Road Trip: Auckland to the West Coast beaches

A Road Trip from Auckland that can be done in a day, exploring the wild West Coast beaches

Auckland is built on a narrow isthmus, so many of the city’s suburbs are coastal.  The East Coast beaches are generally quiet bays of pale sand.  By contrast, the West Coast beaches are rugged and wild.  The black sand is due to the high iron content, eroded from the volcanic area of Mt Taranaki and carried up the coast by natural coastal processes. 

The West Coast presents a spectacular landscape of surf beaches which are bordered by the bush covered Waitakere Ranges.  Visiting the area by rental car will allow you the freedom to explore this beautiful region with flexibility.

Karekare Beach is 38 kilometres from the city centre.  It can be a very enjoyable drive to reach this beach, and we recommend taking your time on this road.  The beach was featured in award winning film The Piano.  In CNN’s 2013 list of 100 top beaches, Karekare was named at number 38 in the world. 

A short distance from the beach is Karekare Falls.  Take the path from the road for a short 5 minute walk and you will find yourself at the foot of these falls. At 100 feet tall, they are well worth the detour.

North of Karekare is the larger beach of Piha.  Piha is one of the most popular beaches and is visited by many Aucklanders.  Driving into Piha, there are some spectacular views of the coast.  The most famous landmark at the beach is Lion Rock which divides North Piha from South Piha.  Special care should be taken if entering the water, as the West Coast surf can be very dangerous.  Many beaches are patrolled by Surf Lifesavers, and swimmers should stay between the flags which show the patrolled area.  Reality television series Piha Rescue is filmed at the beach and follows the lifeguards of Piha Surf Life Saving Club. 

Further North again is Muriwai Beach.  Muriwai is arguable the easiest of the three beaches to access, and the road is a comparably easier drive.  The road to Muriwai will take you through the township of Kumeu, and at the right time of the year you will find signs with the abbreviation PYO (abbreviation for ‘pick your own’).  Our favourite is Phil Greig Strawberry Gardens (464 State Highway 16, Kumeu), where we picked a kilo of juicy strawberries then enjoyed an ice cream from their store.

Muriwai beach is a 50 kilometre windswept coastline, with the main car park located at the southern end of the beach.  You may see some vehicles being driven on Muriwai Beach.  Please remember that your Budget Rent a Car cannot be taken onto any unformed roads, including beaches.

A short walk from the car park will take you to Otakamiro point.  Here there are two viewing platforms to enjoy the scenery.  For much of the year, there is also excellent viewing of a gannet colony.  The birds return here to re-establish contact with their lifelong mates, and chicks hatch around November-December.  The gannet colony is a significant attraction at the beach and will be enjoyed by bird or wildlife enthusiasts and families alike.

We recommend concluding your day with the quintessentially kiwi tradition – dinner of Fish and Chips on the beach.  These West Coast beaches offer spectacular sunsets, so make sure to have your camera close by as you enjoy the end to a perfect day in New Zealand.

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