11 Best New Zealand Beaches for Swimming, Surfing, and Jaw-dropping Views

Visit some of New Zealand's best beaches, including jaw-dropping options on the North Island and South Island.

Cathedral Cove, New Zealand
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With golden strips of sand and warm, turquoise waters, New Zealand’s beaches are on par with Fiji, the Caribbean, and the Gulf Coast. The country is a wonderland filled with white-sand shores, hidden coves, and colorful reefs. 

The island nation mainly consists of its North Island and South Island in the South Pacific, and with so much good coast, it can be hard to land on one stretch of shoreline to visit. Keep in mind, New Zealand summers take place from December to February (when temps are around 70-90 degrees) and prime beach-going months are anywhere from September to May.   

Whether you're in search of swimmable lagoons or massive surf breaks off its 9,000 miles of coastline, we've compiled the best beaches for a true Kiwi experience. Here are 11 of the best beaches in New Zealand for sunbathing, surfing, and sightseeing. 

(Be advised: Some beaches on the North Island remain closed as the country recovers from Cyclone Gabrielle, so we recommend checking the status of a specific beach before heading over. OurAuckland and Safeswim are both good resources for the latest news or alerts for a specific area.)  

01 of 11

Koekohe Beach, Otago Coast

Moeraki Boulders on Koekohe Beach, Otago Region, South Island, New Zealand

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You’ll know this beach, found between Moeraki and Hampden, by its famous spherical boulders that formed about 65 million years ago. Maori legend would tell you they’re gourds that washed ashore from a mythic ancient canoe wreck, but they're actually rock formations that have been gradually exposed to Koekohe Beach through erosion. In between sunbathing sessions, inspect the mesmerizing displays formed by clumps of sediment on the boulders’ surfaces.

Have fun exploring the small fishing village of Moeraki and the rest of the Otago region, known for its penguin and fur seal colonies.

02 of 11

Rarawa Beach, Far North

Rarawa Beach, New Zealand
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This remote beach on the east coast of Northland, in the Paxton Point Conservation Area, has some of the whitest sand you've ever seen — in fact, you’ll need sunglasses to beat the glare coming off the quartz coastline. When you're not admiring the uncrowded, soft shore, cool off with a dip in the ocean or opt for swimming in the gentle lagoon that forms at high tide. This might not be the best spot for people watching, but it is a good place to see some of the New Zealand dotterel and variable oystercatchers that nest in the dunes. You can ride the dunes with some sand boarding; see forest, river, and shore on a beach walk; or drive an hour to the tip of the coast to explore the Cape Reinga lighthouse. The beach is also perfect for beachcombing and camping at the Department of Conservation’s site.

03 of 11

Awaroa Beach, Abel Tasman National Park

Awaroa Beach, New Zealand
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The Top of the South is known for its vineyards, bike trails, and sunny shores. This golden strip of sand fringed by deep blue waters is part of the popular Abel Tasman National Park. Awaroa Beach is nothing if not beloved. So much so that in 2016, almost 40,000 Kiwis banded together to buy the beach from a private entity for more than $2 million and donated it to New Zealand's Department of Conservation. Kayak or paddleboard the crystal clear waves or recline on the wide, sunny coast and enjoy the otherworldly views. The beach is a 90-minute boat ride from Kaiteriteri, where you can dine on delicious, local fare by the beach, or a roughly five-mile hike from either Onetahuti or Totaranui.  

04 of 11

Karekare Beach, Auckland

beach at karekare, new zealand

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Surf's up at Karekare Beach just 50 minutes outside of Auckland. Sizable waves and super-soft black sand make it a favorite among athletes and sunbathers alike. The spot, which is part of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, is a favorite of filmmakers, too, and has been featured in works like "The Piano" and Xena: Warrior Princess. Those in need of some shade after a day on the sand should head inland to Kitekite Falls — a short hike through a coastal forest leads to a dramatic drop and swimming hole.

05 of 11

Ninety Mile Beach, Northland

Ninety Mile Beach, New Zealand
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This seemingly never-ending stretch of sand is situated on the Far North's western shores. The beach starts at Ahipara and ends at Scott Point along the country's Aupouri Peninsula — which doesn't actually measure 90 miles. In reality, the storied sandy strip is just over 54 miles. It's thought that the spot was named by horseback riders who took three days to complete their journeys; they estimated their steeds traveled at 30 miles per day, but didn't account for the horses' slower pace on sand. These days, travelers flock here for two main reasons: to see jaw-dropping sunsets and to seek out left-hand surf breaks.

