Saturday, 9 May 2020

Best beaches in New Zealand

This week we have some of the best beaches in New Zealand on our radar as we put together a bucket list of the most gorgeous and diverse coastal spots the country has to offer.

Best Beaches in New Zealand

Our recent trip home was cut short by the global pandemic without us having made it to any of our favourite beaches so what better way to reminisce on our favourite beach spots than with a bit of travel planning and a virtual visit.

This list of 20 of the best beaches in New Zealand is inspired from our years living there and validated by the popular recommendations of locals and other travellers. One of the best things about beaches in New Zealand is how pristine they are and the diversity you will find within such a relatively short distance. Make sure to add a least a few of these when planning your own trip to Aoteroa.

Rather than ranking the awesomeness of the beaches which would be both arbitrary and pretty much impossible, I’ll list them from north to south down through the North Island, South Island and Stewart Island. This together with the map above should make it easier to identify the ones that you are likely to be passing by and fit them into your itinerary.

Rarawa Beach, Northland

Northland has many gorgeous beaches but Rhonda of Albom Adventures singles out Rarawa Beach and we’d have to agree, it’s the perfect place to start a bucklet list of must-see beaches in New Zealand.

From the first moment you arrive and see the stark white silica sand dunes at Rarawa Beach, you know you are somewhere special. Secluded and off the beaten path, this Northland beach is ideal for swimming, surfing, fishing, kayaking and bird watching. In fact, if you visit from August to March, you might see some nesting oystercatchers or even the endangered Northern New Zealand dotterel. 

Rarawa Beach, Northland
Rarawa Beach

While all of that is wonderful, it is the silica sand that brings me back to this beach year after year. First, I like the odd squeaking sound it makes under my toes, and secondly, I am forever baffled by the lack of footprints left behind as we walk across parts of the beach.

Rarawa Beach is located on the east side of the Aupouri Peninsula just north of the town of Ngataki, and about 45 minutes north of Kaitaia. Although signposted, be aware that the final 4 km are on a gravel road. This beach is an ideal stop on any drive to Cape Reinga.

Tawharanui Beach, Auckland

Delilah from over at Our Travel Mix shares her thoughts on why Tawharanui should make you list.

Tawharanui Regional Park is filled with many stunning landscapes; lush green forests with towering foliage, stretches of white sand beaches, and jagged cliff faces. Tawharanui Beach is located in its namesake regional park in the North Island of New Zealand. While most tourists and locals exploring New Zealand flock to Omaha Beach nearby, Tawharanui remains a hidden gem that you can enjoy without the crowds.

Tawharanui Regional Park
Tawharanui Beach

Tawharanui Regional Park is located just one hour from the heart of Auckland. Being from Auckland myself, Tawharanui makes for a great day trip from home and an escape from the hustle and bustle of New Zealand’s biggest city. I particularly love to visit in winter when the moody atmosphere gives such an interesting perspective in my photography.

In the quaint, nearby town of Matakana, head to the Matakana Village Farmers’ Market for the freshest and tastiest produce. Buy snacks and titbits for a picnic before heading to Tawharanui. Then, enjoy a meal accompanied by beautiful views. You can also camp at Tawharanui Regional Park at their campsite – I would only recommend doing this in Summer and early Autumn when the weather is warmer.

Mission Bay, Auckland

I lived near here through high school and early in my working life so it was our spot to hang out. As one of Auckland’s ‘city beaches’ over the years it became somewhere to meet up with friends, take visitors to the city and now we love to return with family during our visits home.

It’s only a 15 minutes drive from the city and there’s a regular bus service making it so easy to get her for both locals and tourists. The beach itself is clean and safe swimming. There’s a long wide strip of sand, a grassy park with large shade trees and a wide beachfront walking path that continues on to St Heliers Bay in one direction and back to the city in the other.

Mission Bay
Mission Bay looking across to Rangitoto Island

I particularly love it along here during the Pohutakawa season in summer when the beach is lined by the iconic red flowers of the knarled trees.

There’s a strip of shops and restaurants opposite but most importantly, of course, is the choice of icecream. You can take your pick from specialty shops for Movenpick, New Zealand Natural or Ben & Jerrys, or grab iceblock from one of the convenience stores.

