Who would have thought that just a short drive from central Auckland, you'd find yourself in the middle of a rainforest?
That's the beauty of Auckland: just 24 kilometres out of its hectic city centre lies a 18,000 hectare sanctuary of native rainforest, beaches, streams and a stunning wild coastline.
The Waitakere Ranges were formed via a series of volcanic eruptions over the past 22 million years. Over time, huge amounts of volcanic sand mixed with magnetic iron oxide ash to form the distinctive black sand beaches on Auckland's west coast.
These beaches have become immortalised via film productions such as Jane Campion's The Piano (filmed at Karekare Beach); Xena Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (both filmed at Bethells Beach).
At Muriwai Beach, half an hour north-west of Auckland, you'll find a one-of-a-kind North Island attraction: a gannet colony. Approximately 1,200 pairs of adult gannets nest at the Takapu Refuge each summer and can be seen between August and March each year. This 60-kilometre stretch of beach (also a public road) is a top spot for fishing, horse riding, swimming and surfing.
Other stunning black sand beaches include the infamous surfer's paradise of Piha, Whatipui's secluded beaches, and Kirioitahi on the Awhitu Peninsula.