Ah, the land of the Kiwis. You’ve seen it in movies and on TV, in travel magazines in adventure blogs. If you’re anything like me, you’ve even seen the 9,000 miles of sweeping New Zealand coastline in your dreams. For the outdoorsy types—those who kayak, hike, surf, fish, camp, scuba dive, or swim—New Zealand is a paradise. Even those who prefer relaxing on the beach with a book in hand can’t get enough of this island nation. New Zealanders, or Kiwis as they’re affectionately called, are a laid back people. Spending a week, a month, or a year in New Zealand will give you a taste of a life that’s the perfect combination of relaxation and adventure in the midst of surreal scenery.
The New Zealand landscape is famously varied, reflecting diverse climate conditions. For instance, the lush pastures of the Hamilton – Waikito region (known for being the home of The Shire set in The Lord of the Rings films) on the western side of the North Island greatly contrasts the plains and peaks of Canterbury, where the Southern Alps provide a stunning backdrop. Likewise, the beaches in New Zealand are far from run-of-the-mill. The “seen one, seen ’em all” maxim won’t apply here. Luckily, New Zealand is small enough that you can see most of the best beaches in a short period of time.
Without further ado, check out our 10 top New Zealand beaches—a list that, not for lack of trying, can’t even do justice to the 100+ beaches on the islands. Some of you may have your bags half-way packed by the time you get through the list.
Hot Water Beach, Waikato Region, North Island
Geothermal hot water springs are the highlight of this aptly named beach on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula. Locals and visitors flock to Hot Water within two hours before or after low tide with sand shovels in hand to dig their own personal spa pools on the beach. The phenomenon is made possible by an underground river of hot water that flows from the core of the earth and surfaces in the Pacific Ocean, coincidentally right where the beach is. When one digs into the sand during low tide, hot water escapes to the surface allowing the formation of hot water pools. The water that bubbles up is not only soothing but healthy, filled with calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
Even if you miss the short window of time during which the hot springs are not buried deep beneath ocean, Hot Water Beach is still a beautiful place. It’s one of many long, white sandy beaches on the peninsula, with sheltered and secluded spots for tranquil sunbathing.
Karekare Beach, West Auckland, North Island
A majestic, low-key beach 22 miles west of Auckland, Karekare was made famous in the 1993 film, “The Piano.” Its wild character and hot black sands are typical of the West Coast Beaches in Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. However, Karekare is more isolated than the others, adding to the its mysterious and rugged charm. Stark hills, sand dunes, and beachside bushes ramble alongside the beach, inviting adventure. Trek up the hill into the forest to find the beautiful 100-foot Karekare Falls.
This is a great surf spot, but only for the pros. The waves are rough, so make sure to stay in between the designated flags if you go for a dip. One thing to note is that there are no shops nearby, so bring anything you might need with you. If you’re on a day trip, pack water bottles and a picnic.
Gillespies Beach, Fox Glacier, South Island
At the foot of the Southern Alps, a pebbly barren-looking beach which was once the site of a thriving mining town sprawls along the western coast. Scattered with smooth stones and driftwood, this unique beach is at once desolate and soothing with a view of Fox Glacier ever present in the distance. While it may not look like it at first, there’s actually much to do in the area. Take any of five walking trails from the beach to explore a historic miners cemetery, nineteenth-century mining equipment, Gillepsie’s Lagoon, the Miners Tunnel, and an incredible seal colony on Galway Beach. A Department of Conservation campsite on the North end of Gillespies Beach is a common spot for backpackers to hang out and make camp. If you’re a backpacker, here’s a place to make friends, bond around the campfire, and visit the seals with your new pals.
Piha Beach, West Auckland, North Island
Piha is the most famous surfing beach in the nation, as well as one of the rugged black sand beaches on the North Island’s west coast. Just 30 minutes from Auckland, Piha is a popular spot for both locals and tourists. Unlike Karekare, Piha has plenty of food, shops, and lodgings nearby. As you might imagine, the surf here is extreme, so use caution if you plan to surf or swim! You might try taking a surfing lesson provided by one of the local shops. If you need to rent a board, try Piha Surf or The Lion Rock Surf Shop & School.Giant rocks and stunning sunsets are another staple of this wild beach—you can climb up Lion Rock, standing tall right in the middle of the beach, for breathtaking views of the surf and sky. Lush forests of the Waitakere Ranges provide ample opportunities for hiking and exploring, so pack your day bag with hiking necessities.
