For the 12 short days I recently had 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 onto 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 must-visit 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 were 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 and rank travel destinations. I try and fail many times. 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. Over-hyped. Under-delivered. The package holiday tourists can keep it. 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 at, rather than the one you find yourself staring at from your office chair.
What’s your favourite beach in the world to visit? Share in the comments below.
Written by Josh Martin. First appeared on Stuff.co.nz.
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