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by Shaye Boddington

New Zealand beaches: How to find the perfect ones for your holiday

"Favorite New Zealand beaches?" That's the question I'm always asked... But for a country that has 3 times as much coastline as the distance across the United States of America, it's a hard pick!

Despite it's long coastline, New Zealand is actually a small country. It's only ranked number 75 in the world in terms of it's land area. But it's ranked number 9 for it's length of coastline!

There are thousands of New Zealand beaches you could explore - and they're all unique...

Whether it's surfing, sun-bathing, camping or snorkeling you're after... You'll find a beach that is perfect for you.

Read on to discover my top tips for finding the perfect New Zealand beaches for your holiday.


Get out of the town centers for peace and quiet

New Chums beach new zealand beaches
Solitude on New Chums Beach (Rated top among New Zealand Beaches)

With so many New Zealand beaches, it's not hard to get one of them to yourself... I am a massive fan of exploring and feeling like I'm the first soul to ever discover a place... I have this experience quite often when weaving in and out of the Kiwi coastline.

If you're into peace and quiet too, then here are a few pointers on where to go and when...

Firstly, you must know us Kiwis LOVE our beaches... Come a sunny day and we flock to them like bees to can of coke. That's why, if you're after some peace and quiet or some sea-side romance, it's best to get out of the town centers. The beaches close to the main cities can get busy in summer... But travel out of town just a little and you can be blessed with the beach to yourself, once again.

Another thing to keep in mind is that some of New Zealand's beaches are long (incredibly long - where do you think 90 mile beach got its name?) - so even if you aren't the only one at the beach, it can often feel that way.

Public holidays and the time around Christmas and New Year are also a Kiwi's peak beach bumming time... It's quite likely that most of the main New Zealand beaches will be dotted with people around this time... In saying this, even at the peak of the busy beach period - it's easy to go for a walk and find a peaceful cove to yourself.

It's also important to keep in mind that 'busy' New Zealand beaches are very different from busy beaches in say, the Mediterranean or Thailand for example... Here in good old New Zealand, you'll never have to fight for your patch of sand... There is plenty to go around!

Some of my favorite peaceful New Zealand beaches are...

  • Spirits Bay (Northland)
  • Matapouri Bay and the beaches of the Tutukaka Coast
  • The beaches on Moturua Island (Bay of Islands)
  • Bethells Beach (Auckland)
  • Hot Water Beach outside of peak times (Coromandel)
  • New Chums Beach (Coromandel)
  • and the huge selection of beaches in the Abel Tasman National Park (Top of South Island).


Get your groove on at these social beaches

hot water beach new zealand
Socialising at Hot Water Beach Coromandel (busy Christmas period)

Once you've had your fair share of Robinson Crusoe time alone on the beach, you might be keen to dive into the social scene. Some our New Zealand beaches go off in summer... Party animals, water sport junkies, picnic makers and the dog-loving folk all make their way to their local beach. They hit the beach with their beats, jet skis, bbq's and furry friends and then return home, red, as the sun begins to set.

Here's some of my picks for NZ's best social beaches...

  • Piha beach, Auckland - This is my local black sand beach... Aucklanders head here on the sunny weekends to eat hot chips and drink cold beers.
  • Mission Bay, Auckland - I've been taken on a few dates here (Pre-Tom!) as it's lined with gorgeous cafes and some oh-my-God-good ice cream parlors
  • Little Palm Beach, Waiheke Island - If you are into socializing with nudie rudies, this is the beach for you. I've seen plenty of free willies here (Don't ask, it was a dare)
  • Mount Maunganui, Bay of Plenty - Tom is lucky to have survived some of his crazy parties at this beach. New Years parties here are not for the faint hearted!
  • Whangamata, Bay of Plenty - As above, I'm not sure how Tom is still alive... This was another of his favorite teenage party spots!
  • Takapuna Beach, Auckland - Nice and classy, this beach is great for summer socializing, followed by a delicious dinner and some disco-dancing at the beach side night clubs.

If you are in New Zealand over the New Years period... You can be almost guaranteed that any popular beach in the country is going to have something on. It's a great chance to socialize and meet some of us awesome Kiwi folk ;)

Keep in mind that if you're looking for a beach party scene like Ibiza... this just ain't gonna happen here in little New Zealand. But if you're looking for some socializing in the sun, a few cold ales, some good music and awesome company... You'll be in luck :)


Blow your senses with these scenic spots

When I first arrived in New Zealand 10 years ago, my jaw dropped as we drove around every corner. WOW - how could such a small country be blessed with so much scenic beauty? God was definitely in a good mood when he created New Zealand. There are so many amazingly beautiful New Zealand beaches, it's hard to pick the best!