If you are visiting the city, do check out this link to our Auckland Guide for more ideas of things to do.

Murawai Beach, Auckland

Auckland is a narrow isthmus of land meaning you can easily drive from the east to west coast in well under an hour giving huge diversity in beaches if you are staying in the city. While the east coast has beaches sheltered by the harbour and islands, the west coast is wild and rugged with fantastic surf.

The drive from the city to Murawai Beach takes around 40 minutes. In addition to the beach, you will find coastal clifftop walks with fabulous views and a viewing platform above a gannet colony with up to 1200 pairs of birds gather between August and March each year.

Murawai Beach
Murawai Beach

Other unique aspects of west coast beaches such as Murawai are the dramatic black sand, fantastic sunsets over the ocean, the sea life and the beautiful backdrop of the Waitakere Ranges that almost comes down and touches the sand. It’s ideal for those who want to combine a hike (tramping as it’s called in New Zealand) with time at the beach.

Ocean Beach, Kawhia

Down in the Waikato region Sara of Let’s Grow Cook suggests Ocean Beach. It’s a great example of the diversity you’ll find across the country.

Ocean Beach Kawhia is my perfect New Zealand Beach.  It’s about 90 kilometres south of Hamilton and at the end of the road, so you won’t stumble across it by accident.  Ocean Beach is four kilometres outside of Kawhia and is a huge long beach.  The most spectacular element of this beach, apart from the fact that its miles from anywhere, and gloriously empty, is that it has geothermally heated water bubbling up through the sand.

Ocean Beach Kawhia
Ocean Beach

So head here at low tide, borrow a shovel from a local campsite and dig yourself a fabulous, private, hot spa.  And so, on my 16th wedding anniversary, my husband drove me to this deserted beach and led me by the hand, while clutching a shovel in the other hand. We had the entire beach to ourselves.  

At low tide, the sand is hard-packed, and it’s superb for hiking, you really do feel as though you’re the only people in the world on this beach.

Hot Water Beach, Coromandel

Angela of Where Angie Wanders also found herself in hot water at one of the Coromandel Peninsulas popular beaches. It can get pretty crowded along here in summer but digging pool with others can make for lighter work and you get to strike up a conversation with locals and travellers from around the world.

Hot Water Beach lies in the area know as The Coromandel in New Zealand’s North Island. We had heard that this usually deserted stretch of beach held a secret at low tide that we wanted to discover.

Hot Water Beach
Hot Water Beach

You see it is here that there is extreme underground thermal activity resulting in the water beneath the sand reaching hot temperatures of up to 64 degrees! This means you can literally “dig” yourself a personal spa pool in the sand.

Arriving at high tide, the beach appeared quite normal but we knew that at low tide the natural phenomenon would make an appearance. The crashing waves make a pretty backdrop but they cause some strong rips and undertow so only swim between the flags here.

Armed with spades that we had brought with us, we claimed our spot on Hot Water Beach and set about “digging” deep into the sand. It was like a “eureka” moment when we hit the hot water, and yes it really was toe-tingling hot! It takes a lot of effort to dig deep so you may not end up with a hole large enough to wallow in however we had a great laugh at our meagre attempts.

You may find empty pools that others have abandoned and if so you can use theirs – we did! Facilities at Hot Water Beach include a pay-and-display car park, showers and restrooms along with a small place selling shovels.  Remember that the beach can get extremely busy so make sure you arrive a few hours before low tide to be able to park.

Whangamata Beach, Coromandal

Nina from Where in the World is Nina has done her share of comparing New Zealand beaches and she’s a fan of the Coromandel.

After campervanning New Zealand for months, this is one of the beaches that sticks out in my memory the most. Whangamata Beach is an unassuming stretch of sand in the Coromandel region of New Zealand. There are a few small islands just off the coast and numerous activities you can do in the area.

Whangamata Beach on the Coromandal Peninsula at sunset
Whangamata Beach

Depending on which area of the beach you head to first, you’ll notice some pretty decent waves. There’s a surfing culture at this beach that’s mesmerizing at sunset! Just sit and watch or grab a board from the few stands on the sand and jump in. It’s cold so don’t forget a wetsuit.

