Though it surprises some – New Zealand is a surfing mecca.
With a whopping 15,000 kilometres of coastline ringing these islands, it’s not hard to catch a wave!
From the tip of beautiful sub-tropical Northland, right town to the icy Southern Ocean around Invercargill and remote Steward Island, New Zealand’s surfing is wonderfully diverse.
Along the way, you’ll find wave-bashed coves, shimmering stretches of perfect white sand and sublime bays haloed in rainforest.
It’s awesome stuff and for a keen surfer really is paradise.
This guide to the surf beaches New Zealand has up its sleeve covers the width and breadth of the country.
It ranges across the rugged and handsome Coromandel Peninsula, where sand-dusted towns face the frothing Pacific. It goes from Christchurch to Kaikoura to hunt swells in whale territory. And it helps you seek out the top surf spots on the wild West Coast, where the Tasman Sea packs a hefty punch.
Whether you’re an award winning surfer or are honing your craft, this guide is written with you in mind.
So, grab your board and wetsuit (or rashie – depending on just how cold the water is) and get ready for some of the most primo waves New Zealand has to offer!
These are the 10 Best Surf Beaches in New Zealand
Northland’s Best Surf Beach
Shipwreck Bay – Ahipara
Shipwrecks, or Shipwreck Bay, is the jewel in the crown of Northland’s surf crown. It lurks down the forested coast roads from Kaitaia, anchored by the bijou village of Ahipara (which is where you’ll park/camp).
The bay itself spreads almost six kilometres up the northern shoreline. The surf is unsurprisingly long. In fact, it’s known as one of the longest rides in the country.
There, you’ll find cruisy waves that go for hundreds of meters without letting up.
If you’re good at finding that sweet spot and sitting in the pocket, this could be the trip of your life!
Moreover, Shipwrecks is a downright breathtaking place to hit the water. Remote, green, lush, and lovely, it’s framed by forests and little beach cottages that’ll have you wishing you lived there.
90 Mile Beach – Northland
Ninety Mile Beach is another gem from Northland, offering a seemingly endless run of shimmering sand and wild Tasman Sea.
You might be surprised to learn that Ninety Mile Beach isn’t actually 90 miles long. It’s just shy of that, at 88km from end to end. We won’t hold that against it though!
There are peaks of all kinds for surfers there, including A-frame peaks that go both left and right. It can get a little mushy when there’s not much punch in the water, but there are also plenty of days when it’s overhead and downright gnarly.
When you bore of the water, be sure to make for the huge dunes behind the ocean. They are prime hunting ground for sand boarders and offer jaw-dropping vistas of the coast.
The Best Surf Beaches in Auckland
Piha Beach – Piha, West Auckland
Prepare to be stunned by Piha Beach.
A great cleft in the side of the North Island, some 50 minutes’ drive from Auckland’s CBD, it slopes out of the wild Waitakere Ranges in a show of cinnamon-tinged sand and mighty rock stacks.
The biggest rock stack of the lot is smack dab in the middle of the beach; it’s called Lion Rock and you can’t miss it. The surfing takes place on either side, but the northern end is usually bigger.
Close to the shoals that hug the Lion, you can find neat peaks that drift left and right.
Piha is credited with being one of the first ever surf beaches New Zealand had. The earliest Kiwi surf club was started here in 1934 and it’s thought the Māori rode the waves on huge forest logs long before that.
Te Arai Beach – Wellsford, North Auckland
Drive north from the City of Sails, through the forested hills and valleys that spread out on the side of the Haruki Gulf, and you’ll soon come to Te Arai Beach. It’s just about as far north as it’s possible to go in the Auckland region without crossing into the Northland.
Still, the crowds are thinner than on beaches nearer the town and the setting is simply divine…
Dashes of white sand and undulating dunes clad in bunny tails roll all the way north from the parking spot for a couple of miles. You’ll see the hazy outlines of islands in the distance, separated by a large strait where dolphin pods aren’t too uncommon – keep yours eyes peeled!
Wave wise, you’re looking at typical New Zealand surfing on mellow beach breaks with multiple peaks.
Sand is underfoot, so when it’s chest-high this is a great spot for learners.
Don’t underestimate Te Arai, though, because it can get punchy and hollow, and there are some shallow reef sections if you’re tempted to paddle close to the point in the south.
Hit the Waves in the Waikato
Manu Bay – Raglan
The waves in New Zealand hardly get better than in Raglan.
The town opens up onto wide Manu Bay, which hosts a seriously legendary point break that can roll across the cliff face to give long rides of over 150 metres.
The place was dragged into the spotlight by the seminal 1966 surf documentary The Endless Summer.
