Best Beaches New Zealand
Want to discover the best beaches in New Zealand? From remote South Island New Zealand beaches to swathes of sand near major cities on the North Island, here are the top 10 beaches in New Zealand. There’s no denying New Zealand’s allure over the winter months – it is home, after all, to some of the southern hemisphere’s top ski resorts. But when the temperature rises, the beach beckons. Read on to discover the best beaches in New Zealand.
Top 10 beaches in New Zealand
New Zealand’s coastline spans some 15,000 kilometres. Small wonder hundreds of beaches are on offer around the country. Whether you want to dive in to the Tasman Sea or Pacific Ocean, are looking for golden bays or dramatic black sand, feel like seclusion or want a travel hotspot, New Zealand provides a place to lay down your towel.
From the tip of the North Island to the very south, we reveal the top 10 best beaches in New Zealand.
North Island New Zealand Beaches
Karekare Beach, Auckland
Best for: A brush with fame
If Karekare looks familiar, that’s because it starred in Jane Campion’s 1993 film The Piano as well as TV series Xena: Warrior Princess. It’s a dramatic Hollywood setting indeed. A long stretch of soft black sand is bookended by towering cliff headlands. Meanwhile, waves tumble to shore, making it a magnet for surfers. This, and popular neighbour Phia Beach, are part of the Waitakere Ranges.
This blissful wilderness area is not all about sand – some cooling waterfalls and freshwater swimming holes beckon as well. Look out for signs pointing to Karekare Falls or Kitekite Falls.
Use your free time to hit the beach on your AAT Kings New Zealand Uncovered tour.
Image: Mount Maunganui
Hot Water Beach, Coromandel
Best for: A natural (and free) outdoor spa
Naturally warm hot mineral water bubbling up beside the sand? It’s a thing at Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula. For two hours either side of low tide, you can dig your own heated spa tub in the sand – a soak in healing water packed with magnesium, potassium and calcium, just a few metres from the brisk ocean. Hot tip: local cafes rent out buckets and spades to help you dig, if you don’t have your own.
When you’re not reviving your muscles, find a shady perch to have a snooze, try your hand at surfing the reliably good waves or head to Cathedral Cove, just a five-minute drive away. This equally beautiful beach features on just about every NZ postcard on the rack. Oh, and it also starred in The Chronicles of Narnia. Explore rock formations in a kayak or simply wander the shore.
Rarawa Beach, Far North
Best for: The softest white sand you’ve ever seen
If you’re visiting Rarawa, make sure you bring your sunglasses. The silica sand here is so white, it can be blinding. It’s also soft, so much so that it squeaks beneath your feet. And your footprints may be the only ones you see – the beach is that isolated. It’s framed by dunes on one side – home to colonies of nesting birds including oystercatchers – and turquoise sea on the other. Swim, fish or surf, or drive a 4WD on the sand in the beach’s middle section.
This is part of the Paxton Point Conservation Area at Te Paki, a glorious swathe of wilderness near the tip of the North Island.
Wainui Beach, Gisborne
Best for: The first sunrise in New Zealand
Holding the title as the most easterly point in New Zealand, Gisborne is the first town in the country (and thus very nearly the whole world) to see the sun rise. And the best place to catch that fiery glow? Wainui Beach, just north of the residential area. There’s nothing more healing and soul-nourishing than swimming at the crack of dawn in an ocean coloured in a spectrum of orange and pink. When the wind is just right, Wainui also draws avid surfers with its consistently good left- and right-hand breaks.
Out of the water, find a picnic spot, or wander along the trails weaving through the dunes. Or expand your horizon to one of a string of equally gorgeous beaches nearby including Makorori (great waves for surfing), and Tolga Bay (where you can swim off the longest wharf in New Zealand).
Ninety Mile Beach, Northland
Best for: Endless powdery sand
The name of this beach is a little deceptive – it’s actually only 55 miles (88 kilometres) long. But that’s still lengthy enough to mean that you’ll see sand… and nothing else … all the way to the horizon. Occupying a stretch of coast at the top of the North Island, between Ahipara and Scott Point along the country’s Aupouri Peninsula, it’s spectacularly pretty, with golden sand and dunes reminiscent of a desert landscape.