There are also kayak rentals just a bit south, where the waves aren’t as choppy, and you can kayak to those little islands you see from shore! The most notable island in the area is Donut Island or Whenuakura. This has become a top thing to do in The Coromandel  You’ll only need to paddle out for a solid 20 or so minutes depending on the tides and before you know you’re inside a donut island! Look back out and all you’ll see is the jutting rocks that open up to the sky.

Whenuakura is very dear to the locals, so they try to keep it as preserved as possible. You’re supposed to stay in your kayak, not disturb anything, and be especially careful of the wildlife. This is a Wildlife Sanctuary and the environment is fragile.

With all these options a visit to Whangamata is well worth it!

Mt Maunganui Beach, Tauranga

Jennifer from Backyard Travel Family is an active family travel specialist from New Zealand. Today she shares why they rate Mt Maunganui among New Zealand’s best.

Think white sandy beaches, surf and refreshing water.  This is Mount Maunganui and is one of the best beaches in New Zealand.  Mt Maunganui is located in the Bay of Plenty in the central North Island.  Whether you are heading to “The Mount” for a beach holiday, or a day trip from Rotorua (just an hour away) you won’t regret a trip to Mt Maunganui.

Mt Maunganui beach
Mt Maunganui Beach

The Main Beach at Mt Maunganui is expansive, with white sand, local surfers and watersport hire on the beach.  From here stroll along the boardwalk and pick up a hand rolled ice cream, or grab some hot fish and chips and bring it back to the beach for a classic kiwi treat.

If you are after flatter waters, perfect for paddleboarding or kayaking, then five minutes across the road (to the other side of the Peninsula) is Pilot Bay.  That’s one of the great things about Mt Maunganui – dual beaches so you can enjoy sand and sea no matter the weather.

When you are in Mt Maunganui, you must climb “the Mount”.  It is one of the most iconic things to do in New Zealand and for the best views of the coastline and the peninsula, it’s a must-do.  The trek to the top will take anywhere from 25-40 minutes depending on your fitness, or stroll around the base of the track for a 45-60 minute flat (ish) walk.

Ohope Beach, Whakatāne

Located on the eastern coast of the North Island is Ohope Beach, this great family beach comes recommended by Nadine of Le Long Weekend.

The East Coast of New Zealand is home to many incredible beaches, but one that really stands out is the expansive white sand beach at Ohope, in the North Island.

Ohope Beach
Ohope Beach

Running all the way from Whakatane Heads down alongside the entire beachside town, and ending at Ohiwa Harbour, its 11km length is often cited as being New Zealand’s favourite beach. Fortunately, despite its popularity, its relatively remote location and ample size mean it’s never overcrowded. Families most often frequent the central area, while the outer edges are more popular with surfers – meaning each activity has its own space.

Ohope itself is a laidback, friendly small town that’s perfect for easy-going holidays in New Zealand. Nearby you can partake in hiking the Toi Track which is teaming with native wildlife, take a short drive to the nearby town of Whakatane, or challenge yourself by learning to surf!

Kayaks and canoes are also available for hire, and there are cafes and fish & chip shops on hand to grab a bite when you get hungry. Kids will love the beachside playgrounds and having space to play a game of ball on the sand, and adults will love the convenience of having all amenities close by. 

Tongaporuto Beach, Taranaki

Allison at She Dreams of Alpine came down to the coast for this one and features these stunning and constantly evolving sandstone rock formations in Taranaki.

The big attractions of Tongaporutu Beach are the large rock formations known as Elephant Rock and Three Sisters. Although Elephant Rock looks less like an elephant after losing its trunk to erosion and the Three Sisters are now only two, these towers of rock are still stunning and worth the visit.

Tongaporutu Beach
Tongaporutu Beach

They can be viewed from above if you pull off along Pilot Road, but the real magic comes by heading down Clifton Road. During low tide, you can walk along the river to get up close and personal with Elephant Rock and Three Sisters. Since high tide was starting to come in during our visit, we didn’t have a chance to explore the caves nearby, but they definitely looked like fun to explore as well.

The nearby coastal town of Mokau is a cute place to visit to fuel up on food and drink after your visit to Tongaporutu beach. We spent a lovely night at Mokau Holiday Park before continuing our road trip around New Zealand’s North Island.

