To vote for your favourite and help us crown a winner, use the form at the bottom of this article. The Best Beach 2021 winner will be announced in the Herald on Sunday on January 31.
What makes a beach? You need only four ingredients - sea, sand, sun and shade.
But that's only the basic recipe. Like many a classic Italian dish or fine Kiwi wine, connoisseurs know it's the quality of the ingredients and the proportions in the mix that make all the difference to the experience.
White sand or black sand? Small, crescent-shaped, almost enclosed or long, windswept, dramatic? Shallow slope so the kids (or grandkids) can walk for yards at low tide and feel the waves still lapping the edge of their togs or the might and malevolence of an epic surf break?
Popular or secluded? Is an icecream shop obligatory – if there's not one, is it a bay or a cove and not a beach? And what about pōhutukawa?
You can see where this is going, and to find out where New Zealanders are going this summer we asked Herald on Sunday readers to nominate their favourite beach and tell us what makes it so special.
The votes are in and today we name the 13 finalists in our quest to find the country's best beach – our readers' 10 most popular seaside spots and three wildcards chosen by the Herald Travel team.
From tomorrow, we'll profile two of the public's most-loved beaches in the Herald each day as the country votes for the ultimate winner, to be named in the Herald on Sunday on January 31.
(Scroll to the bottom to vote for your ultimate winner.)
So here's the list of finalists in alphabetical order. And if your ideal or idyllic place hasn't made it, chill. It'll be that much easier to find a place to spread your beach towel in the shade of that pōhutukawa (or rata if you're in the south).
Kaiteriteri, Nelson Tasman
Turquoise water and golden sand. Safe swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, boating, relaxing on the shore. Beachfront campground, apartments, motels, an eco-resort, general store and places to eat. And if that's not enough to keep you occupied, Kaiteriteri - 13km from Motueka – is the launching place for trips into the wonderful Abel Tasman National Park.
Matai Bay, Karikari Peninsula
Remote, untouched, its clean, clear water and soft white sand make this the ultimate summer escape for many Kiwis every year. Swim, snorkel, kayak, watch time go by and sleep under the stars in the DoC campsite on the quintessential Northland beach, 45km north of Kaitaia.
"A little out of the way. A lot out of the ordinary," is how they pitch the east coast village 80 minutes north of Auckland. Mangawhai is a water-lover's paradise that offers two very different experiences - safe swimming, kayaking, windsurfing and water-skiing in the harbour or a five-minute walk to the surf beach to boogie board or surf.
Matapōuri, Tutukaka Coast
The clear blue water and white sand of this large, crescent-shaped bay are always featured in any "best beaches in New Zealand" list. Sadly, Te Wai o Te Taniwha, also known as the Mermaid rock pools, have been closed because thoughtless visitors trashed the site. Walk over the headland to the calm, pristine and inviting swimming spot of Whale Bay.
If you build it, they will come – and they did. Matarangi, on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, was developed as a tourist hotspot in the 1980s around its resort and 18-hole golf course. Most summer visitors are drawn by the 4.5km north-facing beach of gently sloping white sand, sheltered by offshore islands. Excellent for families, fishing, diving or watching birdlife, dolphins or the occasional pod of orcas.
Mt Maunganui, Bay of Plenty
We may be wrong about this, but we understand there's some fine print in the passport that says you can't call yourself a Kiwi unless you've completed a summer in The Mount. The chilled-out town is the perfect place to unwind in the sun and the main beach is consistently voted NZ's best for its surf, beachside cafes and never-ending white sand.
If you take all the images of Kiwiana and put them into one place, it'd be Ōhope: the 11km stretch of white sand, a beach where kids can walk hundreds of metres into the Pacific at low tide, great surf, crimson pōhutukawa blooms, motels and campgrounds, ice-cream and fish'n chip shops, surfcasting. Heck, they even welcome dogs. What's not to like?
Onetangi, Waiheke Island
The island's biggest beach stretches almost 2km along its northern coast, looking out into the Hauraki Gulf to Aotea Great Barrier and Hauturu Little Barrier islands. Beyond its beautiful golden sand is some of the cleanest water in the Auckland region (okay, we know that's not saying much at the moment); behind are the legendary pub and some rather good new eateries.
Taupō Bay, Far North
It's quite a hike to this idyllic spot just north of the Whangaroa Harbour entrance – an hour's drive from Kerikeri, four hours from Auckland – but well worth it. One of the North's best beaches (and that's a very high bar), the wide, white sand slopes gradually into the sea and curves in a gentle arc for almost 1.5km. The ideal surfing and family holiday destination with beachfront accommodation, a campground and old-school baches amid native bush.
You guys voted this "best beach in New Zealand" in our 2018 contest. How will "Whanga" go this year? Holidaymakers flock to the Coromandel hotspot for the amazing ocean beach which claims some of the best surfing breaks and safest swimming in the country; its saltwater estuaries are a kids' and a boaties' paradise; the town, bordered by Coromandel Forest Park, hosts the classic Kiwi beach bach holiday.
Surf Highway 45 runs through the town. Where other burgs have the Big Mango or the Big Beef, "the world's biggest surfboard" dominates the main street. So Ōakura, just a few minutes south of downtown New Plymouth, is best known for … well, its 'laxed atmosphere, family-friendly, black-sand beach, vibrant cafes and galleries – and surfing.
Wainui, Tairāwhiti Gisborne
Ten minutes' drive or a 6km bike trail from the city, Wainui is world-famous – and not only in New Zealand – for surfing, swimming and fishing. Paradise for the small community lucky enough to live there, visitors also appreciate this stunning spot for watching the sunrise (it's almost the first place…) or strolling the golden sands and nature reserve. And it wouldn't be a proper Kiwi beach without a store for ice-creams, milkshakes and takeaways.
St Clair, Dunedin
There's a theme developing with these wild cards: St Clair, just minutes from the Octagon, is popular spot for surfing, swimming, walking… The Pacific beach boasts our most consistent surf break; the Esplanade has long been a destination for weekend walks or dips in the sea, with cafes and bars lining the promenade; and the 1884 lido is the only heated seawater swimming pool in the land.