Auckland's beautiful beaches

John Clarke, aka Fred Dagg, was right all those years ago. We don't know how lucky we are. Was thinking about that yesterday while taking the dog for a run at Muriwai. Sometimes feels there's so much to worry about; so many ill-tidings, it's hard to appreciate what you actually have. Amazing how an hour on one of Auckland's magnificently wild west coast beaches can change that. How it can help you wake up and smell the perspective.

Aucklanders are spoilt for wonderful beaches. Fair enough, Kiwis are in general, but Jafas especially so. Clarke's message still rings true today - we just don't know how propitious the circumstances. Many of us even have our "favourite" beaches, as if being restricted to one would be a hardship. Mine used to be Dunedin's St Clair beach, a regular childhood haunt. Now? Unashamedly Muriwai. Strong, moody, endless; it's certainly not just a pretty face.

Down in Otago, people describe the Central region as "big sky" country. Grahame Sydney's stunning paintings often feature the area's sense of scale; its vastness. Syd used to joke about his downstairs' tenant asking if he received a bulk discount for light blue paint, such was the effect. Well, outside the lower South Island, Muriwai's the closest I've seen to this. Its horizons seem so far away, the depth of field so clear, it's hard to tell the sea from the sky.

Muriwai reminds you just how small you are. It's so big, you can lie on your back and feel as if time is standing still. It's a place where you can remember voices and faces from the past; where you can feel spiritual without feeling religious, alone without feeling lonely. Somehow, the sheer scale of the place helps make sense of priorities. It offers neither answers nor explanations; it's not that glib. But what it does offer is context.

True, the wild west isn't every beachgoer's cup of tea. Neither does it have to be. Those outside Auckland can scoff all they like about Jafaville but in terms of recreational coastline, few other places can boast such riches. Don't like the ironsand or the heaving surf of Karekare, Piha, Bethells or Muriwai? Well then, there's still a wealth of choices to the east and south. Whatever you might wish for in a beach, Auckland can provide.

Muriwai, from what I've noticed, seems to provide for more than most. Have been renting a place out there over the summer and, frankly, don't really want to leave. From the surfers to the parapenters and the sand yachts; from the dog walkers to the horse riders, and the people fishing from lines, kites and rafts - even if you're not participating it makes for interesting viewing. And it's big enough to accommodate all this while still appearing practically deserted.

Was stunned to learn that people had been queuing for over two hours in the new year to access the popular North Shore beach, Long Bay. Reports at the time estimated upwards of 25,000 people a day were using the facilities, which include a 4,000 strong car-parking area. Guess that's the trade-off when it comes to developing our coastline. The more you develop, the more people who turn up, and the less special the atmosphere.

Muriwai, thankfully, hasn't yet been over-run. As busy as it gets on a fine summer's weekend, the space on the beach always out-ranks the space available for parking cars. Long may it remain that way. It is a spell-binding place, incalculable in both size and spirit; a spot where you can both disconnect and reconnect with the world, whatever your whim. And all free of charge. Clarke was right. We really don't know how lucky we are.


» Read more of Richard Boock in the Sunday Star Times

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