Sumner beach: A holiday spot in the city

GIRLS IN THE SURF: Sumner on a hot day early in the summer.
Fairfax NZ

GIRLS IN THE SURF: Sumner on a hot day early in the summer.

Think of Christchurch and beach that comes to mind is Sumner. For more than 150 years it has been the city beach.

"As Christchurch as fish and chips on Sumner Beach," goes one radio campaign. But it could just as easily be "as Christchurch as an ice cream at Sumner Beach" or even "as Christchurch as an evening swim after work at Sumner Beach".

At least part of the attraction to locals is the dramatic difference between inner city life a mere 10km away and the beach's clean salt air and golden sands.

ALL SORTS: A seal takes a breather on Waikuku Beach.
Fairfax NZ

ALL SORTS: A seal takes a breather on Waikuku Beach.

After a quick drive it feels like you've travelled hundreds of kilometres to a holiday spot. And yet this is on the doorstep and it can be popped over to any time.

Many locals have taken the next obvious step of living there, and making the journey to the city the away-from-home outing. That's created a strong sense of community and a polished group of eating and drinking out places. Sumner offers much more than fish and chips and icecreams.

Sumner Beach lies southeast of the city along the coast and is at the edge of the volcanic ridge that circles Lyttelton up and over the hills that soar above it.

It's a strip of about 400m of sand. To the west lies the Avon and Heathcote Rivermouth and the sadly toppled Shag Rock. That's Sumner's starting point.

The beach stretches east to the headland of Cave Rock. The beach beyond is Scarborough, which is the more favoured by the surfers. Further along lies sheltered Taylors Mistake, which is the best surfing beach in the area.

But it's at Sumner that the sunbathers and swimmers gather on golden days and afternoons.

The beach has its own lifesaving club, which is located at about the midpoint of the beach. Lifeguards patrol flagged sections from November to March.

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This is a family beach that slopes gently into the sea. Beach rating site findabeach.co.nz says it's best for swimming when the surf is under 1m. It recommends swimming in front of the surf club in the middle and away from the rivermouth and rocky headland because of the rip currents they can produce. "Particularly on the outgoing tide, a channel tends to form to the north of the surf club, and a north-going rip travels along to the river mouth and out to sea.

"Also a current tends to take water out past Cave Rock headland to the south."

Because of the shallowness of the beach, fishing is best in other spots. Some beginner surfing is possible, but really Scarborough and Taylors are better bets if that is goal.

Sumner is about sun, family fun, eating and drinking and feeling a little like you have slipped into some Mediterranean hideway - for a few hours at least.

WAIKUKU: THE DO-IT-ALL BEACH

Waikuku Beach is just about as far as you'd seriously want to drive from Christchurch to fill one of those afternoon "let's go to the beach" whims.

But that's where we nearly always seem to end up.

Occasionally we'll dabble with another beach, including all those you drive past to get to Waikuku, such as Brighton, Spencer, Pines, Woodend, but in the end Waikuku wins us over.

Waikuku is like an old friend who wears a different outfit and has a different mood every visit.

Yes the wind can play a big part in that and its worth going early on likely big blow sand-eating days, but you take the good with the bad and the calm days are magical.

To get to the beach, turn off the highway and through the countryside along Waikuku Beach Road. At Waikuku, turn right onto Park Terrace, then left onto Bridge Street, and down to the Beach and Surf Club.

There are patrols for swimmers near the club in summer. A north easterly wind brings the best waves and these are rated as punchier, more fun and "more hollow" than the Christchurch local beaches by nzsurfguide.co.nz.

But for walking and fishing, and our favourite spot, the best place is well left of the surf club.

Instead of turning into Bridge Street, go left along Park Terrace and into Rotten Row. At the farthest point you can go before you hit the tidal estuary area, there's a carpark under pine trees.

You walk from the carpark across a muddy, crab pockholed flat, then take a little climb up and over the sand dunes, a fast one if in bare feet on a hot day, and drop down on to the beach.

Walk down the beach to the left and you'll eventually hit the Ashley river mouth. It can vary depending on the last floods, but that's also where there's a chance to catch sea trout, kahawai, herrings and whitebait in season.

There are lots of birds, we've seen seals on the beach and dolphins in the surf. There are tiny fish, crabs, flounder in the clear water. It's a natural paradise.

Going home we always stop for ice creams at the general store, and sometimes fish and chips.

The interesting domain area handily next to the ice cream shop has a flying fox, tennis court, basketball half court, skateboard area, and playground if you are a family that's over the sand.

Waikuku is an honest beach spot with plenty of wildlife and not too many humans, which is a good thing.

 - The Press

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