Battle of the beaches

30 January 2018

Piha Beach, west of Auckland.

Battle of the beaches - did the best seashore really win?

The University of Waikato’s Professor Karin Bryan had the task of helping judge the NZ Herald’s competition to pick the country’s best beaches. Narrowing nominations down to a short list of 10, the final vote was then left to the public – with Whangamata in Coromandel the ultimate winner.

But from a scientist’s point of view, the heavy weighting towards benign, white sand, East Coast beaches and amenities missed out some of the real jewels in New Zealand’s shoreline crown - the wild West Coast. Professor Bryan says her pick would have been Piha.

“From my scientific perspective a beach is defined by surf. To me, all the inspiring problems are in the surf - how the waves transfer, curl, break and refract. Piha has Lion Rock, weird refraction patterns around the headland, and a wave climate that comes up from the Southern Ocean that is just amazing.”

Professor Bryan says surf zones are where the innovative research is, as there are still many unknowns. The way in which energy transfers from one wave to another, to rip currents, and how rip currents pulse. They are all areas she says still need to be explored.

“Those West Coast beaches are the best because the energy is so extreme, they’re doing more than any other beaches. The rip currents are pulsing, they are going in unexpected directions, they are just really exciting. So I was disappointed not to see one even in the finalist list.”

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