Piha Beach: Where Mountains Meet the Sea
Just under an hour from Auckland lies one of the North Island’s most magnificent treasures: Piha Beach.
Piha Beach is just one of the many stunning places in the Waitakere Ranges, a subtropical chain of mountains covered in jungly forest and home to numerous black sand beaches.
The Waitakeres are located on the West Coast of the Auckland region, and it’s a wild, ruggedly beautiful place. One might say that this area is the polar opposite of the East Coast in and above Auckland, which tends to feature white sand beaches and Caribbean-esque turquoise water. The West Coast is moody and mysterious, while the East Coast is bright and sunshine-sparkly. Both coasts are breathtakingly beautiful in their own unique ways.
It may be super close to New Zealand’s most bustling city (Auckland is home to about a third of the entire country’s population), but Piha Beach is an oasis of natural beauty and tranquility. It makes for an excellent day trip from Auckland, or if you’re keen you could stay and camp or Airbnb for a couple of nights.
For all the nature and beach enthusiasts out there: if you’re visiting Auckland and have access to a car, or if you’re on a longer road trip around New Zealand, I highly recommend a trip out to Piha. With its rugged beauty and grandiose rock formations, it reminds me of a mix between California’s Big Sur coastline and Oregon’s Cannon Beach.
Come to Piha to surf, hike, or simply relax—and if you go in the water, make sure you know what you’re doing so you don’t end up on tv 🙂
Read on for an overview of my favorite things to do around Piha Beach.
First Things First…How to Get to Piha Beach from Auckland
Piha can be accessed via car only—there is no public transportation system that goes out there. The drive should take about an hour if there isn’t much traffic getting out of the city.
You’ll need to drive through West Auckland until you reach the start of the Waitakere Ranges, and from here the road gets a bit narrow and windy. Just take it slow and pull over in turnouts for locals who want to fly by.
Things to do at Piha Beach
Piha is a popular surfing locale, but when the waves are good it’s best left to seasoned surfers as the tides and swell can get a bit hairy. Even if you’re not a surfer, though, or if the waves are bad, there’s heaps to do in Piha. There are a couple of walks here that are my absolute favorites, which I’ll outline below.
Tasman Lookout Loop
Best time to go: At low tide. Sunsets are particularly epic along this walk.
Time to walk: Anywhere from 30 mins to hours, depending on how long you want to linger!
The walk details:
Start this walk at the south end of Piha beach. You can take the road to the farthest parking lot and park there. I like to do this walk as a loop at low tide—start on the beach and walk south, and make sure to admire the tide pools along the way!
After a few minutes you’ll come to the Gap, which is a nice beach cove to explore. There’s a keyhole in the massive rock there that funnels the waves in and out. You’ll also find a pretty little blue lagoon pool a bit further along.
Once you reach the beach end, you’ll probably want to stay awhile. Next, catch the walking path back in the hills. The path will take you up and over the clifftops, with stunning views almost the whole way, until you descend back to your car.
If you can’t do this walk at low tide, it could also be done as an out-and-back; just use the trail and skip the beach portion at the Gap. The beach section is really a nice addition if you can swing it, though.
Kitekite Falls Track
Best time to go: Any time of day, but if you want to swim in the waterfall pools, mid-afternoon would be best for maximum sunshine.
Time to hike: 45 minutes to complete the loop; add on another 30 minutes if you want to hike to the top of the falls.
Just behind Piha beach lies this gem of a walk. You’ll make your way through lush forest filled with kauri, Nikau palms and fern trees until you reach a beautiful cascading waterfall. There are such jungly vibes along this walk and it’s a real treat.
From the waterfall, you can walk uphill on a trail for another 10-15 minutes to access the top of the falls, where you can go for a dip if you’re keen. Last time I did this hike, though, it was a bit of a party scene up there so I skipped it. I’d recommend doing this in the off-season, or during a weekday.
If you don’t feel the need to go to the top of the falls, you can loop back on the return track to get back to your car.
This track has recently been upgraded to help cope with the spread of Kauri dieback disease. Make sure to use the washing station at the beginning of the trail to clean off your shoes before starting the walk, and again when you exit.
Other walks to do around Piha beach
- Of course, you can just go for a long walk along the beach at Piha! There’s a long sandy stretch here, so you can stroll to your heart’s content.
- The extra-adventurous can also climb partway up Lion Rock.
- A bit further afield (but off the same main road to and from Piha), you can access many other beaches and walks, including The Mercer Bay Loop, Anawhata Beach, and Karekare Falls and Beach. You could honestly beach hop and hike your way around this area for days!
Amenities in Piha Beach
Piha Beach is a lightly developed area with homes and baches dotting the surrounding hills, but it is mostly empty of modern conveniences. I must say that I like it that way 🙂
There are bathrooms and drinking water at spots along the beach, and there’s plenty of parking.
In terms of food options, there is a lovely little cafe if you’re after a coffee or brunch. On weekends, there’s the Murray Taco Truck. There’s also the Piha Store, which has some cabinet food options.
My favorite thing to do, though, is bring a picnic out to Piha (preferably from Farro Fresh in Grey Lynn, aka the best gourmet supermarket in all the land). A picnic lunch on the beach with a cold NZ beer on the side… that’s my idea of the perfect afternoon in Piha.
Whether you come to Piha to explore or relax (or both), I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Photos and words can’t quite describe the place—you need to go and experience it yourself.
Piha is one of the best day trips from Auckland, and an excellent stop along a North Island road trip. It’s one of my happy places in the Auckland area and I hope you enjoy it as much as I always do.
MORE TRAVEL INSPIRATION
For more tips on fun things to do in Auckland, check out our Auckland City travel guide.
If you’re after more black sand beaches in NZ, read our travel guides to Raglan and New Plymouth.