Tongaporutu is definitely worth a stop on your own trip to catch the cool rock formations before they eventually disappear into the sea. Spend the night staying at the small cute coastal town of Mokau, where you’ll also find more beautiful beaches, often completely to yourself.

Castlepoint Beach, Wairarapa Coast

Zi from Craving Adventure found this fabulous vantage point above Castlepoint beach on the Wairarapa Coast north of Wellington. I think most would agree this is a pretty special spot.

Castlepoint Beach is located in the small township of Castlepoint on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, about an hour from Masterton. This long stretch of golden sand is the ideal beach to lie down on during a nice summer day and work on your tan, but there is more! 

Castlepoint Beach
Castlepoint Beach

What makes Castlepoint Beach really special, and what got it voted as one of the country’s top 10 most loved beaches, is its surrounding scenery. At the end of the beach there’s a rocky outcrop pointing into the sea and on top of it stands the most picturesque lighthouse you’ve ever seen. From the beach, a path leads up to the lighthouse and to the top of the rocks which make for the perfect spot to enjoy the sunrise. 

On the south side of the lighthouse you’ll find the breathtaking Deliverance Cove and the 162 meters high Castle Rock, overlooking it all. Castle Rock is a very impressive cliff with a green slope on one side and rocky walls on the ocean side. It’s a short scramble up to the top where you’ll get panoramic views over the beauty of Castlepoint and a perfect photo opportunity. 

Castlepoint truly is blessed with some of the most beautiful coastal landscapes in New Zealand and because it is at least an hour drive away from anything, it is never crowded.

Oriental Bay, Wellington

There aren’t many developed cities in the world where you can feel comfortable walking down from the city centre to the beach and taking a swim but Wellington is one of those places. Incredibly this inner-city harbour beach has excellent water quality and is a favourite with visitors and locals alike.

Oriental Bay
Oriental Bay

If you are feeling energetic swim out to the fountain or climb the hill at the end for fabulous views of the harbour and back towards the city. There’s fantastic views and a wide promenade all the way along here shared by walkers, runners, cyclists and a few rollerbladers.

Another popular entertainment is the many excellent cafes. We are fans of Coene’s bar and eatery for a cafe brunch overlooking the water or on the weekend take advantage of the food trucks at the incredibly popular Harbourside Market on the beach side of Te Papa museum. This is where you’ll find the best paua and mussel fritters, a must-try while you’re in NZ if you haven’t already.

Torrent Bay, Abel Tasman

Martina from the Global Curious recommends Torrent Bay in the Abel Tasman National Park and it’s one that’s high on our list. I’ve even picked out the 3-day kayak and walk with Torrent Bay Lodge for our wishlist experience!

The Abel Tasman National Park hosts New Zealand’s most popular Great Walk, the Abel Tasman Coast Track. This multiday, 60km trek takes hikers through beaches, bays, estuaries, suspension bridges, and tropical landscapes -a great way to enjoy New Zealand’s top of the South Island! 

Torrent Bay in the Abel Tasman, New Zealand
Torrent Bay

My absolute favourite spot along the hike is Torrent Bay. And it’s not just because of the landscape, but about the experience of getting and spending some time there! 

For starters, this is not ‘merely a beach,’ it’s, actually, an estuary. This partially enclosed body of water moves with the tides, creating everchanging views. Hikers need to time their hike to match the low tide schedule and be there to cross from one stretch of beach to the one in front. There is an optional -but longer- walking path surrounding the coast, but walking on the sea bed it’s much more fun! 

Another trait that makes Torrent Bay special is that it’s not possible to get there by car. Visitors can reach it on a water taxi, but you wouldn’t see huge crowds here!

As Torrent Bay sits right in the heart of the Abel Tasman, all the many bays, rolling hills, and side trips -like Cleopatra’s Pool- within the park complete a beautiful hiking experience. Another sweet way to tour the ‘Abe,’ is to rent kayaks and head on a paddling adventure! 

