Brighton, Cannes, Biarritz and Marbella: they’ve got nothing on Raglan, Piha, Matai Bay or Punakaiki.
Once I took the beaches of New Zealand for granted; now, having lived in the UK for almost four years, traveling through Europe at every opportunity, I miss them more than I miss my family.
You see, I was born and raised in Whangarei, New Zealand, sometimes known as “the city of 100 beaches”, with countless beautiful beaches only a 30-minute drive away. Although I didn’t know it then, growing up in a small city of only 40,000 people, dreaming of world travel, it was a blessing as much as a curse, which has turned me into something of a beach snob.
The problem is that whenever I think of beaches, even now I still think of golden sands flanked by native pohutukawa, peace and quiet, and crisp, unpolluted waters. It may just be a case of the grass being greener on the other side of the world, but for better or worse, that’s the lofty benchmark that I can’t help but compare all other beaches to.
You would have to go out of your way to find a beach in Europe that has been untouched by some form of development – whether it is beachside resorts, hotels or England’s surprising infatuation with piers and amusement rides at everyone of its most popular beaches.
In NZ, though, the most sure-fire way to rile up the locals would be to build something other than a sandcastle too close to the beach.
It’s from this perspective, then, that I can’t help viewing the more popular beaches of the Cote d’Azur in France, for example, as travesties. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing quite like the glitz and glamour of the French Riviera, but I can’t help but think how much nicer its beaches would be without all the apartments, restaurants and hotels peppered along the coast.
The many countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea boast some fantastic un-touched beaches, but what these beaches lack from a purely aesthetic point of view to a snob such as myself – more often than not – is natural beauty.
Admittedly, the beaches of Croatia and Greece, for example, do have a certain rugged charm, with their volcanic, desert-like backdrops, but it hardly compares to NZ’s plush, native flora and fauna.
Peace and quiet, too, is something of a luxury on many European beaches that I once took for granted. From the sandy white shores of the winterless north to the rugged shores of the West Coast of the South Island and beyond, in NZ you are never more than 80 miles from the coast. As a result, even at the height of summer NZ’s beaches are relatively peaceful and uncrowded.
No matter where I go, it seems I can never truly leave NZ. It really is God’s Own Country, or “Godzone” as the locals – and expats – might say. For once though, I would love to go to the beach without getting just a little bit homesick.