Life's a beach (er, sorry about the cliche)
We had an extraordinarily fine Easter weekend here down under, with warm sunny days throughout (surprising for what's early autumn now, the equivalent of late September in the U.S.). And so we spent three days in a row at the beach, enjoying Auckland's many seaside locales.
It's one of the true joys of NZ life that you're never more than an hour or two from a beach – in Auckland alone, I think you could visit a beach every weekend for 10 years and still not see every one within a 100km-radius of the city. The nice thing is that they all have different characters, too, depending on which side of the North Island you're on.
West coast beaches, facing the transtasman gulf, tend to be wilder and windier, and full of this gorgeous sparkly black sand that always gets into every possible bodily crevice. The surf at some of the west coast Auckland beaches like Piha and Karekare is quite ferocious and a haunt for surfies, but you can still "swim" in it -- by which I mean paddle out about hip-deep in the surf and let the big waves smash you around a bit. It's very aerobic, and West Coast beaches with their soaring cliffs and epic feeling generally give you a sense of natural awe.
We love the west coast beaches (that's where the family bach or cabin is) but lately we've been doing a lot of Auckland's east coast beaches because they're very family-friendly and close enough to our house to pop over for an hour or so whenever we want.
On the North Shore of Auckland are some of our favorite beaches – Takapuna, Milford, Shakespeare –– which are a bit calmer, with white sand and gentle waves as they face the Hauraki Gulf rather than the sea proper. At a West Coast beach you have to pretty much keep a 4-year-old within arm's length the whole time, while at the East Coast ones you can let them get two or three arms lengths away. And you get beautiful views of Auckland's many islands (some of which we'll get to visit one of these days, I swear). They're more crowded and less raw, but very nice to just lay about reading a book and diving in to swim a bit.
Living in America where a trip to the beach usually involved a full day's plan at least, rather than a 15-minute commute, I do feel rather spoiled in Auckland. But heck, winter's on the way now, I'm as brown as a medium latte and somehow staring at surf and sand and sky never gets too old, does it?