Go 18 miles west from London, and you reach Slough. Do the same from New Zealand's largest city, Auckland, and you end up at an awesome, desolate beach. New Zealand, you may be forgiven for concluding, is no longer a nation: it's a film set. The country has spent most of its existence being beautiful with no one to notice, and is now making up for it. The Lord of the Rings trilogy has attracted thousands of visitors. When they arrive, they discover some of the world's most photogenic beaches. The action in The Piano was played out at Karekare, but Bethells was the even wilder venue for Xena: Warrior Princess' and 'Hercules: the Legendary Journeys - and a dead cert for the Oscar for Best Supporting Beach. New Zealand is about as far as you can go from Britain before you start coming back the other way - but the journey is worth it.


On the other side of the world, most easily accessible from the UK with a stop in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. From Auckland, the ride west through the hills and forests makes a suitably dramatic approach to this windswept expanse of sand.


November-March for bathing; Christmas Day is optimal for a picnic on the beach followed by a fine sunset. In midwinter (June-July) you'll have this blissful corner of the world to yourself.


The corrugated coastline is the main attraction, but wildlife is a close second: nearby there's a colony of gannets, while plenty of other seabirds touch down here. Bethells Beach also has evidence of Maori settlements.


The essential counterpart to a trip to Bethells is a trek through the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, an extraordinary expanse of bush that constrains Auckland from spreading too far west and divides the city from the sea.


A couple of cottages close to the shore can be rented, but Auckland is close enough to use as a base. Base is the name of the ritziest backpackers' hostel in town in Fort Street. For location the Hilton is clear winner: at the end of the quay that gave its name to Quay Street, with superb views.


If you can't start the day without French toast stuffed with fruit, Ponsonby Road, where you can eat yourself around the world, is the place to be. Take the Harbour Bridge tour, which you can round off with a bungee jump.

Travel facts

Base backpackers' hostel

16-22 Fort Street (00 64 9 302 0065)

The Hilton

Quay Street (00 64 9 978 2000)