Danielle Wright finds there's more to Omaha than a millionaire's playground.

Less than an hour's drive from Auckland, Omaha Beach has white sand, the clearest water between two marine reserves, consistent surf and a luxury laidback lifestyle. But, don't just pack your best pair of togs for a day trip to this millionaire's playground. There's so much more to do than admire the view.

On the other side of the sand dunes, we found a twisty trail of wooden boardwalks perfect for chasing the children on scooters or balancing bikes past audacious beach houses. There was plenty of public artwork, such as carved pouwhenua, dotted along the way and park seats for a rest in the sunshine.

Omaha Beach is different from the usual pohutukawa-fringed New Zealand bays and has even been used as a backdrop for Australian television commercials because it's so like the beaches across the ditch.

Avoiding the crowded main beach (Sunday mornings when the surf life saving club trains), we took a right turn just before the main strip and park at another access point further up the beach. We still got the stunning views out to the Hen and Chicken Islands and a steady swell.

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At low tide you can walk around the headland (at the end of the beach to the right of the main beach) to a bay with pink-tinged sand and rock pools that the kids will love to investigate.

It's a beach made for a child's imagination: the sand dunes sit on top of created secret bases, wooden fences to walk along like gymnastic beams - soft sand to break their fall - and always hundreds of shells strewn along the sand, perfect as toppings for sandcastle creations.

Back at the main beach, the surf school run by big wave rider Doug Young inspires even the most nervous swimmer to be brave in the waves. We took a family surf lesson with him and it was great to be involved with the children rather than watching them from the sidelines. If the sea was too rough, sometimes we would head back to the estuary where the stand up paddleboards are for hire. Or we just threw a rowboat oar into the boot with the kids' foam surfboard and they could have a free "stand up paddleboard".

It's a fun atmosphere on the side of the road and more relaxing than you'd imagine paddling beside the long bridge. We had to take care, as it's also a favoured spot for jumping off or for folks trying their luck with some fishing.


Doug Young teaches novices how to surf.

If you are "a person of good repute" - as the sign says - bring your tennis racquet and for $10 an hour you can have a hit at one of the astro-turf courts. Just remember: mobile phones must be switched off on court.

Nearby are vineyards, and on the way home we stopped at Matakana Country Park to play at the adventure playground with a giant-sized radio, boat and pink princess castle to climb on. We always like to stop at the roadside honesty boxes on the way into Omaha, or visiting Matakana Village Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings (before the crowds). If we have time, the children love to stop at a sloping playground at the river's edge in Warkworth, a great place to reflect over a cup of hot coffee while the kids play on pretend surfboards and enclosed slides.

After dozens of day trips to Omaha Beach, we've found it's a beach for all seasons with its own microclimate and plenty of play options for any weather.

On the way home, we timed it perfectly for a visit to the little oyster booth just before Matakana - try the $1 oyster "shots" with olive oil and chilli. That always wakes the driver up before heading back to town.

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Gone to the beach
Book a surf lesson with Doug Young on 0800 478 734 or see pacificsurfari.co.nz.

To reserve a tennis court, contact tennis@omahabeach.co.nz.

Stop at OOB Organic Cafe on the road back to Matakana for organic sorbet or stop in at Charlie's Gelato Garden on the way home to queue up for a constantly changing menu of indulgent icecreams made fresh daily in small batches. The adjoining gallery is worth a visit, too. Open weekends during the winter - at 17 Sharp Rd, Warkworth.

Down the road from Charlie's is homeware shop Green with Envy with a lovingly curated array of items you'll want to take home immediately. (On the corner of Sharp and Matakana rds).