Updated: Nov 3, 2019
Geographically right next to Auckland, but you'll feel a million miles away. The secluded and rugged west coast town has managed to avoid the over-development boom which inevitably creeps its way into most coastal towns. Without a single high-rise building or even a hotel in sight makes for a pleasant change. The isolation also lends itself to the forty-five minute drive from Auckland through dense jungle and winding roads just to get here. With only a general store, cafe and two surf shops, the town has everything it needs.
Being the west coast, the surf here is powerful, consistent and on its day, world class. The majestic Lion Rock is an impressive landmark that splits the beach in two; South Piha with the Keyhole making an easy paddle out at low tide, and the more expansive North Piha; endless banks resulting in Caves, a heavy right hander, at the far northern end. Depending on swell direction, you've got a whole load of options. Handling swell from 2-8ft (0.6-2.5m) and rarely a flat day, Piha is one of the most consistent spots in New Zealand.
On those weekday mornings, it feels like you've traveled back in time, hardly anyone on the beach, the town feels sleepy and peaceful. This all changes in the summer, and any given weekend too, with the population swelling to insane numbers making you want to escape the place. You can just forget about trying to paddle out, being so close to Auckland also unfortunately makes for a beginner nightmare; tidal waves of soft tops and hapless learners wait for you. Tourists trade their hard-earned cash for a foam filled weapon. Surf shops here don't have time, or just don't care, to warn the fresh-faced mass, who may have seen an idea of surfing from a Hollister ad, about just how unfriendly this break can be.
Piha has claimed its fair share of drownings, commonly known as one of the most dangerous beaches in New Zealand. But don't let that put you off, the numbers are always obscured by your average dumb tourist who decides to go for a swim fully clothed on a particularly heavy day. Darwin Awards are regularly dished out on the west coast. So as long as you pay attention to the warning signs and use some common sense, you'll be fine. Also, if you're surfing, the rips are your friends and you can not only save yourself from dying, but also save yourself a hard paddle out.
Aside from the surf, the surroundings are equally incredible. A beautiful and secluded waterfall is hidden away on one of the treks around Piha, as well as a short walk down past South Piha to a natural pool for an actual relaxing dip in the ocean. One thing you will notice, are the insanely extravagant homes tucked away into the dense jungle that surrounds the town, but don't worry, these multi-million dollar hideaways are pretty much empty all year round, so the general population stays a nice low level for most of the off-season.
You'll be hard-pressed to find more beautiful surroundings and incredible surf in New Zealand, especially one that is in such relative close proximity to the most populated city in the country. Having lived here for a total of almost nine months on two separate occasions, life here is quiet and isolated. Working in the bush in New Zealand is a lot more forgiving than Australia, anxiety levels are reduced to almost zero as the threat of something killing me is pretty much non existent. Spending extended time here will no doubt improve your surfing, a chilled out surf is rarely dished out in Piha. So if you want to get out regularly, be prepared for a regular beatings, but you will be rewarded.