Where to Surf in New Zealand
More than 15,000km (9,320 miles) of coastline sits on the edges of New Zealand. That’s the first indication that New Zealand is a top surfing location because surely there has to be some decent surf beaches amongst that lot! If you need more convincing, New Zealand also lies perpendicular to the prevailing westerlies. That’s why the west coast of New Zealand receives much more powerful and consistent waves than the east. (Although, residents of Gisborne on the East Cape may disagree)!
The North Island is the more popular option for surfing in New Zealand due to the ideal surf beaches grouped together for easy access and, of course, the warmer waters. However, South Islanders would argue that they have perfect surf conditions and don’t mind wearing their wetsuits all year round. The South Island does have less known surf locations due to wild and remote nature of much of its coastline.
So check out which regions are worth exploring for avid surfers and beginners alike in the list below.
Top Tips for Surfing in New Zealand
- What to wear? Wetsuits are a go-to surf attire in New Zealand. It will be more comfortable in winter water temperatures and protect you from the brutal sun in summer. Plus, wetsuits are adequate protection from the itchy board wax
- Accommodation? Most major surf breaks in New Zealand have a nearby campsite, while surf towns will have hostels
- Board hire and lesson? Any settlement near a popular surf break will contain a surf hire and lesson shop
- Where to find out the surf conditions? A good indication of the surf conditions can be found on the MetService website.
A local surfer’s pilgrimage is to the Northland surf beaches.
In the sub-tropical climate of what is often called “the winterless north”, this is where you’ll get your warmest surfing in New Zealand. You’ll also find quieter beaches compared to the neighbouring region of Auckland.
Amongst some of the best surf beaches are The Bluff at the southern end of 90 Mile Beach, Shipwreck Bay near Ahipara, Sandy Bay just north of Whangarei, and Langs Beach near Waipu.
Head north over the Harbour Bridge in Auckland and you are heading into kilometres and kilometres of potential surf spots. No wonder surfing is such a huge sport in this region.
The West Coast
The surf on the west coast is much more reliable than the east. Popular beaches are those in the Waitakere Ranges. Karekare is where the great surf beaches start, then you get the hugely popular Piha with surf schools and board hire nearby, then Bethells Beach, Maori Bay and ending with Muriwai. Muriwai is also near a surf hire and school.
The East Coast
Although less consistent than the west, it is worth keeping an eye out on the surf forecast as there is often some great surf to enjoy. The Matakana Coast has a few board hire and surf schools. Try Te Arai Point, Forestry, Pakiri Beach and Mangawhai Heads.
Great Barrier Island
The Auckland offshore island is blessed with some of the best surf beaches in the region. Great Barrier Island is a “treat yourself” surf destination. You’ll find consistent surf at Medlands Beach and Whangapoua. For more information on Great Barrier Island and its surf, check out Great Barrier Island – Guide for Backpackers.
Raglan is without a doubt the most famous surf destination in New Zealand.
The small Waikato town draws in the surf crowd to a number of surf breaks. There’s hostels, campsites, surf schools and board hire, making Raglan a proper Kiwi surf town.
All along the coast of Raglan, you’ll find some top quality surf. Try out Mussel Rock, Raglan Bar, Manu Bay Wainui Beach, Ruapuke and the Indicators.
To get away from the crowds, try out Albatross Point, Kiritehere south of Raglan or Te Akau to the north.
The Coromandel Peninsula is a hugely popular summer destination for Kiwi surfers and travellers. It has so many beaches and surf breaks packed on the edges of this peninsula.
Hot Water Beach is not only a natural wonder with its hot spring feeding the water under the sand, but it provides some great surf too. It’s best surfed on a half to full incoming tide. Hahei Beach near the likes of the famous Cathedral Cove has some good waves only when there is a decent swell. Pauanui is a popular choice for surfers with both left and right-hand waves, as is Tairua and Te Karo Bay just north of Pauanui.
Some of the Coromandel’s best surf can be found across three huge surf breaks around Whangamata: Whangamata Bar, Beach Break and the Southern Estuary Break. This spot has been a favourite since the 1960s.
Finally, at the very southern end of the Coromandel Peninsula, you have Waihi Beach. About 11km (7 miles) east of Waihi, the beach has good surf on smaller swells. The best spots can be found at each end of the beach.
Out east are some more brilliant breaks on the east and south-facing coasts.
Hicks Bay is the most famous surf beach in the Gisborne/Eastland area with hollow and fast-breaking waves. The nearby Te Araroa and Waihau Bay are also worth checking out for similar conditions.
All along south-facing coast, you’ll find some good surf beaches such as Tolaga Bay, Tokomaru Bay, Loisells Beach and more.
Gisborne city itself is a good start for any surf trip on the East Cape, as local guides will take you to secret spots and kit you out with the surf gear. The nearest surf beaches to Gisborne are Makorori and Wainui Beach.
This region is such a good surf region that has an entire highway named “Surf Highway 45”. As it is on the west coast of the North Island, you are guaranteed consistent surf.
We have a list of all the good surf beaches worth checking out in 15 Places to Stops at on Taranaki’s Surf Highway 45, but here are some surf beaches to get you started:
- Fitzroy Beach – practically in New Plymouth city!
- Oakura Beach
- Kumara Patch
- Stent Road
- Ohawe Beach
Moving onto the South Island now, the West Coast region unsurprisingly has big waves simply by being on the west coast. However, the sea can get pretty rough in this part of New Zealand, so sticking to just the known surf breaks is advised.
Westport’s best surf can be found around the mouth of the Buller River. South of Westport, Tauranga Bay is a left-hand break which often hosts national surfing competitions.
Further south is Punakakiki where waves can be found all along the coast as far south as Greymouth. The best break is located at Nine Mile, which has a left-hand reef break. Given the right conditions and avoiding the big swells, Greymouth, Hokitika and Okarito Beach provide good surf.
Canterbury is the largest region in New Zealand, but the best-known surf spots are in the Christchurch area and Kaikoura.
In Christchurch, head to Sumner Beach with two choices of surf: the estuary mouth or on the main beach. There are right and left-hand waves at the river mouth, while the beach is best surfed during big swells. The best beach for surfing near Christchurch has to be Taylor’s Mistake, where waves break on all tides. Find out more in the 7 Top Surf Breaks in Christchurch.
Swells come straight from the deepwater trench just offshore of Kaikoura making its beaches, Kahutara and Mangamaunu, perfect for surfing. The surf is more consistent in winter than summer.
Particularly around the city of Dunedin, you’ll find a huge selection of awesome surf beaches.
The most popular and accessible beach from the city is St Clair Beach, where there’s a surf school and hire. For those seeking fewer crowds, head to Blackhead and Brighton just south of Dunedin city.
Venture onto the nearby Otago Peninsula, which is not only packed with wildlife but where you can surf on a huge number of beaches like Aramoana, Pipikaretu, Wickliffe Bay, Allans Beach, Sandfly Bay and Smails Beach.