Life’s Just Beachy

Given that Auckland is on not one, but two major harbors, it should be no surprise that it has some local beaches! These beaches are about a 15-minute bus ride from downtown, which takes you from skyscrapers to cute shoreline neighborhoods. The weather in Auckland was warm and sunny, so we decided to take advantage of the beaches before the winter (the eastern beaches, that is; the western beaches are farther away and wilder). Of the three, we visited two: St. Helier’s and Mission Bay.

St. Helier’s: the furthest out from the city center, and the nicest in our opinion. Because it’s a whole 5 minutes farther on the bus than Mission Bay, many fewer people seem to visit. We went on a sunny late afternoon/evening and nearly had the place to ourselves (it was also a Friday, so that may have something to do with it too). The beach itself was sandy but covered in shells and shell fragments, making walking barefoot slightly risky. We arrived at low tide and saw that the seabed just offshore was covered in what we assume to be seagrass (the green in these pictures).

St. Helier's looking west.
St. Helier’s looking west.
St. Helier's looking east. Note all the green seagrass stuff.
St. Helier’s looking east. Note all the green seagrass stuff.

Since the weather was nice, we decided to go wading in the water, but quickly discovered that the seagrass grows on a bed of mud. Really deep squidgy mud. Even worse, the grass makes the water along the coast unusually still for the ocean, so as we waded out we could look behind to see the trail of mud and sediment we had just kicked up. The water remained ankle-deep to about a hundred feet from shore, where we turned back. Quite clearly, this was not the ideal beach for swimming, yet as we were lounging on our towels, we saw a few people wade out a ridiculously long way in order to paddle around for a few minutes (including a lady who rocked up to the beach in full motorcycle leathers, then stripped them off to reveal a bikini. Very cool).

After the sun went down behind the hills, we went to the local fishmonger’s (creatively called The Fishmonger) to get some fresh fish and chips. The catch of the day was snapper and we got it wrapped in large sheets of paper, perfect for taking back to the beach. The fish was delicious by itself, which was good since sauces (like ketchup or tartar sauce) isn’t freely included with NZ fish and chips. All in all, a good afternoon out in a place with a lovely beach village ambiance that reminded M of similar places near its namesake in Cornwall.

Mission Bay: the one drawback to St. Helier’s was the infrequency of bus service out there (coming back, we watched about three out-of-service buses and a party bus go past before the bus back to downtown arrived), so a few days later we returned to the beach but stopped a bit earlier, at Mission Bay. Mission Bay is the biggest and closest, and therefore most popular, of the Auckland beaches. We also went on the weekend so it was much more crowded than St. Helier’s. Unlike St. Helier’s, the shore wasn’t covered in seagrass and mud, but still required wading out a considerable distance before it got deep enough to swim. This trait, as well as the beachside park, makes it popular with families, though people of all sorts seemed to be at the beach on the day we went. Our goal was to have a refreshing alcoholic beverage while relaxing on the sand, but we couldn’t find a store that sold any. I’m sure that leads to an increase in business for the local bars and restaurants, but not wanting to leave the beach, all we could do was gaze in envy at those with the foresight (and prior knowledge) to bring their own. I went swimming a bit, though my fingers could still touch the bottom even a hundred feet from shore, and we sunbathed a lot (luckily no sunburns, this time). So, if you want to swim, go to Mission Bay; if you want a relaxed atmosphere, go to St. Helier’s.

Native bird update! At St. Helier’s we saw, besides the usual assortment of gulls, these interesting guys:

South Island pied oystercatcher.
South Island pied oystercatcher.

Yes, we are on the North Island, but these South Island pied oystercatcher (pied because they are black and white, not just black) migrate to the North Island for the winter. I don’t know why they are called oystercatchers, since as far as I know oysters don’t live on the beach. Happily, they are not endangered!

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