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With an astonishing 15,000 kilometres of coastline featuring a variety of breaks, waves, points and reefs, it’s no wonder New Zealand is a world-class surfing destination.
It’s as though nature designed the New Zealand coastline with surfers in mind. Tiny coves, long sandy beaches and sandbars and reefs - the diversity and consistency of surfing conditions here is as remarkable as the stunning coastline itself.
Surfing Vacation in New Zealand
The mere idea of surfing gives you a good excuse to venture further and explore places one might otherwise miss out on. Whether you’re a complete novice or professional surfer, New Zealand is the ideal place to search for the perfect wave to match your ability.
Surfing is a great way to add to your New Zealand vacation experience and a wonderful way to meet local New Zealander’s. Respecting the local’s connection with their favourite surf locations may even result in some valuable local knowledge. Lessons and board hire, custom surf tours and heli tours are all available at main surfing spots from Northland to Southland.
Those searching for particular surf breaks will also find magnificent coastal views, and isolated beaches with marine wildlife occasionally sharing the excitement of the waves. Alternatively join a surf tour and benefit from the expertise of guides and coaches.
Surfers arriving from overseas are amazed at the surfing opportunities - the combination of a small country that’s easy to get around and the lengthy coastline means it’s surprisingly easy to find the exact conditions you want to surf on a particular day. This explains why international surf legends like Andy Irons, Sunny Garcia, Mark Ochilupo, and Joel Parkinson all came to compete against New Zealand’s best at the renowned west coast beaches of Raglan and Piha.
In some places you can jump easily from the west to the east coast (and vice-versa) to make the most of the conditions. You can even choose northern sub-tropical or southern sub-Antarctic waters and everything in between.
Where to Surf?
Surfing the North of New Zealand: Northland, Auckland, Waikato
Head out of Auckland and right away you will have a choice of East or West Coast surfing. Muriwai and Piha on the West Coast offer black sand beaches with wild waves. In the far north is Shipwreck Bay which is definitely worth a visit - if not for the waves then the blokarting, kayaking and 4WD beach tours along Ninety Mile Beach to Cape Reinga.
Take in both coasts by driving the Twin Coast Discovery Highway on a surf tour. The golden beaches of the East Coast are often edged with magnificent Pohutukawa trees. Mangawhai and Te Arai are eternally popular surf spots on the east coast. Travel north to Whangarei, and see a harbour full of fishing boats, pleasure craft and yachts to rival the City of Sails.
If it’s a purist, almost iconic, surfing community you’re looking for travel south of Auckland to the Waikato. Raglan is located on the West Coast and the superb surfing conditions of Manu Bay are famous throughout New Zealand.
Surfing the East Coast of the North Island: Coromandel, Bay of Plenty, Eastland
The east coast of New Zealand is simply beautiful, remote and peaceful with surprises around every corner. Venture up to Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel for something different; create your very own natural spa bath, or surf the beach and reef breaks.
New Zealand’s first artificial reef is located in Mt Maunganui, Bay of Plenty. As the name indicates there is plenty of excitement to be had in the Bay. Surfing, fishing, sailing or just relaxing on the stunning beaches are some of the activities that cater for everyone in this region.
As the first place to see the sunrise in the world Gisborne is great for dawn surfing. Waikanae beach is located right in town and is great for learning. Home to some of the best breaks in New Zealand, receiving south, east and south east swells, Gisborne always produces the goods.
Surfing the Lower North Island: Taranaki, Wellington
The New Plymouth area was the dramatic filming location for the movie "The Last Samurai", nearby are multiple surf beaches which stretch throughout Taranaki. Fitzroy beach is popular due to its accessibility and dependable surf. Journey south of New Plymouth via Surf Highway 45 through Oakura and Opunake and select one of the many quality breaks on offer.
Only minutes from the city of Wellington is Lyall Bay which receives southerly swells to the delight of the many locals. Surf the day away then spoil yourself with an evening dinner and experience theatre in the cultural capital.
Round the corner from Wellington is Wairarapa with unpopulated waves just waiting to be discovered. Go off road and sample the reef and beach breaks, but be wary of big southerly swells, rugged conditions and changing weather patterns.
Surfing the South Island: West Coast, Canterbury, Otago, Southland
Venture to the West Coast of the South Island, meet the friendly locals, admire spectacular views and surf from Westport to Greymouth. A road trip on the west coast is guaranteed classic times and amazing fun.
Kaikoura is well known for whale watching and swimming with the sociable Dusky dolphins. But while surfing it is far more likely you’ll come across a curious seal. Drive along the coast and observe the conditions of Mangamanu, Meatworks, and Oaro and drop in for a session.
North of Christchurch are many surf spots, from the long New Brighton beach to Jack’s Point south of Timaru. Have fun fishing, kayaking, windsurfing or kiteboarding at New Brighton with lessons available and equipment on hire.
Dunedin is undoubtedly one of the best surfing regions in New Zealand with a large number of breaks within close vicinity of each other. Despite the cooler temperatures surfers frequent beaches from Karitane to Brighton.
Discover the true essence of surfing in the deep south with long summer days, peaceful beaches and beautiful scenery. Nature will deem your respect, whether it’s the grace of dolphins at Curio Bay or the enormity of the Papatowai surf.
Other Coastal Activities in New Zealand
While surf tours and lessons are a great way to visit coastal New Zealand, there are also ample opportunities to enjoy other coastal activities. Wind surfing, surf kayaking, and kite surfing are exciting activities to enjoy the surf.
New Zealand has world class salt and fresh water fishing in pristine locations, the east coast of the North Island is a great spot for big game fishing. Sea kayaking is another great way to explore the coastline and admire seals, penguins, and other wildlife in a peaceful environment.
Like the landscape of New Zealand the coastal waters are extremely diverse and populated with fascinating wildlife. Diving, swimming with dolphins, or simply bathing in the sea are great ways to enter the realm of Tangaroa (Maori guardian of the sea).
Boat cruises from the Bay of Islands in the north to the Fiordland in the south, or a scenic drive along the Surf Highway and Twin Coast Discovery routes are alternatives to immersing yourself in the coastal waters.
Safety on New Zealand Beaches
New Zealand swells can be rough and conditions on the coast can change quickly. Try a surf lesson where instructors share their knowledge and expertise on safety while also teaching you the basics of how to surf a wave. It’s a good idea to talk with locals about conditions, especially life guards or surf tour operators. When swimming on patrolled beaches stay between the flags and surf in groups for safety and fun.
It’s also easy to check surf conditions, swell and weather at a particular beach beforehand online or by calling for a surf report. You’ll find lots of helpful information from regional tourism organisations and i-SITES in all notable areas. And look out for the Qualmark™ logo - it’s your sign that the activities, transport or accommodation is safe and secure having been independently assessed for quality under strict criteria.