Even though the hike itself it’s quite easy, you’ll need all your hiking and camping gear if you choose not to stay in a serviced lodge. To me, there’s nothing like pitching for the night, so if you choose to camp in Abel Tasman make sure to bring a waterproof tent as you can expect some showers, mostly outside the summer months.

There is lodge accommodation as an option but it can be quite expensive and popular so you’d want to book early. Enjoy!

Hokitika, West Coast

Heleen of The Global Wizards spent some time on the West Coast of the South Island, a spot many sadly miss on their itinerary due to access or lack of time.

Hokitika, a peaceful place on the west coast of the Southern Island, we’ve lost our hearts to. We weren’t planning on staying there long, but the magic of this seaside town kept us around for 5 nights. First of all, Hokitika is known for its long black sandy beaches and its amazing sunsets. We were lucky enough to enjoy a few of these colourful skies even though we had a lot of rain. 

Hokitika from a drone
What a road trip! Hokitika Beach

But the town is also known for jade, the precious green gem traditionally used by the Maori for their jewellery and artefacts. Some locals told us if we were lucky, we could find pieces of this stone right on the beach. And on a long walk the second night, we did!

We found quite a big chunk and took it to one of the local carvers, Steve of Bonz ‘n Stonz. He confirmed it was jade and told us, if we wanted to, we could make our own jewellery out of it. We learned so much about carving, the local Maori culture and this precious stone. And walked away with green earrings for both myself and my daughters.

So if you are planning a trip on the Southern Island of New Zealand, don’t forget to pay this lovely town a visit. You’ll find the most beautiful black beaches, without huge crowds. You’ll be able to see breathtaking sunsets and enjoy this relaxing village. Talk to the locals, they have so many interesting things to tell about jade, their Maori culture and their beautiful home. And don’t forget to visit the Hokitika glow worm caves.

Sumner Beach, Christchurch

Emma writes about making and saving money in New Zealand on her blog Mum’s Money and like most of us has a soft spot for a great beach!

Sumner Beach in Christchurch’s eastern suburb of Sumner is a beautiful, expansive beach for a stroll, surfing or sunbathing. Just a 15-minute drive from the city centre, this beach is loved by locals and tourists alike.

Sumner Beach
Sumner Beach

Sumner Beach is flanked at one end by Cave Rock, a massive volcanic rock formation and tidal cave good for climbing on top of for epic views over Pegasus Bay and at the other by the Scarborough Clock tower and park, where you’ll find an ice cream kiosk and cafe, public toilets, showers and a playground and splash pad for the kids.

You can take surfing lessons at the beach, or wander into the nearby Sumner village for lunch. Our family loves to grab fish and chips at Red Snapper in Sumner Village and eat them on the beach. Follow up with a stroll along the promenade at dusk for a picture-perfect Christchurch evening.

Parking is free along the Esplanade and surrounding streets. If you don’t have access to a car, the Purple line Metro bus will take you all the way to Sumner from the bus exchange in the city centre.”

Koekohe Beach, Otago

Megan from Red around the world shares our love for road trips and National Parks so you can be sure we agree on this addition to the list of New Zealand’s most iconic beaches.

The Moeraki Boulders are huge, perfectly round boulders on the Koekohe Beach on the Moeraki Peninsula in the Otago region of New Zealand.  Most are buried in the sand about halfway, but others are fully on top.  These are a really cool stop on a New Zealand road trip and it’s even better that they’re close to the road, so it can be a quick stop too.  

Moeraki boulders at Koekohe Beach
Koekohe Beach

They started forming 60 million years ago kind of like a pearl with something solid at the centre, like sand or a pinecone or leaf, and sedimentary particles and minerals started collecting around the object.  They took about 5 million years to form this way.

Koekohe Beach is about an hour from Dunedin and the best time to see the boulders is low tide so.  Make sure you try the best, apparently, fish and chips in New Zealand at Lockies Takeaway in Moeraki Village.  The boulders are the main highlight of the Koekohe Beach and definitely worth at least a quick stop since they’re so unique.

Sandfly Bay, Otago Peninsula

Masha from Fingertip Travels spent 3 months on the beautiful Otago Peninsula. Today she tells us about a bucket list beach down there.

Sandfly Bay is arguably the most beautiful beach on the Otago Peninsula. It’s a wild beach surrounded by rugged sand dunes and cliffs, and I’ve seen New Zealand sea lions there every time I’ve gone. 

