This week’s Wanderlust Wednesday excursion: The spectacular black sand beaches of Piha and Karekare in North Island, New Zealand

Article & Photos by Allie Albanese

Black sand beaches of new Zealand near Auckland in north island, piha beach, lion rock, surfer’s paradise

It’s hot.

The first day of summer arrived last week bringing with it full on heat and humidity, and I am not a happy camper. Being back in the swamp that is Georgia in the summertime is dredging up old childhood memories of suffering through brutally hot days without air conditioning. My dad grew up in NYC without AC and therefore considered it completely unnecessary and far too expensive of an indulgence, so if we wanted to cool off we took a cold shower. Instead of AC, his remedy for when the house felt like an oven set to broil was to turn on the attic fan (aka one of the most pointless inventions in history). On really hot days we were even allowed to turn it on high!

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For those of you who are unfamiliar, an attic fan works like this:

1. Shut all the doors to the rooms you’re not in

2. Open the windows in the rooms that need cooling

3. Turn on the attic fan

4. Sit and sweat profusely as disgusting hot, wet air from the outside gets pulled inside to “cool you off”

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Add to this the giant flying roaches that plague the south during hot, humid months of the year (hellooooo open windows whose screens are about as effective at keeping insects out as an attic fan is at cooling down a house) and maybe you can understand why summer isn’t exactly my favorite time of the year.

So as the temperature continues to rise and I mentally prepare for the inevitable triple digit weather ahead, all I can think about is being at the beach. The beach is the only place where I can tolerate hot weather (particularly if it involves sipping a cocktail or two!), and the only place where humidity doesn’t make me completely miserable. Which is why I’ve decided that this week I’m taking us to the beach!

And not just any beach, but to the spectacular black sand beaches of Piha and Karekare in North Island, New Zealand.

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Located about an hour’s drive from the city, stunning Piha beach sits on the rugged coast of West Auckland and is truly something to behold. It’s a popular destination for locals and a big time surfing spot, so even in the wintertime it’s busy with beachgoers and surfers. But the crowds and the drive are well worth it, especially if you’ve never seen black sand before! Volcanic eruptions are to credit for this unique combination of volcanic sand, minerals, and iron oxide, which characterizes New Zealand’s famous black sand beaches found primarily along its “wild” west coast. There’s something otherworldly yet absolutely beautiful about how it looks framed against the water, and I love the unique patterns it makes along the water’s edge.

Adding to the drama of this beautiful landscape is Lion Rock, an eroded neck of a volcano that erupted 16 million years ago that is now a small island sitting in the middle of the beach. Although a rockfall made access to the top too dangerous, you can still climb partway up where you'll find interpretations about the rock and its former inhabitants along the way. To Te Kawerau a Maki, the people of the land of Waitakere City who hold customary authority of the area, Lion Rock was known as Te Piha, which refers to the patterns of waves separating and breaking on the front of the rock, and as such is the name given to the beach.

Piha isn't at all your typical beach, and I was absolutely mesmerized by everything about it. Black sand. Historical rock formations. Sparkling blue water. Sexy surfers. What more can you ask for?

Black sand beaches of new Zealand near Auckland in north island, karekare beach, where the Oscar-winning movie the piano was filmed, Waitakere Ranges Regional Park

But Piha isn’t the only beach in the area worth visiting. To make the most of my day, I stopped at Karekare Beach as well, made famous by the Oscar-winning movie The Piano. Part of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, Karekare Beach is only 15 minutes away from Piha, yet drastically different in its massive size and magnificent isolation. I spent another few hours there soaking in its peaceful quiet and picturesque natural beauty, while unsuccessfully trying to capture the magnificence of Karekare’s black sand landscape in photos.

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The cool thing about Auckland is that it’s really easy to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, with beaches, forest walks, wineries, and the like all only short drives or boat rides away. I highly recommend exploring the outskirts of the city, which I promise will reward you with unforgettable views and memorable experiences.


Allie is the founder of Parched Around the World and the owner of Parched Global, LLC, a communications company based in Atlanta, GA. She's a Certified Sommelier and a foodie at heart, and is forever suffering from a severe case of wanderlust! When life allows, you can find Allie traveling around the world and photographing her adventures both domestically and abroad. Feel free to get in touch with her by email at or to connect on Instagram at @aaalbanese and @parchedaroundtheworld.