The world is full of hidden beaches, but discovering them before the masses do can be challenging.
Shhh ... we're letting the cat out of bag on a few of our favorite global destinations for relatively untracked sand and surf.
And while that's not to say you'll have these beaches all to yourself, it's a good bet you'll be among mostly locals - and a handful of intrepid travelers savvy enough to put these gems on their beach-hopping agendas.
Muriwai Beach, New Zealand
For most tourists arriving in Auckland, Piha Beach is the logical destination for a first glimpse of New Zealand's pristine North Island coastline.
For an even keener local look at the Kiwi surf lifestyle, make the half-hour drive west of Auckland to Muriwai Beach. The oceanfront here is beautifully rugged, with black sand beaches, pounding surf and rocky headlands where you can forage for New Zealand's famed green lip mussels at low tide.
Surfers love Maori Bay - just around the headland from the main beach - for its consistent beach break, and the fact that the horseshoe stretch of sand here is sheltered in a cove, making it a good place to toss down a towel for the day. A rocky outcropping between the bay and the beach is home to New Zealand's largest onshore gannet (sea birds) colony.
EAT: Kiwis get kudos for their great coffee, and latte lovers will adore the espresso drink called a 'flat white.' The weekend breakfast scene at Sand Dunz, near the main beach parking lot, sees locals mingling with city dwellers visiting from Auckland. Try the eggs benedict and ask about the local photography on display.
STAY: A short drive from the beach, the Muriwai Beach Farmstay is set in verdant surrounds, with New Zealand's iconic sheep dotting the hillsides.
Fraser Island, Australia
Less than 200 miles north of built-up Brisbane lies this wild stretch of largely desolate sand. Fraser Island's status as the largest sand island in the world automatically conjures dreams of mile upon mile of blissfully uninterrupted oceanfront. Indeed the surf beach stretches for some 75 miles here, and you can easily find a private stretch for swimming.
Getting to Fraser requires a short ferry ride. And a 4-wheel drive vehicle, hired on the mainland, is the best way to explore the island at your whim. When it's time to sleep, pitch a tent in the sand or stay at one of the island's resorts. The beaches are sublime, and if you want to de-salt yourself you can dip inland to one of the crystal clear lakes set in the dunes.
EAT: Carry your food over from the mainland if you're planning to camp here as dining on the island is limited to hotels and resorts. The Maheno Restaurant (no Web site), poolside at Kingfisher Bay Resort, does a seafood buffet on weekends.
STAY: Camping in dingo territory not your thing? Check in to one of Australia's top eco-tourism experiences at Kingfisher Bay Resort. Rooms overlook lakes and the island's rugged bushland. Eco-tours include whale watching and ranger-led hikes.
Cabo Polonio, Uruguay
Punta del Este may be Uruguay's most famous beach resort, but the South Beach-meets-South America feel of the place hardly screams, "Off the beaten path."
Ask an Uruguayan to point you in the direction of a beach after his or her own heart, and you can bet it will be located in the laid-back department of Rocha.
Situated a few miles off the highway, the tiny peninsula village of Cabo Polonio is accessed by 4-wheel drive trucks or horseback, which transport visitors over the dunes to a hidden beach.
Electricity and running water - only delivered to a few places by rainwater and the odd generator - are rare commodities here. There are a few posadas (rustic motels), and most of the block-style vacation bungalows dotting the dunes are lit with candles at night. The long, sandy beach - popular with windsurfers from around the world - is rugged and totally undeveloped. On one side of the peninsula the ocean pounds the shore, while the other side offers a sheltered crescent of beach more suited to swimming.
STAY: Rent your own private beach bungalow for a few nights or by the week. Most online information about rentals online is in Spanish, so consider contacting the country's Ministry of Tourism for assistance with bookings. The oceanfront rooms at Posadoy Parador La Canada have hot-water showers, and there's a communal kitchen.
EAT: There are a few restaurants in Cabo Polonio, but most folks cook in (bungalows are usually equipped with gas burners or outdoor grills). There's a small grocery store with very limited supplies, so it's best to bring the bulk of your food with you.
Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam
Intrepid European and Australian backpackers fresh from the ferry rub elbows with international jet-setters who've just flown in from Ho Chi Minh City at this palm-fringed isle off the coast of southwestern Vietnam. Stretching about 30 miles from north to south, Phu Quoc is the largest island in the Gulf of Thailand, but it has remained a relative secret - most tourists who make it to Southeast Asia bypass the island for more trafficked Thai destinations such as Phuket and Koh Samui.
And while bungalow-style accommodation dominates, the opening of the Phu Quoc's first megahotel last year hints that the island - like the rest of Vietnam - won't remain a travel secret for long.
For now, at least, the beaches are pristine, the reef snorkeling impressive and the delicious Vietnamese fare alone worth the journey. The island is loaded with stunning beaches, but one of the prettiest is Bai Sao, on the southeastern coast.
EAT: Most guest houses offer food, and you're guaranteed a fabulous (and fabulously cheap) fill-up at any street stall selling Pho - Vietnam's aromatic noodle soup that rarely runs more than buck a bowl.
STAY: Budget lodging abounds, with a few bucks getting you a simple bed in a thatched bungalow a few steps from the beach (usually with a hole in the ground for a toilet). If luxury is more your ticket, there's the Grande Mercure La Veranda Resort & Spa, complete with all the accoutrements of any large international chain.
Isla Bastimentos, Panama
Nine Caribbean islands off the east coast of Panama make up the archipelago called Bocas del Toro. For the region's most sublime beaches (and that's saying a lot - Bocas del Toro is loaded with brilliant spots), set your sights on Isla Bastimentos.
Playa Wizard is one of the most beautiful beaches on the island, with a wide, empty stretch of sand and some of the best surf in Central America. And at nearby Red Frog Beach - accessed by a short hike or boat taxi -- you'll have your best chance of spotting Panama's native poison dart frog.
EAT: Pension Bastimentos (no Web site) -- on a floating dock near the main point of arrival on the island -- dishes up Panamanian staples such as red beans and rice in lively surrounds.
STAY: Near the National Marine Park, Al Natural Resort offers oceanfront bungalows with thatched roofs, mosquito nets, and porches with uninterrupted ocean and rainforest views.