Sandfly Beach
Sandfly Bay

I love that it’s a bit of a hike to get there, which always makes a trip to Sandfly Bay an adventure, as well as reduces the number of people there. Conversely, what’s crowded is the wildlife! There are New Zealand sea lions, New Zealand fur seals, as well as a colony of yellow-eyed penguins that call Sandfly Bay their home.

 The Otago Peninsula itself is a delightful place to visit. In fact, the drive to Sandfly Bay is independently worth a trip. There’s a historic castle surrounded by steep sheep pasture, a charming village with tasty food, excellent tramping, and many more wild beaches with opportunities to spot New Zealand wildlife.

For more ideas from Masha of the best things to do on the Otago Peninsula.

Tunnel Beach, Dunedin

Jon is from Timaru in the South Island, blogs at See the South Island and is therefore perfectly placed to recommend Tunnel Beach makes it onto the best beaches in New Zealand bucket list

Dunedin’s Tunnel Beach is one of the most unique beaches in New Zealand. It gets its name from the tunnel, carved out of the rock in the 1870s, which leads to the beach. There is so much to see during a trip to Tunnel Beach.

Tunnel Beach, Dunedin
Tunnel Beach

The short but steep walking trail takes you along the coast stunning views of cliffs and sea arches. You can get more great views from the headland above the beach, and there are some caves to explore at beach level. All up the walk should take 30 – 40 minutes (plus some time at the beach) and it’s very steep towards the end.

Tunnel Beach is close to some other great Dunedin beaches, including Blackhead Beach and St Clair Beach, as well as the ruined Cargills Castle. It’s a short drive from the city, or you can catch a bus nearby and walk the rest of the way.

Curio Bay, Southland

Leah from over at Officer Travels suggested Curio Bay from the gorgeous Catlin Coast and the list wouldn’t be complete without it.

If you’re looking for a unique beach on New Zealand’s South East Coast, Curio Bay is it.

Located roughly 2 hours south of Nugget Point, Curio Bay is a picturesque area of the Catlins Coast with a lot going for it. It’s home to a small colony of yellow-eyed penguins (called Hoiho in Maori) as well as a pod of hector dolphins – two species that are endemic to New Zealand and both only found on the South Island.

Petrified forest at Curio Bay
Looking across the petrified forest

These aren’t the only rareties you’ll find at Curio Bay though as right next door is a petrified forest. These preserved trees date back over 180million years and are amongst the best-preserved fossilised trees in the world – I was blown away by just how many preserved trees there are here and how clearly you can see the bark and wood rings! If this is something you really want to see, research the tide times and plan your visit accordingly; they can only be seen at low tide!

Curio Bay is a great spot all year round and remains relatively quiet for most of it. If you want to up your chances of seeing penguins I highly recommend staying until at least sunset when they’re most active. There’s a campsite right by the colony that looks out over the beach, a great option for wildlife spotting!

Maori Beach, Stewart Island

Heading to our southernmost beach on the bucketlist, Rohan From Travels of a Bookpacker tells us a bit more about the very special,Maori Beach.

When it comes to beaches in NZ you’ll be spoilt for choice and it’s not hard to find a beautiful or secluded beach. But for a truly special experience head to New Zealand’s third biggest island and one of the most remote places on Earth – Stewart Island. 

Maori Beach, Stewart Island
Maori Beach

Home to just 400 people, Stewart Island is a nature lover’s paradise. One of the best spots is Maori Beach which is only accessible by boat or walking. It’s located at the end of the first day of the Rakiura Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, and is a long white sandy bay home to a small camping spot and beautiful views.

There is a chance to spot dolphins in the bay, dive for paua or, if you’re really lucky, spot a kiwi, New Zealand’s iconic native bird which has been known to come out onto the beach from the nearby bush at night.

The walk to the beach is an easy 2-3 hours from the main town so you can do it as a return day hike, camp the night before heading back or continue on to complete the rest of the stunning Rakiura Track. If time is of the essence you can arrange a water taxi to drop you off and pick you up. 


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Best beaches in New Zealand
Best beaches in New Zealand

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