The Ultimate NZ Surfing Road Trip

Naturally, when a country has as long a coastline as New Zealand does, the waves and surf are part of the lifestyle of many of the people. Even if conditions are not suitable on one coast, it is never too far to an alternative beach or even to the opposite coast in many parts of the country. Spoilt for choice with surf beaches, both famous and lesser known, around the whole of New Zealand, there is also the added advantage of being able to find quieter beaches than many other surfing destinations, even in the peak of summer. All beaches should be treated with respect as many have rips and rocks that can cause problems to the unwary.


The North Island

The North of the country, Northland, has the best of surfing as the weather here makes the water more inviting than the rest of the country, even on the coolest days. Starting at the very top of the country, the offering of beaches begins Tapotupote Bay, on the northern tip of North Cape. This is a sandy beach with fun waves for all levels of surfers. Another sandy beach is to the west of the Cape, at Te Werahi to the west of Cape Reinga, also suitable for all swimmers. There are so many options and choices in Northland, with well-known selections such as Shipwreck Bay near Ahipara and its long rides, Sandy Bay just north of Whangarei and to the south, the beaches at Langs and Waipu Cove near the Scottish heritage town of Waipu. The west coast also has some great beaches with Glinks Gully and Bayleys Beach near Dargaville good places to try out a board. When travelling from Auckland, the North offers a wonderful circle road in the Twin Highway which makes access to both coasts a nomadic surfer’s dream.


The Auckland region is home to Piha, often termed the top surf beach in the country, with surf suitable for all surfers, unless the waves get too big for beginners. This beach is probably one of the most popular, and therefore, the most likely to be crowded. Muriwai beach also offers great surf. On the opposite coast is Orewa, also a very popular beach, with easy going waves with a good length. North is Mangawhai, another very popular spot, that offers a number of breaks down the length of the beach. The bar can be dangerous, so is best left for experienced surfers only. Offshore is the Great Barrier Island, a unique surf destination ideal for intermediate to expert swimmers.

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To the south-east of Auckland, the Coromandel region is a popular summer destination for swimmers looking for big seas. The coast from Waikawau on the north of the Coromandel Peninsula to the city of Tauranga and is a mass of beaches with the potential to supply a wave suitable for riding. Hot Water Beach is novel with the option of digging warm pools in the sand, but the seas are cooler than average due to cold springs further out. Whangamata is another spot that many holidaymakers base themselves at, with so many choices close by including the Whangamata Bar, Beach and Estuary. Pauanui is another spot that is well known and gets plenty of visitors during the warm months.


Waihi Beach marks the start of the Bay of Plenty and is yet another very popular site for sun, sea and surf. Good for all levels of surfer, this beach offers suitable places along its entire length. The famous  Mount Maunganui, more often called simply ‘The Mount’ will have plenty of visitors so watch for other swimmers. Whakatane has a collection of surf beaches, including Ohope Beach and Whakatane Heads. As you make your way towards East Cape the beaches will become less populated and more isolated, offering a chance to have a really great beach all to yourself. For an exceptionally quiet beach try Tokata at the tip of the Cape, which offers punchy hollow waves suitable for all surfers. Nearby also you will find Waihua Bay, Te Araroa and Hicks Bay, all relatively uncrowded. Te Araroa is for the more expert wave riders, but the others are suitable for all comers and present with soft punchy waves.


Gisborne is a great base to begin a surfing holiday, but a number of the beaches are suitable only for riders that know what they are doing. These include Tokumaru Bay, near Ruatoria, and Tolaga Bay, which has a powerful wave. Closer to the city itself, the Makoriri Centres cater for all levels of surfing with punchy fun waves.


As you follow the coast south, you find the Wairarapa with plenty of great surf beaches that are far enough from the cities to avoid the crowds. However, the weather and waves can get rough, and weather conditions changeable, but easterly winds will bring in a great swell. To the north Castlepoint is a great beach for beginners, while further south you find some great rides at places with names as exciting as Shipwrecks, the Toilet Bowls, and Raspberries, near Cape Palliser. These three breaks are all suitable for intermediate, advanced and experienced surfers.


