Five of New Zealand’s most underrated beach towns – Stuff.co.nz

Posted: January 9, 2022 at 4:15 pm

Prefer not to have a close encounter with an untested Covid sufferer this summer? Trade traditional summer hot spots for one of the many classic Kiwi beach towns that dont get the attention they deserve and youll certainly decrease the chances.

Whether youre after a Fiji substitute or ruggedly good-looking Westie, theres an underrated spot in Aotearoa to suit. Here are five of our favourites. Share yours in the comments or email travel@stuff.co.nz.

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Paradise found: Tata Beach is often overlooked by visitors to Abel Tasman National Park.

Tucked away between better-known stretches of Golden Bay and the quiet northern end of Abel Tasman National Park, this tiny beach town boasts one of the best-looking beaches in the country.

Small but photogenically formed, its genuinely golden sands are wedged between bush-covered mountains and a calm, teal-coloured sea without a disfiguring McMansion or skyrise in sight. The beach is sheltered by the twin islands of Motu and Ngawhiti, also known as the Tata Islands, home to seals, penguins and New Zealands largest colony of spotted shags, who put on quite the show on Tata Beach just before sunrise each morning.

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Family-run Golden Bay Kayaks offer the only kayaking tours in the northern reaches of Abel Tasman, where pockets of old-growth forest and footprint-free beaches really do exist. Paddle to secluded bays on a guided or self-guided tour, or hire a standup paddleboard to make like Moses.

The surrounding area is also a walkers paradise, with nearby options including the northernmost section of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, and the lesser-known but equally lovely Grove Scenic Reserve, with its giant rata perched atop weird-looking limestone outcrops and panoramic views of Golden Bay. Rawhiti Cave, which the Department Conservation says has possibly the most diverse and extensive entrance and twilight zone flora of any cave in New Zealand, is also just down the road. Expect to find yourself in a Gollums lair replete with sculpture-like stalactites and stalagmites.

Set amid a native beech forest with spectacular ocean views, the off-grid Anahata Yoga Retreat is the place to come if relaxing in a tiny beach town isnt enough to calm your frazzled nerves. And after the year many of us have had, who would blame you?

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Whiritoa looks less gentrified than some of its Coromandel neighbours.

Chilling on the uncrowded white sands of this old-school Coromandel beach town, its hard to believe the holidaymaker magnets that are Whangamat and Waih Beach are just up and down the road.

Little more than a scattering of retro baches, a library, general store and that glorious surf beach, Whiritoa is a top choice for a laid-back beach break. Lifeguards patrol the main beach in season, and theres a stream at the northern end which is popular with kids and adults who prefer wallowing to battling the waves. Note that Whiritoa Beachs steep shore with heavy breaks can be dangerous, so make sure you swim between the flags during patrol hours.

Crossing the stream takes you to a short clifftop walkway, which winds between sun-bleached hills and the ocean en route to gnarly pohutukawa-fringed Waimana Bay.

A classic Kiwi dairy with extras, Whiritoa General Store & Cafe dishes up ultra fresh fish and chips along with giant burgers, toasted sammies, deep-fried hot dogs and onion rings, and ice creams. No need to feel guilty about overindulging: Youre perfectly positioned to walk, run, swim or surf it off afterwards.

If you dont think youll make it to the tropics anytime soon, this Far North settlement is a pretty sweet substitute. Share a photo of yourself on the white-hot sand lapped by cellophane-clear water and your mates will probably think youre on vacay in the Cook Islands or Fiji.

The snorkelling and diving are pretty good in these parts too, as is the fishing and seafood gathering. And the calm waters could have been made for standup paddleboarding and kayaking. If youre into kitesurfing youre in luck too Rangiputa has developed a reputation far beyond our fine shores for its often-perfect conditions.

Another classic Kiwi beach town, the place isnt big on non-natural attractions, but everything is a short drive away on the peninsula. Karikari Estate, where you can wine and dine in a beautifully tended garden overlooking the ocean, is just a short drive away, as is the 18-hole championship golf course at the 3000-hectare Carrington Estate, also home to a restaurant showcasing the regions outstanding produce. Cape Ringa/Te Reinga Wairua, Ninety Mile Beach and Doubtless Bay make for easy day trips too.

