Beauty is in eye of the be­holder

Aotearoa has a di­verse, abun­dant coast­line, so who’s to tell us which beaches are best?

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

For the 12 short days I re­cently had back home in New Zealand, there were about 100 ‘‘must-do’’ ac­tiv­i­ties to squeeze in. About half were ‘‘must eats’’. After de­vour­ing my weight in snap­per, mus­sels, flat whites, Do­min­ion Road dumplings, Whittaker’s, Otago apri­cots, and farm-fresh steak, I needed a lie-down, prefer­ably on a beach. Not just any beach. A beach from my must-do list: New Chums Beach.

‘‘Oh, you mean Nude Bums Beach,’’ cack­led Mum, ex­plain­ing to her ex­pat son that be­fore it was over­run with pale Bri­tish tourist skin, it had a rep­u­ta­tion for ex­posed white skin of an­other va­ri­ety. I did not ask how she knew.

It’s easy to un­der­stand why some wanted to go au nat­u­ral on this remote Coro­man­del Penin­sula beach: na­tive for­est spills out on to a long, wide fore­shore of fine sand. No car park. Po­hutukawas in bloom. Clear wa­ters. No scars of the mod­ern world. It’s the same al­lure that grasped New Chums a spot on the Ob­server’s list of Top 20 best de­serted beaches in 2006. And the AA 101 Must-Do’s for Ki­wis (not af­fil­i­ated with my own must-do list). And a Conde Nast Trav­eller list too.

By the time I re­turned, the thread­less hip­pies were eas­ily out­num­bered by travel blog­gers. And war­ring fam­i­lies ar­gu­ing over sun­block. And In­sta­gram-fa­mous rich kids on jet skis. I imag­ine if the panel of judges who awarded New Chums the 19th spot on its top 20 list (and surely such a pres­ti­gious award was de­cided by panel, if not a se­cret bal­lot) re­turned on any sum­mer’s day, it would be dis­qual­i­fied from the de­serted cat­e­gory, so much has it been pro­moted.

But let’s not let this Coro­man­del spot take all the glory, when there are enough point­less awards around so that all stretches of sand (or towns, or cities, or moun­tains or parks) can gain a claim to fame.

Wai­heke? Best is­land ac­cord­ing to Travel + Leisure. Welling­ton? ‘‘Coolest lit­tle cap­i­tal’’ ac­cord­ing to Lonely Planet in 2010 (re­peated ad in­fini­tum by res­i­dents). Kai­teri­teri beach? Ranked by CNN as the 68th (!) best beach in the world. Karekare on Auck­land’s west coast? Re­cently ranked by Pass­port mag­a­zine as among the best beaches glob­ally. Mata­mata? The Tele­graph name­dropped Hob­biton in its 2017 mustvisit list.

Never mind that you’ve heard of only a few of th­ese me­dia out­lets and con­sumed even fewer of them. Never mind that the lists were prob­a­bly Googled by a lowly paid in­tern who can only dream of a long-haul trip to New Zealand. The point is we got recog­nised. The world no­ticed us, all tucked away in the cor­ner. We mat­ter.

And, like a bul­lied teenager psych­ing them­selves up in the mir­ror be­fore school, we need this to be re­peated. If global read­ers adore us, then more tourists will come. And as you sat on the sand just a few weeks ago, weren’t you just pin­ing for more trav­ellers on the beach? Aren’t over-crowded beaches what makes New Zealand great? Oh, wait …

Whether it’s beaches, cities, na­tional parks, or land­marks it’s a fool’s pur­suit to try to rank travel des­ti­na­tions. Opt­ing to visit a des­ti­na­tion solely be­cause it won some award only un­fairly ratch­ets up your ex­pec­ta­tions for a fall – as I found out a week later when vis­it­ing CN Trav­eller‘s Best Is­land award win­ner (2015, 2016), Bo­ra­cay in the Philip­pines. Over­hyped. Un­der-de­liv­ered.

When it comes to our favourite sandy spots, for some it’s rocky blue coves on the Med, while others pre­fer turquoise Thai wa­ters, or the steely grey Tas­man on black iron ore sands. And the best beach in the world? That would be the one you find your­self sit­ting on, rather than the one you find your­self star­ing at from your of­fice chair. Email if you have a travel is­sue you’d like Josh Martin, a Lon­don-based travel jour­nal­ist, to write about.

New Chums Beach or as it’s more af­fec­tion­ately known, Nude Bums Beach - makes a lot of top and must-do lists.

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