When people hear the word beach, they generally imagine white sand, lapping waves, and a gentle sea breeze. However, since moving to New Zealand, for me the word beach conjures up images of black volcanic sand, crashing waves, and the rugged natural beauty that embodies many West Coast beaches, including Piha. About a 40 minute drive from Auckland’s CBD, Piha feels a world away.
When you head to Piha, you do so to enjoy nature. Piha is about 40 kilometres West of Auckland with a population of about 600. Once there, on the beach is definitely the place to be. While it is lovely to laze on the sand and work on your tan, it’s also a place that just begs to be explored. From the Piha Surf Lifesaving Club, you can head left to climb Tasman Lookout or right to climb Lion Rock, an eroded 16 million year old volcanic neck. The views from both spots are excellent. A word of warning, straight up seems to be the preference of Kiwis, so there are no meandering walkways.
If you choose Lion Rock, traditionally called Te Piha, you are entering a site that is sacred to Te Kawerau a Maki people and their ancestors lived on its slopes. As such, it is important that visitors are respectful. The climb is a bit tricky at the lower reaches, but luckily there is a sturdy railing to help you on your way. Once you get past the first bit, there are stairs that make the rest of the climb up fairly easy for anyone who is reasonably fit and healthy.
If you have a bit more time, there are numerous other trails to follow around the hills that encircle the town. The area is gorgeous and there is enough to explore to keep most visitors occupied for quite some time. I suggest you take the time to slow down and really enjoy Piha. It has a great vibe that you will somehow miss if you just stop by for an hour or two. But be careful, it may be addictive and as soon as you leave you may be dreaming of your return!
The Piha Domain Campground is a nice base to explore from. Just a short walk to the beach, it's also right across from the Piha Cafe and the art gallery. The bathrooms have been recently refurbished and are clean, as is the kitchen. We suggest you arrive early, pick a spot to set up camp, and then set off to explore the area.
Piha Café is a great little place with lots of atmosphere and amazing food. This cafe has the best eggs benny I've ever eaten - perfectly cooked free-range eggs with heaps of bacon on homemade sourdough bread. The plate is garnished with a bit of pesto and it greatly enhances the flavours of the other ingredients.
I can also highly recommend their brownies (and as an American, I like to think I know brownies). On weekends, this place is usually packed to the brim, so service can be a bit slow but who's in a rush at the beach anyway? If the weather allows, head to an outdoor table with a view (and an umbrella).
Written by Stephanie Rummel & Photographed by Susan Blick