Auckland’s best beaches are a diverse bunch, ranging from the surf-trimmed expanses of the region’s west coast, to the cafe culture and family-friendly city beaches lining the serpentine bays of Tāmaki Drive.

Venture further afield, both north and south, for excellent swimming beaches, or team sandy sojourns with fine food, beer and wine on Waiheke Island. Fly or catch a vehicle ferry to forested Great Barrier Island for a unique combination of surfing and stargazing.

Mission Bay is best for urban diversion

The standout stretch of sand along Auckland’s Tāmaki Drive, Mission Bay is a popular destination for many Auckland families. Join in with an impromptu game of touch rugby or volleyball, stretch out on the grass with a feast of fish and chips, or watch on as Mission Bay's Art Deco fountain is gradually illuminated as twilight falls. After dark, bars and restaurants like the Good George Tap Room and Azabu are perennially busy spots.

Takapuna is the spot for paddle-boarding and ice cream

Across the Auckland Harbour Bridge on the city’s North Shore, the sweeping arc of Takapuna provides brilliant views of Rangitoto, the 700-year-old volcanic island punctuating the eastern horizon of the Hauraki Gulf. Takapuna is popular for swimming and paddleboarding, and on some mornings it may seem that walking a dog is mandatory. With or without a canine companion, an ice cream from the Takapuna Beach Cafe is an essential purchase.

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Combi van along road surrounded by tree ferns and palms in the Waitakere Ranges, between Auckland and Piha.
The drive from downtown Auckland to Piha takes you through the lush Waitakere Ranges © Justin Foulkes / Lonely Planet

Piha is the most popular west coast surf beach

Crowned by the leviathan bulk of Lion Rock, actually the eroded core of an extinct volcano, Piha is the most popular surf beach on Auckland's rugged west coast. At low tide, walking trails along Piha's black sand lead to rocky formations dubbed the Camel and the Gap, while the best views of waves rolling in across the Tasman Sea are from high above on the clifftop Mercer Bay Loop Track. Stop in at Murray, a relaxed combination of surf shack and cafe, for coffee and tacos.

Muriwai is best for surfing, paragliding and blokarting

Surf and surging Tasman breezes are the attraction at Muriwai, with board riders also negotiating waves at adjacent Maukatia Bay, and paragliders drifting on Tasman Sea thermals high above Muriwai’s black sand. When the winds are right, blokart enthusiasts steer their land yachts along the beach’s sandy racetrack, and tākapu (Australasian gannets) launch themselves from rocky islands at the southern end of the beach.

Te Henga (Bethells Beach) is the best beach for a mini adventure

Also known by its Māori name, Te Henga, Bethells is one of the more remote of Auckland’s west coast beaches. Getting to the windswept stretch of black sand, crowned by rocky headlands to the north and south, often involves the shoes-off mini-adventure of walking through the shallow waters of the Waitakere River. Visit on a summer weekend for burgers, pizza and coffee from the Bethells Cafe’s humble food truck location.

Four surfers standing on cliff top overlooking sea in Auckland New Zealand
Whether you're surfing, bodyboarding or paragliding, Auckland has the perfect beach for it © Manchan / Getty Images

Onetangi is best for bodyboarding – and sunset beers

Welcome to bodyboarding heaven on Waiheke, Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf island of wine. Onetangi is also the longest beach on the island, ensuring visitors there’s plenty of space to steer a brightly-colored piece of foam plastic through gentle Hauraki Gulf waves. After in-the-water action, adjourn across the road to Ki Māha where craft beers from Waiheke’s Alibi Brewing partner with oysters from the island’s Te Matuku Marine Reserve.

Man O’War Bay is the place to jump off a pier

It’s a bumpy drive on unsealed roads to get to Waiheke’s Man O’War Bay – an alternative is to arrive by floatplane from downtown Auckland – but it’s definitely worth the journey. Play beach cricket on the compact shoreline, see who can make the biggest splash when jumping off the historic wharf, or enjoy more grown-up pleasures by trying the Valhalla chardonnay from Man O’War Vineyards.

Medlands Beach is best for wildlife and stargazing

Dolphins and the occasional pod of orca are often seen off Medlands, and the best beach on Auckland’s most far-flung Hauraki Gulf island is also popular for surfing and bodyboarding. Great Barrier Island – known to Māori as Aotea (‘white cloud’) – was designated an International Dark Sky Sanctuary in 2017, and Good Heavens’ Dark Sky Ambassadors set up their powerful telescopes amid Medlands’ sand dunes after dark. Look forward to views of the southern hemisphere night sky including seasonal sightings of Jupiter and Saturn. During summer, Island Gin’s simple Medlands tasting room serves up island-crafted gin harnessing local forest botanicals.

Pohutukawa red flowers blossom in the month of December in the North shore of Auckland, New Zealand.
The red blossoms of the pohutukawa tree bloom in December across coastal Auckland © ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock

Matheson Bay is Auckland's best swimming beach

Enlivened during summer by the crimson blooms of pohutukawa trees – dubbed "New Zealand’s Christmas tree" – Matheson Bay’s compact cove is one of the Auckland region’s best swimming beaches. Even around low tide, the beach slopes off quickly enough for swimming to be possible. Matheson Bay is around one hour north of Auckland, and it’s worth combining with a visit to the Saturday morning farmers’ market at nearby Matakana.

Tāpapakanga is best for coastal walking trails 

Another Auckland beach definitely worth a one-day Kiwi road trip,  this time to an Auckland regional park one hour southeast of the city. Visit Tāpapakanga in late February for the Splore festival’s eclectic celebration of music, dance and culture, or have the beach’s walking trails and tree-shaded coves all to yourself on a weekday visit year-round.

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