Allans Beach, Dunedin, South Island
Declared one of the best beaches in the world by many who have set foot on its sands, Allans Beach is nonetheless often overlooked. This is probably due in large part to its remote location on the Otago Peninsula. However, the drive is just as unique as the beach itself—rolling hills populated with sheep are reminiscent of Edinburgh.Allans Beach is a stretch of white sand measuring just under a mile surrounded by emerald moss-covered cliffs. The pristine aqua-colored waves that crash into the shore are perfect for both surfing and admiring from afar. While you’re not likely to find crowds on this beach, you will find plenty of wildlife to keep you company. Yellow-eyed penguins form colonies on the south end of the beach, while on the north end, sea lions and seals can usually be spotted lounging on the rocks.
Kaiteriteri Beach, Nelson Bays/Tasman Region, South Island
The golden sand on Kaiteriteri Beach actually glitters (due to high quartz content), the calm waters are a beautiful crystal blue, and the sun shines more here than anywhere else in the Kiwi nation. Although it seems like you could hardly ask for more in a beach, Kaiteriteri has much more to offer!On the northern tip of South Island, Kaiteriteri serves as a gateway into Tasman Abel National Park, a beautiful 87-square-mile wild sanctuary know for rocky cliffs, blue estuaries, hilly forests, and sandy beaches. While we certainly recommend exploring the park, Kaiteriteri Beach also has much to do! Kayaking, sailing, swimming, paddle boarding, and water skiing are all popular activities here. Check out companies like Kahu Kayaks to find nearby rentals. Sunbathing is also a favorite pastime, especially in the summer when Kaiteriteri Beach is a tourist hot spot.
New Chums Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, North Island
Set in the remote northeast corner of the Coromandel Peninsula near Whangapoua, New Chums Beach is only accessible by boat or by foot. You’ll feel like a true explorer just embarking on the 40-minute hike to the beach. And it will be well worth the trek! New Chums Beach is one of the last undeveloped beaches in New Zealand and has was even named one of the top 20 deserted beaches in the world by the UK’s Observer.
Hills and Pohutukawa trees surround the white sand beach, which collides with the perfectly turquoise waters of Wainuiototo Bay. Bring your swimming gear and a picnic, as once you arrive, you won’t want to leave. Even in the peak of the summer tourist season, New Chums Beach remains quite undisturbed, which is a feat for such a magnificent beach.
Ninety Mile Beach, Cape Reinga, North Island
While Ninety Mile Beach is the longest stretch of beach in New Zealand, it actually is not ninety miles long. However, this 64-mile beach deserves every bit of its hype. Massive sand dunes are the hallmark of Ninety Mile Beach, stretching along the long road to Cape Reinga, the northern most point on North Island. Many visitors take a bus tour of the long beach strip via companies like awesomeNZ.com, while others prefer to trek along in their own cars or all-terrain vehicles. The majestic Aupori Forest adds to the remarkable scenery.When you get off the road and on to the beach, there’s plenty to do and see. In addition to surfing and swimming, fishing is one of the most popular activities. In February, Ninety Mile Beach hosts the Snapper Classic, a five day surfcasting competition takes place each year. You’ll also see many adventure seekers sledding or sand surfing down the desert-like dunes—feel free to join in!
Mount Maunganui Beach, Tauranga, North Island
There are actually two beaches at Mount Maunganui, the Main Beach is the more ostentatious of the two—with big waves drawing seasoned surfers—while Pilot Bay (a harbor beach) boasts gentler waters for relaxed swimming or bodysurfing and launching boats. Water sports are extremely popular on both beaches, though more so on the Main Beach, including windsurfing, kayaking, water skiing, and and kite surfing. You can also hike around the base of the Mountain or up to the summit of Maunganui for panoramic views from the top.
Mount Maunganui is a buzzing resort town, so cafes and bars are aplenty! Boardwalks extend along the white sandy beach, with vendors selling ice cream and coffee. It’s a great spot for families to hang out and enjoy the diverse outdoors.
Cathedral Cove, Coromandel Peninsula, North Island
We’ll end our list back on the Coromandel Peninsula, just 15 minutes from where we started, at Cathedral Cove. Here, an enormous cave connects two coves to create one of the most beautiful beach destinations on the island. White sands and crystal clear waters add to the allure, while interesting rock formations and an abundance of marine life intrigue your inner explorer.
It’s a 45-minute walk to the cove along a scenic path overlooking Hahei Bay. The warm waters are perfect for snorkeling, diving, and kayaking. If you’d like to learn about what you’re seeing, take a guided tour with Cathedral Cove Sea Kayaking. Because of its popularity and beauty, Cathedral Cove can get a bit crowded, but we don’t think you’ll regret taking on the crowds for this masterpiece of nature.