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

Cathedral Cove, New Zealand
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Countless amazing beaches line the coasts of New Zealand. The island nation is known for its jaw-dropping stretches of sand, but knowing which ones to put on your itinerary can be tough for even the most choosy of beachgoers.

Whether you're in search of a secluded gem or a well-known Instagram hotspot, we've compiled the best beaches for Kiwis and visitors alike. Here are 11 must-visit beaches across New Zealand.

01 of 11

Koekohe Beach, Otago Coast

Moeraki Boulders, New Zealand
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The Moeraki Boulders appear to have been plopped on the South Island's coast, but they're actually rock formations that have been gradually exposed to Koekohe Beach through erosion. Formed around 60 million years ago, the circular stones are this beach's hallmark, their presence a welcome interruption to Koekohe's stretch of sand. In between sunbathing sessions, inspect the boulders' funky surface patterns — the clumps of sediment form mesmerizing displays.

If you're looking to catch a wave, head for Taranaki's Surf Highway 45. The surfer's stretch earned its name thanks to its uniquely shaped coastline that offers 180 degrees of ocean swells. Plan a surfer's dream trip here.

02 of 11

Rarawa Beach, Far North

Rarawa Beach, New Zealand
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Try to picture the whitest sand you've ever seen, then kick that up a notch. That's what stepping onto Rarawa Beach in New Zealand's Far North region looks like — so wearing sunglasses to combat the reflection off its white silica sand comes highly recommended. When you're not admiring the bright, soft stuff underfoot, cool off with a dip in the ocean or opt for swimming in the lagoon that forms at high tide. The country's department of conservation offers camping on the beach, too.

03 of 11

Awaroa Beach, Abel Tasman National Park

Awaroa Beach, New Zealand
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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. When the sale went through, the beach was donated to New Zealand's Department of Conservation and became part of Abel Tasman National Park. To glimpse its (public) shores and aqua-blue waters, plan to take a boat tour from Kaiteriteri or Totaranui, or hike about 4.4 miles from either Onetahuti or Totaranui.

04 of 11

Karekare Beach, Auckland

Karekare Beach, 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 also 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 entirety of the Coromandel is incredibly scenic, but Cathedral Cove is surely the spot's crown jewel. Though it's only a 12-minute jaunt from Hot Water Beach, the cove feels worlds away. That's partly because it's only accessible on foot or by boat. Pick up the trail at the northern end of Hahei Beach, wind through sandy paths for about an hour, then watch panoramic views of the cathedral-like arched rock unfold in front of you. The cherry on top? It's only a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Auckland.

07 of 11

Gillespies Beach, West Coast

Gillespies Point, New Zealand
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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 to relax beside the Tasman Sea.

08 of 11

Wharariki Beach, Nelson

Wharariki Beach, New Zealand
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At the tippity-top of the North Island — west of Cape Farewell — lies Wharariki Beach, known for its larger-than-life rock formations, caves, sand dunes, and powerful gusts of wind. You'll likely recognize its Archway Islands, a trio of huge (and photogenic) rocks shaped like arches. To see the place in all its glory, head down at low tide, when plenty of sand is exposed for you to make tracks in. Just make sure you wear comfortable footwear, as the beach is only accessible via a 20-minute walking track from the end of Wharariki Road.

09 of 11

Mount Maunganui Main Beach, Tauranga

Mount Maunganui, New Zealand
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Mount Maunganui Main Beach in a word? Breathtaking. Blue waters, green hills, and sandy stretches make for colorful contrasts. Understandably, the place is quite popular, which means the busy atmosphere is consistently fun and lively. Cafes, restaurants, gift shops, and ice cream parlors line the street across from the beach, so a scoop of something sweet is never far away.

10 of 11

Hot Water Beach, the Coromandel

Hot Water Beach, New Zealand
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Like its name suggests, Hot Water Beach does indeed boast hot water. Within the four-hour window of low tide, beachgoers can luxuriate in the warm waters of an exposed thermal pool, either by digging one or hopping in an already-formed hole. The hot springs can rise to up to 147 degrees Fahrenheit; when enjoyed safely, they can make for a budget-friendly spa day. To balance the hot with the cold, there's also the option to swim in the waters of Mercury Bay — just beware the surf's rip currents.

11 of 11

Maitai Bay, Northland

Maitai Bay, New Zealand
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This portion of the Karikari peninsula has been compared to the beaches of Fiji, and for good reason — its crystal-clear waters and shining white sand are nothing short of tropical. Not to mention it's rimmed by sweet-smelling pohutukawa trees. There's plenty to do, too, including camping, diving, snorkeling, swimming, birdwatching, and hiking.

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