There aren’t enough creative adjectives in the English language to adequately describe the beauty of New Zealand’s beaches. There’s incredible surf, laid-back beach towns, boulders dating back eons, cathedral-shaped coves, black sand and white sand – really, whatever beach scene you dream up, you’re sure to find it in New Zealand.
Koekohe Beach, Otago Coast
Marvel at the otherworldly, spherical Moeraki Boulders along Koekohe Beach on New Zealand’s South Island. The beach is known for these circular stones, each of which weights several tons, that have been exposed through years of erosion – they were formed about 60 million years ago. Check out the interesting surface patterns on the boulders, caused by clumps of sediment. Maori legend says the boulders are gourds washed up on shore from the wreck of the voyaging canoe Araiteuru hundreds of years ago.
Rarawa Beach, Far North
Perhaps the purest of white-sand beaches you’ll ever see, Rarawa Beach is dazzling. Break out the sunglasses against the glare of the white silica sand. Beach camping is allowed here, so spend the night to take advantage of swimming in the lagoon at high tide, sunset and sunrise.
Awaroa Beach, Abel Tasman National Park
What used to be a private beach was so well loved that a group of locals came together to buy the stretch of shoreline in 2016 for more than $2 million. The group then donated the beach to New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, who subsequently made it part of Abel Tasman National Park. The best ways to get there are by boat tour from Kaiteriteri or Totaranui or hiking 4.4 miles from Onetahuti or Totaranui. Other favorite beaches in the Nelson Tasman area include Anchorage Bay for its golden sand and beachside camping and Observation Bay, accessible via kayak.
Karekare Beach, Auckland
About an hour’s drive from Auckland, Karekare Beach is a favorite of sunbathers and surfers. The soft black sand makes for a particularly striking vista – so striking, in fact, that the beach has been featured in the films The Piano and Xena: Warrior Princess. The beach is part of Waitakere Ranges Regional Park and just a short hike away from Kitekite Falls, with a refreshing swimming hole.
Ninety Mile Beach, Northland
Ninety Mile Beach seems to stretch on for, well, 90 miles, along the Far North’s western shores. From Ahipara to Scott Point on the Aupouri Peninsula, the beach is actually 54 miles long. Walk for hours in search of the perfect sunset viewpoint or left-hand surf breaks. The beach is actually considered a highway in New Zealand, suitable only for 4WD. You can catch a coach tour from Kaitaia or Paihia.
You’ll love all of Coromandel, but the real gem is Cathedral Cove, 10 minutes from Hot Water Beach (the cove is accessible by boat or on foot). The trail starts at the northern end of Hahei Beach, following sandy pathways until reaching the arched rock of Cathedral Cove.
Hot Water Beach, Coromandel
Looking to soothe weary muscles after a New Zealand active adventure? Head to Hot Water beach within four hours of low tide, when an exposed thermal pool boasts water up to 174 degrees Fahrenheit. Dig your own hole or soak in an already formed one for the best budget-friendly spa treatment around. Take a cold plunge in Mercury Bay – be mindful of the rip current – afterwards.
Gillespie Beach, West Coast
If you love seals and sunsets, make your way to Gillespie Beach. Once a gold-mining settlement, the area is known for its golden sunsets, seal colony on the Tasman Sea at nearby Galway Beach and even views of snowy Mount Cook. It’s a microcosm of New Zealand’s beauty!
Wharaiki Beach, Nelson
Park at the end of Wharariki Road and walk 20 minutes into Wharariki Beach at the top of the North Island west of Cape Farewell. Everything here seems larger than life, from the powerful waves to the drifting sand dunes to the cavernous caves to the massive rock formations. Look out to sea to glimpse the Archway Islands. The best time to visit is low tide.
Mount Maunganui Main Beach, Tauranga
Postcard-perfect in every way, Mount Maunganui Main Beach is the seashore of your dreams. In this chill surf town, lovingly referred to as “The Mount” by the locals, you can grab an ice cream, shop for souvenirs, indulge in a fresh seafood lunch and soak up the view of turquoise water, green hills and gorgeous golden sand. While you’re here, lace up your sneakers and hike up Mauao for a far-reaching view of the peninsula.
Maitai Bay, Northland
For a glimpse into what a South Pacific beach might be like – particularly Fiji – visit Maitai Bay on the Karikari Peninsula. It’s everything you imagine paradise to be – white sand, crystal-clear water, even the scent of sweet pohutukawa trees (also know as the New Zealand Christmas tree). You can camp here, as well as snorkel, kayak, swim, birdwatch and hike.
Anchor Bay, Tawharanui Regional Park
One of Auckland’s best-kept secrets, Tawharanui Regional Park is at the end of a long gravel road. Be patient and you’ll be rewarded with amazingly white sand, local wildlife, walking trails and tidepools. You can camp on the beach, too.
Piha Beach, Auckland
For a wild west coast beach setting, visit black-sand Piha Beach. Massive Lion Rock, an island out to sea, makes for brilliant photography. The best part? Piha Beach is just an hour’s drive from Auckland, so it’s an easily accessible picnic and surf-watching spot.
Hokitika, West Coast
The only west coast town located directly on the beach, Hokitika is the place to go to feel immersed in local lore and life. The town is full of history – listen for the stories of shipwrecks, gold miners and pounamu (greenstone) hunters. Locals love to call the place “the Cool Little Town,” for its galleries specializing in pounamu jewelry and art work, art created by found objects on the beach, the Driftwood and Sand Festival in the summer and more.