Basically, the West Coast of Kiwi-land is generally more rugged... That type of beauty that is also kinda scary. Crashing waves, dark sand, forest and cliffs. Just 10 minutes away from where I live is Bethells Beach... A spectacular black sand beach, typical of the rugged beauty I'm talking about.

piha beach auckland
Tom, on a sunny winters day at a favorite West Auckland beach - Piha

Some other spectacular and rugged west coast of New Zealand beaches are...

  • Piha Beach, Auckland - Rugged and beautiful, any day trip to Auckland needs to include this special spot.
  • Muriwai Beach, Auckland - Horse riding along this beach makes you feel like a princess in a rugged and magical world (Except for when your horse starts trying to mount the horse in front of you)
  • Karekare, Auckland - Spectacular! And some amazing scenery behind the sand dunes at this beach... We got lost and discovered this one day - it was AWESOME.
  • Raglan, Waikato - I ♥ Raglan. This place is wild and crazy, like the beautiful hippies that live there. Sorry Kevin, I'm not calling you a wild hippy.
  • Punakaiki, South Island - Untamed and deserted beaches to drop your jaw further after visiting the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes
  • Anawhata Beach, Auckland... The 30 minute steep walk down to this piece of paradise is worth it!
  • 90 Mile Beach, Northland - New Zealands longest beach used by buses and 4WD's as a hiway

If you're after "Oh my God, that is pretty!" I'd say that the East Coast and teensy weensy North Coast beaches will be a better choice for you. These New Zealand beaches are predominantly white sand, clear water, forests and Pohutukawa tress... The type of beaches that make you go "ahhhhh, cocktails anyone?"

cathederal cove new zealand
On a sunny day, New Zealand beaches are hard to beat!
This is Cathederal Cove in the Coromandel (2 hrs drive from Auckland)

I am a clear water, white sand worshiper...

This summer just gone, we spend a week on the beautiful Moturua Island in The Bay of Islands... That whole region is scenically splendid! Literally hundreds of islands popping out of the sea - fringed with magnificent beaches and native forest - The Bay of Islands is hard to beat!

The thing I must say about the Bay of Islands is that I would probably only spend time there if you can get out to the islands. The mainland there is pretty - but can't compete with the outer islands.

The only 2 beach destinations in NZ that can rival the Bay of Islands (in my eyes) is:

1) the Abel Tasman National Park - another jaw dropping location. Tom took me there on our 'engagement holiday' for a 4 day kayaking trip - you can read about this trip here. If you don't mind long drops - then spending a few nights in this park is a must for any New Zealand holiday!

2) Matapouri bay and the Tutukaka Coast - You can read about the spectacular Matapouri and surrounds here.

If you don't have much time, but still want to visit some easy access, jaw droppingly beautiful beaches, the Coromandel Peninsular (2 hours drive from Auckland) is a fantastic option. Must visit spots in the Coromandel are Hot Water Beach, Hahei, Cathederal Cove and the oh-my-God-wow New Chums Beach. My mom and dad also love a spot called Port Jackson and go there every year for a week - I'm yet to check it out though.

So to sum it up, here are the New Zealand beaches that are picture-postcard-perfect...

  • The beaches of Moturua Island (Bay of Islands, Northland)
  • The beaches of Urupukapuka Island (Bay of Islands, Northland)
  • Spirits Bay (Northland)
  • Matai Bay (Northland)
  • Matapouri Bay and the other beaches on the Tutukaka Coast
  • The many beautiful beaches on Waiheke Island (Auckland)
  • Hahei (Coromandel)
  • Hot Water Beach (Coromandel)
  • Cathederal Cove (Coromandel)
  • The dozens of beautiful beaches at the Abel Tasman Nation Park (Top of South Island)
  • Kaiteriteri Beach (Top of South Island)


Head west for surfing - dude

piha beach surf
Piha Beach is famous for it's surf - it's also a stunning spot!

There is nothing sexier than a hot surfer chick catching a monster wave and making it her own. Unfortunately, I am not that chick. My first surfing attempt was also my last... Trying to learn at Piha Beach (Auckland) is not a good idea and it terrified me for life!

If you're a crazy soul who does like to brave the surf, there are plenty of great options for you here in New Zealand...

