Auckland's wild west is renowned for its rugged beauty; this is where the Tasman Sea's mighty surf crashes onto vast black-sand beaches.
The west is wild. Whatipu, Karekare, Piha, Bethells and Muriwai beaches all have a remote, untamed beauty that's good for the soul. Although you’ll feel a world away, many of these beautiful beaches are less than an hour from the city centre, making them ideal day trip destinations.
Piha is popular with experienced surfers, but it’s also a wonderful spot for picnics, relaxing walks and swims – under the watchful eye of the famous Piha Surf Club. See Lion Rock, a small island that stands in the middle of the beach.
Bethells (Te Henga) is smaller than the other beaches, with a cosier feel. The sand begins well back from the surf and there is a shallow lagoon before the river reaches the sea. A walking track crosses the northern headland to secluded O'Neill Bay, another favourite with surfers.
Muriwai is an impressive coastline with cliff-top trails to a huge gannet colony, with easy access and viewing platforms that let you get up close. The gannet colony is in residence from August to March. A windswept rugged coastline stretching 60 kilometres, and interrupted only by streams and rivers, makes Muriwai one of New Zealand's most spectacular black-sand surf beaches. You can hire blokarts, bikes and kites or simply take a stroll along the boardwalk that hugs the coastline and get a dose of fresh ocean air.
Whatipu is at the northern head of the entrance to the Manukau Harbour. Powerful currents cross the sand bars to meet the long ocean swells. Many early ships were lost here when they strayed from the deeper channel. A native forest walk through the ranges returns along this beach with its hill-sized sand dunes, sun-dried driftwood and a cave once used as a ballroom.
Karekare is one of Auckland's most magnificent beaches, its isolation adding to its stunning natural beauty. Part of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, Karekare was made famous by the Oscar winning movie The Piano. The broad, firm beach is perfect for walking or running along the water's edge, and the picturesque Karekare Falls are just a few minutes' walk inland.
You can also walk all of these beaches as part of the multi-day Hillary Trail. Read a first-hand account here.
Visitors to the west coast beaches need to be aware that the powerful surf creates changing undertows and rips, but you can swim safely where there are surf patrol flags.
Auckland's West Coast beaches are easiest to reach by car. From central Auckland, take State Highway 16 west, choosing the appropriate turn-off for the beach you want (use maps or a GPS navigation system to guide you).
If you don't have a car, tour operators offer trips to Piha and Muriwai (see below). Alternatively, if you're booking an activity on the West Coast, check if your provider offers transport from downtown Auckland.