a beach break, the surfing is often very good for all ages and experience. It's best surfed on mid to low tide in a south to southeast wind.
In the Deep South, the line you'll most often hear is that "there's nothing between St Clair and the Antarctic," which will give you completely the wrong idea about (a) the closest beach to Dunedin city and (b) Dunedin's most popular beach.
For decades, the curl of white sand was best-known for New Zealand's most consistent surf break and its saltwater hot pools but there's been a – sorry – sea change in recent years. It's the place to see and be seen.
All-day and night-time cafes and bars line the esplanade, there's a breathtaking view of the Southern Ocean, surfers enjoy those waves, there's a new playground and the pools were zhuzhed up not so long ago.
St Clair and its neighbour St Kilda are great beaches facing on to the Pacific. Both have surf patrols throughout the summer, but St Clair is our winner for those extra leisure opportunities.
Our old chum findabeach.co.nz says it's well suited for family swimming, although it has powerful rips and holes. The beach often gets large swells and waves pound against the seawall. Swimmers should use the patrolled area and ask St Clair lifeguards for advice.
The open-air pools are nestled on the rocks at the end of the promenade. Opened in 1884, heated in the 1960s and renovated in 2000, they're in a spectacular spot, with waves crashing onto the boulders below. They're great for people who love swimming in saltwater but prefer to do it in 28C comfort.
• 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.