The main attractions? Blazing sunsets, excellent left-hand surf breaks, standout fishing and the chance to drive your 4WD on the beach.
Ninety Mile Beach is short commute from the Bay of Islands, one of your stops on the AAT Kings Northern Spotlight tour.
South Island New Zealand beaches
Koekohe Beach, Otago Coast
Best for: Otherworldly landscapes
If you arrive on this slip of sand and think you’re facing an army of dinosaur-sized turtles, you’re not alone. The Moeraki Boulders that dot the beach – some up to three metres in diameter – were formed 60 million years ago, gradually revealed as erosion took place. Geologists and nature lovers geek out here, but it’s just as fascinating to photographers, who capture the boulders’ bizarre surface patterns comprised of clumps of sediment.
When you dive in, you’ll share the water with yellow-eyed penguins, seals and Hectors dolphins, playing in the waves offshore.
Awaroa Beach, Abel Tasman
Best for: Remote and ravishing scenery
Back in 2016, Awaroa made news headlines when locals set up a crowd-funding campaign to purchase the beach from its private owners. It’s so scene stealing that they wanted to keep it eternally available to ‘the people’, hence donating it to the government thereafter.
No roads reach Awaroa – it’s deep in Abel Tasman National Park. The fact you have to hike, cruise or chopper here makes it even more special. Head to the tidal estuary at the northern end to witness the hypnotic hues that transform the sand banks as the tide recedes.
Punakaiki Beach, West Coast
Best for: Nature writ large
You’ll feel the cool mist of water on your face when you visit Punakaiki. But it’s not from waterfalls. The beach here is home to several geological wonders, immense blowholes among them. At high tide, waves crash to shore through rock chasms and send sea water flying into the air. Rainbows complete the fairytale picture.
The setting is made even more otherworldly by the beach’s Pancake Rocks – layered limestone formations surrounding the blowholes. It’s a natural magnet for fur seals, Hector’s dolphins, blue penguins and the tui, among so many other birds and animals that flock here to bask in the West Coast sun. Fish, kayak and then hike through neighbouring Paparoa National Park.
Punakaiki Pancake Rocks | Image Credit Tourism New Zealand
Best for: A swim with a side of crayfish
Mountains meet the sea in Kaikoura on the South Island’s Northeast Coast. Which means your time spent on the black beach enjoys the dazzling backdrop of the Kaikoura Ranges. Rent a kayak (or snorkel) and paddle around the cove, keeping watch for seals and penguins playing in the water and on the rocks. Further out to sea, you might also glimpse whales and dusky dolphins.
The town itself is the only place in the southern hemisphere to be awarded an EarthCheck certification for its dedication to sustainable tourism. Needless to stay, it’s postcard perfect. And lined with seafood restaurants. All are good, but Nins Bin steals the show for fish-and-chips, whitebait patties and whole fresh crayfish with garlic butter.
Best for: Swimming in a UNESCO World Heritage area
Less than 100 people call the village of Haast home. They’re all onto a good thing. This pocket of the South Island is so pretty that UNESCO declared it a World Heritage area. The predictably-named Haast River runs into Haast Beach, creating a wild and wonderful waterway you’ll share with few other people. This part of the West Coast is remote, and the kind of place that reminds you just how insignificant you are in the world – in the best possible way.
The rest of the coast, between Haast and Jackson Bay, is just as jaw-dropping. But don’t take our word for it – jump into a helicopter to zip over far-flung coves so vividly azure you’ll swear they’re painted. Or feel the wind in your hair on a jet-boat tour, keeping watch for fur seal and penguin colonies. Then lace up your hiking shoes to explore trails that take you through Westland rainforest webbed with sparkling rivers.
The AAT Kings Southern Spectacular tour stops in on the tiny town of Haast.
Image: TSS Earnslaw