Sandcastles and Cigarettes


(Published in Savvy Magazine, April 2014)

European beaches are, admittedly, much better than they used to be. Back in the 80’s of my childhood, a standard sandcastle would be part sand, part cigarette butts, part used tissue fragments and other unsavoury things. Unless you were patient enough to pick all the non-sand items out of your bucket.

Our last holiday, before we moved to the land of perfect beaches, was in Crete. The nearest beach was fifteen minutes drive away, and we had to leave early to bag a sunbed. The regulation three tight rows of sunbeds were spaced at enough distance so that, if you really wanted to, you could reach out and rub suncream into the backs of the strangers lying beside you. Two sunbeds plus a parasol cost the equivalent of around twenty bucks a day, a pricey addition to your holiday. The keeper of the sunbeds lurked in the shade – a woman who made Hitler seem warm and cuddly. Woe betide if you ignored the rules of the sunbeds. And woe betide if you arrived any later than 10.30 a.m. By then there were no sunbeds left, and you were forced to drape your towel over the questionable sand mix.

Six months later, when we made our first beach trip in Northland, which happened to be Coopers Beach near Mangonui, we were concerned to find only a handful of people on the entire beach even though it was well after 10.30 a.m on a glorious summer’s day.

Where was everyone? Were the All Blacks playing? Was there a tsunami coming? A pollution problem on this particular beach on this particular day? A frenzy of hungry great whites in the bay?

You already know the answer to that one.

It continues to amaze us… the beauty of the beaches; the ability to lounge in your own space of several pristine square metres, and to lie simply and comfortably on your towel.

My children now make countless sandcastles. And not a cigarette butt in sight.



  1. It IS nice to have beaches to ourselves. I was also spoiled in Oz with this. When I lived in Panama for a while, those were some of the worst beaches as far as bottle caps, cigarette butts, glass and god knows what else in them. In most Central American places that are on ‘tourist’ beaches, they rake every morning. Not in Panama! And they even charged you to sit in a chair…then sat around most of the day doing nothing. Crazy. When I was in BOI, the skipper told me that the cold water is what saved NZ from too many people. I can sort of believe that! I hate that I can’t get in the water…but hey, the beaches are terrific!

    • Stephanie, I so agree. Our last European holiday was in Greece, which I miss, miss, miss, but I don’t miss the crowded beaches and sunloungers that you have to pay for. We thought there was a pollution problem the first time we went to a New Zealand beach! The comment about the cold water is interesting and a really good point. It certainly is a bit chilly in there! Must get on and read more of your blog. Every time I try and grab a bit of time to myself someone takes it away again. Gggrrr. Loved your beach post and all the pics 🙂

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