06 of 11

Cathedral Cove, the Coromandel

Cathedral Cove, New Zealand
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The Coromandel is a particularly scenic area of New Zealand where you’ll find paradisiacal beaches, gold-mining history, and summer fun. To get to Cathedral Cove, this area’s crown jewel, hop on the trail at the northern end of Hahei Beach, wind along the clifftop for about an hour, and then descend to the cathedral-like arched cavern you’ll pass through to reach two secluded coves. Picnic in the shade of the fragrant pohutukawa trees or dive deep under the blue-green waters. Or, enjoy the scenery from offshore on a boat ride around the white cliffs.   

07 of 11

Gillespies Beach, West Coast

Gillespies Point, New Zealand
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From Fox Glacier, a township at the base of the Southern Alps, follow Cook Flat Road to Gillespies Beach, where a warm, tannin-stained lagoon is good for a swim. This beach is known for three things: sunsets, seals, and snow-capped peaks. The West Coast hangout was once the site of a gold-mining settlement — there's even a miner's cemetery there — but now is more popular with those seeking out golden sunset views. To the east is a jaw-dropping view of snowy Mount Cook, which lies in the distance beyond the sand. Hike up to nearby Galway Beach to spot a seal colony, where the animals sprawl out beside the Tasman Sea.

08 of 11

Wharariki Beach, Nelson

Wharariki Beach, New Zealand
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Nelson faces Tasman Bay at the northern end of the South Island and has plenty of art galleries, caving sites, and vineyards to fill a whole vacation. When you’re not sipping a local Sauvignon Blanc alongside a plate of Nelson Bay scallops, head to Wharariki Beach to explore sea caves and sand dunes. Traverse a 20-minute walking track from the end of Wharariki Road to get to this golden stretch. You’ll likely recognize its Archway Islands, a trio of huge (and photogenic) rocks shaped like arches. Get to know the local wildlife with horseback riding or seal spotting, and head down at low tide for the best view of the exposed coastline.  

09 of 11

Mount Maunganui Main Beach, Tauranga

Mount Maunganui, New Zealand
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Rising more than 700 feet over the aquamarine water, Mount Maunganui makes for an especially picturesque backdrop to your beach day. Head to the top of the dormant volcano for expansive views of the Bay of Plenty. Down on the sand, you can sunbathe, surf the waves, or take a dip in the hot, saltwater pools. The Mount, as it's known by locals, is considered one of the best beaches in New Zealand, so it’s a great place to lay out and people-watch the day away. And when you get peckish, hop across the street for a scoop of honeycomb toffee (or, "hokey pokey") ice cream or banh mi from the Gourmet Night Market food trucks which set up shop on summer Fridays. 

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Hot Water Beach, the Coromandel

New Zealand's famed Hot Water Beach is a must stop for many after leaving Auckland

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When the tide gets low, there are sandy spots along this beach where you can dig out your own personal hot spring. Even better, this natural wonder is only a few minutes' drive from the area’s other scenic spot, Cathedral Cove. Soak in the sultry waters while you gaze out at the legendary Pacific surf breaks. The best way to enjoy Hot Water Beach: Within two hours before or after low tide, make your way to the rocks at the southern end of the beach, plant your shovel (several nearby cafes will rent you one if need be), and dig down. The hot springs can get up to 147 degrees — if you get too hot, cool off in the ocean.   

11 of 11

Maitai Bay, Northland

Maitai Bay, New Zealand
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With a name like that, you can imagine the kind of tropical paradise you’ll find at this remote Northland beach. The snorkeling is as good as the swimming, which is as good as the kayaking. Or, you can simply relax on Maitai’s soft, white sands. The clear waters and bright beaches on this portion of the Karikari peninsula will make you feel like you’ve landed in Fiji, and the area is home to New Zealand's northernmost winery, Karikari Estate, where you’ll find generous pours of Syrah alongside the beautiful views. Back on the beach, camp out under a New Zealand Christmas tree, the sweet-smelling, red-blooming pohutukawa, which line the shore. 

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