We're looking for the Best Beach in New Zealand – but South Islanders don't play by the rules. Kaiteriteri, near Nelson, is "just the most beautiful beach in the world," declares Sarah Beatson.

Perhaps she would say that, because Sarah, who responded to our nationwide callout for nominations for the country's best beach, lives nearby. She backs up her claim by citing Kaiteriteri's "always blue skies, golden sand and green aqua water and heaps of sunshine."

Finally – meeting one of the major criteria for our quest – "there is an ice cream shop very close by."

Our expert judges agree with the nomination. Kaiteriteri was the one destination among 26 on the long list that was unanimously voted into the shortlist of 10 candidates for the country's best beach.

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An hour's easy drive along the coast from Nelson, it has been the Mainland's must-go-to summer holiday and camping beach resort since the 1920s. Its 435 campsites are booked out months before Christmas, many families returning to "their" spot year after year. There are plenty of motels, rental baches and Airbnb's, too.

Kaiteriteri is much more than a classic Kiwi beach, however. Sure, there's the sunshine; the golden, glittering and usually uncrowded sand; the greens of the surrounding bush, pohutukawa in bloom on the cliffs and the blue of the bay – but many beaches around the country can put a tick next to those.

So too the family-safe swimming off the shore or in the lagoon, paddleboarding and kayaking, good fishing and clambering across rocks to gather mussels and scallops. And yes, there's a bridge to jump off.

None of Kaiteriteri's rivals, however, can claim to be the gateway to a national park. Abel Tasman National Park, established in 1942, stretches across the northern tip of the South Island, its natural beauties ranging from (yes, more) golden-sand beaches to amazing granite, limestone and marble outcrops; forest birds like tui and korimako forage with pukeko around estuaries and wetlands.

"Kaiteriteri, that's it for me," says Surf Life Saving New Zealand northern region chief executive and judge, Matt Williams. "It's on the edge of the Abel Tasman National Park – and it's one hell of a gateway, easy to get to by car or by boat. There's mini-golf and other attractions for the family."

Fellow judge Associate Professor Karin Bryan, who studies coastal environments at Waikato University, had a minor quibble: "There's not a lot of natural dune vegetation."

But, Williams responded with a laugh, "You can hike there if you really want to get into your vegetation."

Looking to a beach access sign on Kaiteriteri Beach. Photo / Getty Images.
Looking to a beach access sign on Kaiteriteri Beach. Photo / Getty Images.

For holidaymakers, proximity to the national park brings the opportunity for easy and safe access to the sea, lake and river waters and native forests. Many operators offer boat trips, guided walks, van tours or hiking into Te Tai Tapu (the sacred coast).

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Two-wheel travellers will appreciate the mountain-bike park or, changing down a cog or two, the Tasman Great Taste Cycle Trail, one of New Zealand's Great Rides. Riders pass – or stop at - vineyards, breweries, orchards and quality kitchens. While the complete trail is 174km, two-thirds off-road, it can easily be broken into bite-sized portions for short morning rides and leisurely afternoon cruises.

And for many of its admirers, Kaiteriteri has one further attraction that money can't buy. After praising its parking, recycling facilities, electronic charging stations, toilets, showers and accommodation, the clincher for Eric Rowe is: "Far from Auckland."

THE TOP 10 BEACHES

• Castlepoint, Wairarapa
• Hahei, Coromandel
• Kaiteriteri, Tasman
• Maitai Bay, Northland
• Matapouri, Northland
• New Chums, Coromandel
• Opito Bay, Coromandel
• Taupo Bay, Northland
• Te Arai, Auckland
• Whangamata, Coromandel

To see the top 10 beaches on our shortlist and vote for New Zealand's best beach go to tinyurl.com/votenzbestbeach