  • Muriwai Beach (Auckland)
  • Piha Beach (Auckland)
  • Taranaki (Lower 1/2 of North Island)
  • Raglan (World famous Manu Bay and Whale Bay)


Pitch a tent at these camper-friendly New Zealand beaches

abel tasman camp site
Waking up to magical views in the Abel Tasman

Camping in New Zealand is basically a religion. Every summer tens of thousands of Kiwis make the pilgrimage to their favorite New Zealand beaches. Here they pitch their tents, slap on some sunscreen and cool themselves with an icy beer.

Camping is a super cheap way of having an awesome holiday! Some of New Zealand's campsites are located in the most awe-inspiring locations - better than any hotel or holiday apartment that you could rent. Admittedly, a few of the more remote campsites are still pretty 'old-school' in the toilet departments and boast the good old long drops.

Me and Tom normally stay at DOC (Department of Conservation) campsites and we just love them. They're normally in beautiful forested areas close by to magical scenic spots. For a list of all the DOC campsites in the different regions, click here. The fee to camp is reasonable, normally under NZ$10 per person per night. In peak seasons (January, February and sometimes March) it pays to book your campsites ahead of time as there's limited space...

Last New Year, we turned up to the stunning Maitai Bay Campsite without a booking and couldn't get in... So we phoned around and found out that there were sites available at Spirits Bay - which was 2 hours further north... We jumped back in the car and spent a week in the stunning far north.

Some of our all-time favorite New Zealand beaches to camp at are:

  • Spirits bay - This beautiful campsite in the far north of New Zealand captured my heart.
  • Mangawhai campsite - Conveniently located just 1.5 hours from Auckland
  • Urupukapuka island - Stunning, stunning, stunning. A great way to stay in the Bay of Islands for cheap cheap!
  • Maitai bay campsite - The double horse-shoe-bays here are breathtaking! Be sure to book though, this spot is popular!
  • Taupo Bay - White sand, clear water and good fishing all make this a lovely spot to camp for a few nights
  • Matauri bay - This beautiful spot is a good place to kick back and relax.
  • Hot water beach - Dig yourself a hot pool in the evening and enjoy a glass of wine before staggering back to your tent
  • Waihi beach - A beautiful beach to base yourself at while exploring close by attractions
  • Port jackson - My mom and dads all-time favorite camping spot. They often see dolphin and Orcas here.
  • Piha - A rugged West Auckland beach with a handy campsite. Be sure to take a dip in the nearby waterfalls too.
  • Abel Tasman nation park campsites - Every one spectacular in it's own way and so many to choose from! We loved Mosquito bay the most.


Meet the fish at these snorkeling and diving spots

poor knights new zealand
Head to The Poor Knights for diving

New Zealand waters can get pretty cold (okay in winter they can get farking freezing!) and so we don't get colourful corals and bright tropical fish... You'll need to head a little north to Fiji, Samoa or Tonga for that.

But do not despair, because there are still some awesome opportunities to get up close and personal with the fish... In fact, my best ever scuba experience has been in New Zealand.

I've snorkeled and dived in Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Niue, South Africa and Thailand and they were lovely... But nothing compared to the Poor Knights in New Zealand. As I swam through the sea cave and came out the other side in Blue Mao Mao arch, I felt like I had entered into another world. A solid wall of sparkling blue fish layered on an orange backdrop of sea lichen. The water was so still and so clear that I forgot momentarily that I was scuba diving. I felt like I was floating in a world that was so different from anything I'd ever known.

The Poor Knights are also famous for the big stuff... Orcas, whales, stingray, sharks and more. In fact, my friend Nic said she saw a humpback whale there just last week!

If you are into snorkeling and scuba diving - a trip to the Poor Knights is a must on your New Zealand holiday. I would go back there in a heartbeat.

Although the Poor Knights wins hands down (in my opinion) some other spots that are popular for snorkeling and diving are:

  • Goat Island, 45 minutes out of Auckland
  • Hahei, Coromandel
  • Bay of Islands - outer islands.

Keep in mind that the water in New Zealand can get pretty chilly - so to make the most of your under water experience, I'd hire a wetsuit.


What's your favorite of all the New Zealand beaches?

I've told you about my favorite New Zealand beaches... now it's your turn! Where is your favorite Kiwi beach bumming spot? Tell us a little (or a lot!) about it!

Our Favorite Beaches - Shared by past visitors

Click below to see the favourite New Zealand beaches of other visitors to this page...

New Chums Beach - a beautiful new zealand beach Not rated yet
New Chums Beach is a beach in the Wainuiototo Bay on the northeast coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand, near Whangapoua It is beautiful. …

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