Taking the west coastline as you head south from Auckland, the Waikato has a famous surf destination in Raglan, which is the centre of a number of useful surf beaches in the area. The Raglan Bar is closest to the town with Mussel Rock across the river, and Wainui Beach, Whale Bay and the Indicators, all ranked as quality beaches, in the locality. While Manu Bay and the Indicators are best left for advanced and expert boarders, Mussel Rock and Wainui Beach are suitable for surfers of all levels of experience.


The highway moves inland through the Waitomo Cave region, where boards are exchanged for rafts and the light of day for the dark of deep caverns of an underground water system, but then, southwards, the surfing continues in Taranaki at Awakino, where the highway meets the coast again. After Waitara, a beach suitable for all surfers, the beaches come thick and fast, and the road becomes known as Surf Highway 45. At the edge of New Plymouth city is the renowned Fitzroy Beach, an awesome beach that can get crowded, followed by great spots such as Oakura Beach, Kumera Patch and Stent Road. The latter is a firm favourite with locals, being a high-quality beach, but also gets very crowded in the warm months of summer.


The Manawatu does not have many choices for a surfer, although there are a number of beaches near Wanganui including South Beach, suitable for and popular with all comers, and The Wanganui River Mouth, which offers a challenge for the best surfers.


Around Wellington, there are some fun beaches, with Lyall Bay being the pick for many surfers, while Waikanae is another popular spot that is great for learning to surf. Experts might like to take a boat out to Kapiti Island for a day of fun.


The South Island

The sea in the South Island may be chillier, but the surf is still up and offering an exciting day out for all comers. The cooler temperatures mean fewer people on the beaches, and more opportunities to find a great spot just for yourself.


Nelson-Marlborough-Tasman - Probably the northernmost surf beach in the South Island, Farewell Spit is isolated, exposed and windy but offers some long rides from Pillar Point at the western end of the beach. Other Tasman beaches are generally uncrowded, while around Nelson and Blenheim there will be more people following the waves. Tahunanui Beach near Nelson is a popular beach for beginners while The Cut (Nelson) will challenge more experienced swimmers. Cable Bay also is a spot for the more advanced. Nearer to Blenheim look out for Whites Bay, suitable for all visitors.


The West Coast seas can be rough and the beaches subject to huge waves, with winds and swell coming up the coast from the south and west. Beaches also tend to be quieter than the eastern shores. Quality beaches near Greymouth include Blaketown and Cobden, both suited to intermediate to advanced surfers. Westport’s top surf is found at Shingles for all swimmers, while the more experienced will find great rides at Tauranga Bay and Westport Breakwater.


Surfing in Canterbury centres in Kaikoura and Christchurch. In Kaikoura the waves are working their way in from the deep trench, resulting in top quality surfing at beaches such as Mangamaunu, and Kahutara, more suited to intermediate and upwards. Beginners might check out the surf at Blue Duck, or Gooch’s Beach, right next to the town. Watch out for seals in the water with you. Christchurch has some amazing beaches, with two of the most popular being Taylor’s Mistake and, for experts in the surf, Sumner Bar. Waimairi is great for beginners, while down near Timaru, look out for Patiti.


Otago has some great surfing locations, mainly based around Dunedin. St Kilda is popular for all levels of surfer, but for the more experienced Karitane and Murdering Bay are the best for great waves. Also, check out Aramoana and Brighton.


Straight from the Southern Ocean, the waves hitting Southland are often ignored by surfers in favour of the beaches further north. However, the chilly southern beaches offer some quality spots. Drive through the Catlins, and discover great beaches like Purakaunui, Papatowai (experts only) and Curio Bay.


With over 15,000 km of coastline, from the warm waters of the North to the freezing surf in the deep south, there are so many options for a surfer in New Zealand that it would take many seasons to try every beach! Everyone gets their favourites, and each beach has a character of its own. Many have rips and the river mouths especially need treating with a great deal of respect, so go out and enjoy, but be safe in the water.


For further surf breaks and conditions follow this link http://www.nzsurfguide.co.nz/surf_breaks

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