These days, huge crowds continue to come when the Tasman swells are kicking up, because the bay is prime hunting ground for barreling lefts that are both fast and challenging.
Manu Bay doesn’t have a monopoly on the Raglan surf, though.
Beginners can enquire at the local surf schools in Raglan town and get a lesson on the tamer main beach.
More experienced riders might want to check out the lefts of Whale Bay or Indicators, which hide in the coves a tad to the south.
The Best Surf in the Coromandel
Hot Water Beach
Of all the surf beaches New Zealand hosts on the Coromandel Peninsula (and there are quite a few!), it’s usually Hot Water Beach that tops the list.
This spot is better known for its unusual geothermal waters, which steam and bubble right below the sand. Seriously, you can literally dig up your own spa!
But leave that till after the surfing, because you’ve got nice sets of groundswell Pacific waves to catch. They’re rarely crowded and work on all tides.
Winter is best, because it adds a pinch of power to the spot that can actually be calm as anything between October and March.
Just a mention of the name Whangamata is usually enough to get the hairs standing up on the necks of seasoned surfers the whole world over.
This is unquestionably one of the most iconic surf beaches New Zealand has.
When the swell is west or north-west, the bay pumps with regimented sets of peeling lefts.
There’s some good variety in there too. One day it might be fast, tubey waves. The next, it could be mellow, marshmallow-like learner conditions.
Whangamata Beach has its main surf season in the midwinter, but watersports really are like religion in these parts.
During the summer months of December, January and February, it’s perfect for swimming, sailing and SUP boarding.
Where to Surf in Wellington
Lyall Bay is the go-to wave factory for city slickers in the capital of Wellington. It’s usually busy but also pretty consistent.
What’s more, the swell spreads out nicely all along the pebbly beach, so you can often find a peak to share with just a few other people (or your own surf crew).
The runways of Wellington International Airport poke into the Tasman Sea to the eastern side of Lyall Bay. They create a sort of artificial headland that can conjure big walls of water like a point. When things are overhead and you’re looking to get pitted, that’s the place to go.
Beginners and intermediate riders can go further west, where Te Raekaihau Point offers shelter from westerly winds.
During the summer months (November to February) things can be pancake flat.
Stronger pushes come with the ocean storms in winter, when you’ll need to bring that fat wetsuit and booties along for good measure!
The Best Surf Beaches in Canterbury
Gooch’s Beach – Kaikoura
Gooch’s Beach is a fine introduction to the world-class surfing of the Kaikoura region. It’s certainly not the best in the area – in fact, not by a long stretch. However, it’s a fantastic place for first-time riders and has majestic views of the Kaikoura Ranges, which rise like something out of Hawaii to the north and west.
The break at Gooch’s is very much a beginner’s and intermediate improver’s spot.
It’s never going to churn out hefty barrels and fast drop ins.
If you’re keen on that, look to other destinations in the vicinity. There’s Graveyards, with it’s big pulsing breaks and rippable walls on the north side of Kaikoura. Then there’s legendary Mangamaunu, a fantastic point break that can turn tube when it’s big.
Sumner Beach – Christchurch
Sumner Beach is the main surf beach New Zealand has to offer in Christchurch. Its proximity to the Garden City usually means there’s a crowd about whenever the Pacific Ocean is showing its teeth. But that’s okay, because there are actually three separate breaks here, so the lineup is nice and spread.
Mellow, mushy waves are the name of the game at the north-west end of the bay. That’s known locally as the Stoke Street break and it’s usually where the surf schools and little ones go to find their water feet.
On the opposite side is the Breakwater jetty, which creates some nice right-handers that cruise along the sands for intermediates.
When the tide is fully up, you could also hop over craggy Mussel Rock and enjoy the small wedges that rise there. It can get shallow and has some rips at the point, so we’d leave it to more advanced riders.
New Zealand is blessed with countless unassumingly amazing surf beaches.
From the winterless north right down to the chill of the south, there are many opportunities to hit the waves with your board.
We hope this collection of the best surf beaches New Zealand has on offer helps you to plan your next active getaway!
This guest post was brought to you by Rich of The Surf Atlas. As co-founder of this incredible global surf and travel site, he providers expert guides to the world’s best surf destinations. Personally, his favourite places to hit the the water are Mexico, Portugal and right here in New Zealand – with the North Island being a particular fave. He’s been surfing for over 10 years, having started on the wild Atlantic waves of his native Wales. These days, he spends his time seeking out hidden surf breaks in warmer climates but also loves hiking and skiing whenever he’s not on the ocean.
Photo credit: Graeme Murray, Scott Venning and Paul Abbitt.