New Zealand: 6 Secret North Island Beaches With Personality

A couple on the edge of the hill in beach whatipu

2.96min read

Published 30 August 2016


New Zealand’s beaches aren’t just for sunbathing and surfing – there are black sandy beaches, beaches covered in scoria black rocks to climb upon and always a Pohutakawa tree (the New Zealand Christmas tree), twisting its roots out of impossible places to provide some shade on the sand. In short, Kiwi beaches come with plenty of personality! Here are our picks of secret North Island beaches with character.

Wild West Beaches, Auckland

 A couple on the edge of the hill in beach whatipu
Dramatic Whatipu is not the place for swimming. Picture: Julian Apse.

On a windswept winter’s day, there’s no better beach than Whatipu, with its iron-rich black sand, a lighthouse perched on a craggy rock to reach in low tide, caves to find and tramlines to trace from a time when timber was transported from Anawhata further north to a wharf at Whatipu before milling ended in 1921. Stand on the beach and take stock of the stormy seas, so treacherous they caused New Zealand’s worst shipping disaster.

From Whatipu, spot the Manukau Heads lighthouse across the harbour and if you’re curious, visit the Huia Settler’s Museum to find out more about the area’s intriguing history. Ask an Aucklander what their favourite beach is and this will be a beach etched into many a heart, making the Top 5 of most locals’ lists. Just don’t bring your bathers, as swimming isn’t recommended.

North Shore Suburban Beaches, Auckland

 a tree branch on the shore of Castorbay beach
Picturesque Castor Bay in Auckland's northern suburbs. Picture: Getty Images

Head to where the locals go and you’ll find a coastal walk from the Takapuna beach boat ramps, where there’s an ancient fossil forest preserved in volcanic ash and lava, along black scoria rocky paths to gorgeous Thorne’s Bay, where fresh water bubbles up in the rockpools. Take a dip in the swimming-pool-clear water as you admire the huge homes right on the beach, then keep walking further on towards Castor Bay and the clifftop walkway as far as your legs will take you. It’s a safe, well-maintained coastal walkway for restless sunbathers wanting to try out a few different beaches in one day.

Island Paradise, Auckland

 a father with his children taking a dip in Rangitoto beach
Rangitoto has sweet community beaches.

Catch a ferry ride from Auckland to an island in the Hauraki Gulf. Rugged Rangitoto Island is known for its climb to the top, but lose the crowds and walk around the bottom instead, where you’ll walk past historic baches, landscapes of lava crops, lush native bush and sandy coves to the famous lighthouse, which once acted as a lullaby of light to children on Auckland’s North Shore. Rakino Island has a tiny community and beautiful beaches, where you can hunt for ‘the treasure tree’, somewhere near Woody Bay. The more touristy Waiheke Island is also filled with beautiful beaches and if you venture further than the daytrippers, you’ll find deserted beaches and Pohutakawa-lined sand.

More Auckland inspiration:

Auckland: The Best of Both Worlds

Auckland For A Short Break? Yes Please

White Sand & Maori Tales, North of Auckland

 a view of beach omaha from a short distance
Omaha Beach has all the white sand you want.

A short drive from Auckland will take you to Omaha, a beach so typically Aussie in style that it’s often used as the place to film Australian television commercials. There’s the smoothest white sandy beach and crystal-clear water, because it’s surrounded by two protected marine reserves.

Walk to the right of the surf life saving club towards the end of the beach where, at low tide, you can make it to a pink-tinged sandy beach. In the area there are also farmer’s markets and honesty box fruit and vegetables, as well as road-side oyster sellers, where you can stock up on beach picnic treats straight from the sea and garden that morning.

Kerikeri Private Beaches, Northland

 a view of beach keri keri from a short distance
Kerikeri's private beaches will steal your heart. Picture: Getty Images

Kerikeri is in winterless Northland and is said to be so good, they named it twice. The beaches here are also deserving of a double mention but many go unnoticed by crowds rushing past to the Bay of Islands, because they require access codes. The solution is to pester your accommodation provider for help to get you on to these secret beaches lined with sand-dunes and the prettiest wildflowers. It’s beach-combing at its best and could soothe even the most troubled heart. As Robert Louis Stevenson wrote: “It is perhaps a more fortunate destiny to have a taste for collecting shells than to be born a millionaire.”

Tatapouri Bay, Gisborne

 a group of people holding sticks and interacting with stingrays in gisborne beach
Feed wild eagle rays and short-tail stingrays at Gisborne.

In summer, Gisborne is the first city in the world to see the sun rise, so get up early and head for majestic Tatapouri Bay after a hill-hugging coastal drive from town. Wade out to knee-deep water and feed wild eagle rays and short-tail stingrays. Their black wings flap like flags as they suck up breakfast from the palms of your hands and because they can sense heartbeats, they know when a group is heading across the reef to serve them a meal. It’s an unspoiled beach fringed by farmland with nature providing all that’s needed for a humbling wildlife experience literally at your fingertips.

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