FANTASTIC LAND OF BEACHES

The coastline of New Zealand stretches for 18,000 kilometres (11,184 miles) and a staggering 6,000 (3,728 miles) are beaches! Some are busy year round while others have seldom had a human footprint on their pristine surfaces.

beach54Coromandel Beach North Island

beach554St. Clair Beach, Dunedin, South Island

beach777Golden Bay, Nelson, South Island

SETTING THE SCENE

The soft, brilliantly white sandy east coast beaches are caressed by gentle Pacific Ocean waves while the black sand or pebbly west coast beaches are often pounded by the angry Tasman Sea. Some beaches are achingly beautiful while others have a heavy atmosphere caused by the cold mist and bleak cliffs that loom over them.

beach22West Coast Beach

Half the world’s species of whales and dolphins swim within sight of these beaches and share the inshore water with 270 species of fish with 68 of the species not found anywhere else in the world.

Out of the 360 species of seabirds found on the planet, 86 of them breed on or around New Zealand beaches. Some, like the bar-tailed godwit undertake a torturous 11,000 kilometre flight across the vast Pacific Ocean from Alaska to enjoy the New Zealand beaches. The 6 to 8 days they take to complete the marathon trip, is the longest journey without eating undertaken by any animal on the planet. Over 7 million sooty shearwaters love New Zealand beaches too. To put all this into perspective, the British Isles, another island nation of similar size, is home to only 3.5 million seabirds.

beach66Bar-Tailed Godwit having a Snack

As well as the huge variety of birds, we mustn’t forget the crab, lobster and shrimp populations because there are more than 2000 types of crustaceans living in rock pools found at most beaches.

BEACH HISTORY

Beaches have been important to this small island nation. The first European explorer to discover New Zealand set foot on a beach just as the first native Moriori did around 1300. Beaches were used as roads by the early settlers with the first flock of sheep being herded along a beach to Wellington back in 1844. Horse and carts transported wool along beaches to be loaded into row boats that took the cargo to steamers anchored off shore. Even today, some beaches are still used as roads. The northern beach known as Ninety Mile Beach, carries tour buses along its flat, hard sand.

beach 64Tour Bus on Ninety Mile Beach

The citizens of Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin, along with smaller seaside towns, ventured onto their local beach in the summer to parade in their heavy Victorian and Edwardian clothing. It wasn’t until the 1950s that people exposed their flesh on the sand. This was a time when the beach “crib” (South Island) or “bach” (North Island) became popular. These were modest little houses usually made with recycled timber and corrugated iron sheeting. They became the centre of the beach culture that thrived from the 1950s to the 1970s. Today, the estimated 50,000 little dwellings that survive are highly valued and have been upgraded for comfortable living.

beach1Typical NZ “Bach” or “Crib”

BEACH ACTIVITY

The amazing variety of beaches New Zealand is blessed with provide a vast range of uses from swimming to photography, walking to surfing, horseracing and dune racing to kite flying, fishing and of course, sunbathing. There are also other sports found on city beaches such as jogging, volleyball, cricket and football. As 90% of New Zealanders live within a 15 minute drive of a beach, it is understandable why they are such a feature of the nation’s lifestyle.

SURF CLUBS

The first surf clubs were formed in 1909 in Wellington and Christchurch to watch over swimmers taking to the surf. Rivalry developed between the clubs as more were formed, and in 1912 the first surf life saving competition was held. Today, life saving competitions take place between 73 surf clubs at various beaches around the country and are popular with the overseas tourist who find these colourful sporting events exciting to watch as teams compete with sand races, reel rescue and surf canoes.

beach552NZ Surf Rescue Unit

Here is a link to a short video taken at the 2016 New Zealand Lifesaving National Competition:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vDWsSV2ZBk

TAKAPUNA BEACH

beach76Takapuna Beach

Straddling a thin isthmus, Auckland offers its 1.5 million citizens 16 main beaches, evenly split between the west and east coasts. Apart from these, there are dozens of other small beaches within the city limits. Takapuna, on the city’s North Shore is possibly the busiest. It’s just a stone’s throw from numerous cafes, bars and restaurants. I have often ambled along this beautiful beach with its million dollar homes built close to the edge of the sand. Since Auckland’s early days, Takapuna Beach has been a place to be seen. It is especially busy at weekends with groups of people enjoying its open expanse and the view across the calm water of the Waitemata Harbour to Rangitoto Island, the city’s best known natural landmark, is always a joy to gaze at.

