New Zealand’s Best Beach: Coromandel’s Whangamatā and Mangawhai in Northland

Each day this week, we’re profiling two much-loved Kiwi seaside spots in our quest to find New Zealand’s best beach. We asked readers for nominations and we’ve narrowed that down to 10 finalists and three wildcards chosen by the Herald Travel team.To vote for your favourite and help us crown a winner, scroll down to the form at the bottom. The Best Beach 2021 winner will be announced in the Herald on Sunday on January 31.

For generations of Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty kids, Whangamatā is Ground Zero for sun, sea, sand and summer. Surf too. It’s not so much a holiday destination as a rite of passage – particularly for New Year’s Eve.

So we weren’t completely sideswiped when we ran this quest in 2018 and our readers voted the Coromandel hotspot as their favourite beach.

Its ocean beach provides some of the best surfing breaks – the “Whanga’ bar” is legendary – and its saltwater estuaries offer some of the safest swimming in the country. It’s even got a bridge for kids to perfect the ultimate manu. Kayaking, kite and windsurfing, SUP’ing (that’s stand-up paddle surfing for the uninitiated), boogie-boarding, ditto.

Two hours’ drive from Auckland, 10 minutes or so less from Hamilton, Whangamatā is just close enough and just far enough from the big smoke to be the perfect getaway.

Sand, surf and the surrounding native bush of the Coromandel Forest Park make the place a massively popular destination for summer holidays. Perhaps that’s not the best time to take in all its charms: take my word, it’s moody and misty and memorable in midwinter.

All that activity can build up an appetite. Whangamatā has that covered with almost-beachfront cafes, shopping and parking.

On TripAdvisor, Garth, of Papakura, sums up the vibe pretty well:

“Leave your cellphone at home and sneak away to Whangamatā. We just did. Fantastic weather, no crowds if you avoid holiday weekends, and the beaches are pristine and pretty much deserted.

“Downtown’s a nice wee stroll, the place is very dog-friendly, and the supermarket has an excellent range of goods at regular non-beach prices.

“Walked the dog, watched the sun rise, waded. Daughter swam. Wife read books and newspapers and enjoyed chilling out.

“How to describe this place? It’s like Kiwi beach villages used to be before things went a bit nuts. Sublime for a short break and only a couple of hours from home.”

So, readers, are you going to vote Whangamatā a two-peat this year?

Mangawhai describes itself as “a little out of the way. A lot out of the ordinary” – but part of that is about to change.

For a century it’s been an old-school Kiwi seaside town tucked between the Pacific coast and rolling farmland, 80 minutes’ drive north of Auckland on the shores of the placid Mangawhai Harbour.

Once there were two villages – old Mangawhai, the mooring spot at the placid foot of the harbour, and Mangawhai Heads, more bachy, where anchorage and ocean crash. They were linked by a causeway in 1976.

Now it’s planned to formalise the marriage with Mangawhai Central, a town centre with supermarket, business park, retirement village and 1000 homes on 130ha of farmlandbetween the two, to cater for one of the Kaipara district’s fastest-growing communities.

It’s hardly going to turn the place into Mt Maunganui or the Gold Coast, but you can understand that longtime residents and holidaymakers are more than a tad miffed.

But we’re all about the beach in this series – beaches in this case, because Mangawhai offers two very different water playgrounds: the ocean beach or paddling and mucking about in the safe harbour.

Mangawhai Heads is a popular beach, with facilities including a surf club. It can become very busy in high summer as swimmers, on- and offshore fishers, surfers and boaties negotiate water rights. The shallow, sandy harbour is splash-about heaven for kids and the dunes on the outer shore are DoC-monitored breeding-grounds for some of our most threatened seabirds.

The Mediterranean-like climate around here attracts artisan food producers – yes, those chocolatiers, olive oil pressers, winemakers and more; their wares are on sale in local stores, weekend markets and several rather good bistros.

Local events include an annual walking weekend (the Mangawhai coastal walk is highly recommended), art trail, food and wine festival.

Enjoy the sun, enjoy the water but keep yourself and your family safe this summer. Check out these sites before you hit the beach – and for water safety basics and for water quality.

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