KELLY HODEL/STUFF

Port Waikato is a good choice for those looking for a traditional West Coast beach break.

Raglan gets all the glory when it comes to Waikato beach towns, but its little sister up north is quieter but just as much of a beauty. She may lack the bougie cafes and galleries that attract Aucklanders and Hamiltonians to Raglan in droves, but you can count that as a blessing if youre looking for a properly relaxed break.

Swim, surf or dig for pipis at Sunset Beach, home to an award-winning surf lifesaving patrol; scout for fossils around the Ports cliffs; dangle a line off the wharf in the hope of hooking a kahawai; and head to the sand dunes with a cold beverage in the evening for a sundowner with a difference. On the road to the dunes, youll find a couple of tennis courts, a playground with a flying fox and a library, which may come in handy if youve forgotten to bring a book. As always, if youre venturing into the water, swim between the flags during patrol hours and dont be afraid to chat to the lifeguards about any concerns.

If thats not enough to keep you amused, head about half an hour out of town toward Raglan to Limestone Downs (aka Weathertop Hollow in the Lord of the Rings films) and Nikau Cave, a kilometre-long glowworm grotto hidden amid fields filled with stacked pancake-like rocks.

If you dont have any luck with the fishing (you can also try set-netting for mullet and flounder at the river mouth), hit up Sunset Takeaways for burgers with homemade patties and quality fish and chips.

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Sunset Point, Hokitika is a classic West Coast spot for a feed of fish and chips.

Many come for the technicolour gorge and move on. But their loss is longer-staying visitors gain in the form of a blissfully uncrowded, wave-battered, black sand and pebble beach.

Home to little blue penguins, the beach is great for swimming and surfing if youre experienced, or simply a soul-soothing stroll. If youre on an evening walk, finish up at Sunset Point, where you can chomp on fish and chips as the sun does its daily disappearing act above the Tasman Sea. If youre not an experienced swimmer, stay out of the water as the beach is not patrolled and the waves can be deceptively powerful and there can be rips and holes.

No visit to the West Coast town is complete without a photo stop at the glacier-carved gorge, where rock flour ground over millennia lends the water its surreal blue hue. The Hokitika Gorge Walk is one of the West Coasts most popular and, in 2020, was extended to form a one-hour loop with a new 90-metre swing bridge.

You can also stretch your legs on the West Coast Treetops Walk, where the view from the 40-metre-high tower is worth the entry fee alone. On a clear day you should be able to see both the Southern Alps and Tasman Sea.

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South of Hokitika is a world-class tree walk, with views of the Southern Alps (video published September 2020).

Anyone with even a passing interest in mountain biking should tackle at least a small section of the West Coast Wilderness Trail, one of the 22 NZ Cycle Trails. Stretching 136km from Greymouth to Ross, the trail traces old packhorse tracks, tramlines, railways and water races on its way past thick rainforest, glacial rivers and remote lakes and beaches with views of the alps.

Out-of-towners may be surprised to learn that Hokitikas something of an arts, crafts and shopping hub, with many local artists seeking inspiration in the pounamu (greenstone) found in the Arahura River. Dip into galleries showcasing their works as you make your way along the towns historic walkway, which winds its way past grand old buildings from the gold rush era.

Hokitika mightnt be renowned for its nightlife, but you can have plenty of after-hours fun at the Glow-worm Dell - a free, down-home version of the famous Waitomo Caves.

If your trip coincides with the Hokitika Wild Food Festival, the event is another must-do even if youre not into extreme adventure eats. Options usually range from the truly wild - think crocodile bites and fish heads to tame options such as hot dogs, pastries and international fare. Dave Dobbyn, Greg Johnson and Zed are set to play this years festival on March 12, while the Feral Fashion contest puts a westie spin on racing circuit fashion in the field events.

Where are your favourite underrated NZ beach towns? Share in the comments or email travel@stuff.co.nz

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Five of New Zealand's most underrated beach towns - Stuff.co.nz

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