Takapuna Beach is also popular with dogs and joggers who both dodge the gentle waves lapping at their feet as they pace up and down the beach. Boaties line up at weekends to launch their motor boats from the large boat ramp found at one end of the beach.

A wonderful coastal walk connects Takapuna and Milford beaches. A petrified forest adds interest to the seaward side of this popular little walking track. I used to amble along it frequently when I lived in the area. It was always a pleasure to breathe in the sweet sea air while admiring the blue Pacific water.

HOT WATER BEACH

beach762Hot Water Beach

It may not rate in the beauty stakes as far as New Zealand beaches are concerned, but Lonely Planet voted Hot Water Beach one of the world’s top 10. It is estimated that last year, around 700.000 visitors made the trip to this unique beach, a two hour drive from Auckland. It is actually a geothermal area and during low tide, people use spades to dig into the sand to allow the hot water under it to rise to the surface. By building a low circular wall around the exposed water, they form a natural spa pool. They then soak in water that can be as hot as 64 °C (147 °F).  It’s not a good idea to doze while relaxing in the water’s warmth as the rising tide can quickly swamp the man made pools which could be dangerous for children. Have a look at this short video to see how the hot water works.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPNTI3l0ZJs

TUNNEL  BEACH

beach322Man Made Tunnel at Tunnel Beach

beach883Tunnel Beach

Around the base of the cliffs below Cargill’s Castle, Australasia’s most melancholic ruin, is some of the most dramatic coastal scenery in New Zealand. In the 1870s, the Cargill girls used this beautiful little crescent shaped Dunedin beach, with its shear yellow cliffs, for private bathing after their uncle made it accessible with a 72 step tunnel he commissioned to be cut through the sandstone cliff. The tunnel is large enough for a fully grown adult to walk through without bending. There is little known about the amazing feat involved with building this tunnel and in recent years, it has become an attraction for those wanting to see the dramatic handiwork of a doting father.

At high tide, the sand at the beach disappears as the waves roll in to beat against the cliff base, making the area treacherous. The menacing feeling of the beach is heightened by the distant roar of waves crashing into caverns at the base of the promontory. It has been said that John Cargill’s oldest daughter drowned here. The day the above photo was taken, the air was still and warm. The tranquil sea gently washed the rocks hundreds of feet below. The echo of a distant seagull’s call hung in the air and added a melancholic atmosphere to this spectacular view. It’s not difficult to imagine the ghosts of Cargill’s Castle hovering nearby. There is an eerie feeling at this dramatic little beach.

PIHA BEACH

Piha BeachPiha Beach

Returning to Auckland, Piha is one of the city’s west coast beaches. It couldn’t be more different than Takapuna Beach. Piha has dangerous rips and often violent waves that crash onto the black sand sending thick mist into the salt laden air. Despite the dangers, it is for some reason that escapes me, popular with swimmers. Over the summer months the lifeguards who man the surf lifesaving station at the beach, are kept busy rescuing swimmers who get into difficulties. It is such a regular exercise that a long running TV reality series has documented the various rescues done at this beach. “Piha Rescue” first screened in 2001 and to date, 13 series have screened on prime time New Zealand television.

Piha rescue2Piha Rescue

If you want to watch all the drama at this Auckland beach as portrayed in a typical reality TV show, here is the link to a 23 minute episode of “Piha Rescue”. It graphically illustrates, in reality TV fashion, the numerous dangers swimmers face when they take to the sea at Piha.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Wl2l0cyfTE

If you enjoyed reading this blog, please leave a comment and share it with your friends. I will write a second blog on some of the other extraordinary beaches found in New Zealand in due course.

 

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