Visit Piha Beach: The Surfers Paradise of New Zealand
Piha Beach has a beautiful black sand beach located on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Its proximity to Auckland ensures that Piha Beach is always packed, especially in the summer season, attracting travellers and Aucklanders alike. Aside from the tourists, there is a small surf community in Piha Beach of less than a thousand people. The community is mostly made up of surf gear rental shops and small cafes. Piha Beach is often considered the most popular beach in New Zealand, and is famous for three things: Lion Rock, surfing, and Piha Rescue.
On the winding road from Auckland to Piha Beach, you will be greeted by a giant rock resembling a lion’s head with its front paws stretched out over the sea. This rock, appropriately named Lion Rock, is naturally formed from eroded volcanic activity and separates the north beaches from the south beaches at Piha. It has become emblematic of New Zealand’s entire west coast. Lion Rock has become so symbolic that it has been used on both New Zealand’s 50 cent and $1.50 stamp.
While it is accurate that you come to Piha Beach to swim, or even just to look, what it is truly famous for is being a surfers' paradise. Piha is often the beach of choice to suit up and hit the waves regardless of whether you’re a beginner or an international competitor. Piha Beach has welcomed the surfing world in various competitions, both national and international, and will be home to the Quicksilver International Surf Association’s World Junior Surfing Championship in January of 2010. However, despite its popularity, Piha Beach can often be extremely volatile with unpredictable rip currents. Lifeguards save several lives each year at this eventful beach, so much so, that a reality TV show—Piha Rescue—has been created to capture these moments on national television.
Piha Rescue is the world’s first reality TV show featuring the daily lives of lifeguards. Now in its sixth season, it continues to attract almost as many people as the beach itself. It never fails to be eventful, solely because of the beaches’ unruly conditions. The show has also been aired in other countries under the titles of “Surf Rescue” and “Deadly Surf.”
Just 5 km south of Piha Beach is the lesser-known sister-beach: Karekare. The name is Maori (the indigenous language of New Zealand), and means “surf.” This beach is not nearly as famous as Piha yet it shares many of the same traits. For those who enjoy a more private, reclusive beach, Karekare is a perfect alternative. If you are lucky, it can become your own private stretch of iron-black sand for miles upon miles. Its view is just as beautiful, and its waves equally wild, but it lacks the crowds. Small sand dunes form at the entrance to the beach, and caves have formed from erosion of the jagged cliffs lining the beach. The natural beauty of this beach has been well preserved, mostly because it is more difficult to reach than Piha.
Both Piha and Karekare are breath-taking beaches, but be careful: the simple pleasures of these beaches may make you never want to leave.
Grab a surf board, wetsuit, and enjoy the waves.
When to Go to Piha Beach
While Piha Beach is less than 30 km from Auckland, the drive takes close to an hour because of the winding road down from the city. Be warned, those prone to car sickness should bring Gravol (medication for motion sickness) along for the ride; but the beach will be more than worth it.
Odds n' Ends
If you want to arrange lessons, there are several instructors in the area eager to help beginners ride the waves. The cost of a one or two hour surfing lesson will put you back about NZ$75.
If one day is not long enough for you to enjoy the wild west coast, you can also rent property in the area. You can rent a bach (a summer home) for a reasonable price depending on the number of people staying at the house. You can expect to pay at least NZ$50 a night per person.
Remember, to be safe: listen to the lifeguards and only swim between the flags. After all, you don’t want to end up on Piha Rescue!
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