Ask anyone who has visited New Zealand and they are likely to tell you that it’s one of the world’s most spectacular and diverse locations. New Zealand is quite simply like nowhere on earth, with stunning landscapes of mountains and rivers to glaciers, lakes, hobbit holes and beaches. Due to its remote location and the fact the country is divided into two separate islands, the beaches of New Zealand are uniquely spectacular and home to unusual sights and playful wildlife.
The best way to explore New Zealand’s beaches is on a road trip to both islands, but if you’re short on time, take a few days to see a couple of these beaches and you won’t regret it. Here are the 20 best beaches in New Zealand for your bucket list.
- 20 Best New Zealand Beaches
- Beaches in New Zealand – North Island
- New Zealand Beaches – South Island
- 11- Taylor’s Mistake, Christchurch
- 12- Wanaka Lakefront, Wanaka
- 13- St Clair & St Kilda, Dunedin
- 14- Torrent Bay, Abel Tasman National Park
- 15- Queenstown Bay, Central Otago
- 16- Tautuku Bay, The Catlins
- 17- Wharariki Beach, Tasman
- 18- Allans Beach, Otago
- 19- Koekohe Beach, Moeraki
- 20- Sand Fly Bay, Abel Tasman
20 Best New Zealand Beaches
Beaches in New Zealand – North Island
1- Wainui Beach, Gisborne
A long stretch of flawless coastline, which continues all the way to the Makarori headland, Wainui beach is unforgettably beautiful.
Reachable in just 10 mins from Gisborne, it’s the perfect spot to watch the sunset, take a bike ride, stroll along the sand and enjoy swimming, fishing and surfing.
The beach continues to Okitu Beach, another stunning and relaxing destination to grab a bite to eat or something to drink.
2- Ninety Mile Beach, Northland
As you can imagine, Ninety Mile Beach is a seemingly never-ending strip of sand renowned for some of New Zealand’s best sunsets.
Although the beach is 88km (55 miles) in length, there is no shortage of beauty.
Some of the best activities here, aside from swimming, are bodyboarding down the epic sand dunes and digging for tuatua (local shellfish).
The waters are teeming with marine life, and if you visit at the start of the year, you might catch the annual fishing festival where people compete to hook the biggest snapper they can.
3- Ocean Beach, Hawkes Bay
One of New Zealand’s more rugged and less developed beaches, Ocean Beach is more popular with locals than tourists, making it more of a hidden gem.
Popular with surfers, swimmers and people diving for crab and shellfish, it is best to visit in summer or at low tide.
There are also some lovely scenic walks heading both south and north on this beach which can easily take up half a day.
There are lifeguards here, but watch out for strong currents and getting caught out at high tide.
4- Te Werahi Beach, Cape Reinga
Situated just above Ninety Mile beach, Te Werahi is a part of the Cape Reinga hiking trail, so it takes about 30 minutes of walking before you reach it.
This means not many people venture here, and even in summer, it doesn’t get crowded.
Once you arrive, you’ll see a sandy headland stretching into the ocean, where you can explore the dunes, paddle in the water and explore the multitude of nearby hiking and walking trails.
As the area is quite remote, remember to bring lots of water and snacks for the day as it’s unlikely you’ll see many other people.
5- Mangawhai Heads, Northland
A little off the beaten track town, Mangawhai is only 90 minutes north of Auckland and sits between two beautiful beaches, one of which is its namesake.
The dunes that back the beach are filled with all kinds of native New Zealand birdlife, such as oystercatchers and dotterels.
Charter a boat for a fishing or diving experience off the coast here, which makes for a relaxing day trip.
On top of this, you can participate in water sports and visit the nearby winery, golf course and museum.
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6- Ohope Beach, Bay of Plenty
Often voted as New Zealand’s most loved beach, Ohope is in the sunny Bay of Plenty on the North Island.
The beach stretches for 11km and makes for a beautiful walk, as well as the opportunity to go swimming, surfing and SUP (stand up paddleboarding).
The two hiking trails have sweeping views over nearby Whale Island, a wildlife sanctuary, and White Island, an active marine volcano.
As Ohope is home to many wading birds, this beach is particularly popular with bird-watchers.
If you’re more into local activities, you’ll find some great food and views at nearby West End, a mecca for surfers.
7- Kuaotunu Beach, Coromandel
Located on the world-famous Coromandel peninsula, Kuaotunu is a small seaside settlement where you’ll find more than one soft white beach.
Kuaotunu is a top New Zealand beach to go for simple pleasures such as swimming, bird-watching and relaxing with a great book.
You may spot a dolphin or two swimming by in the right season.
Close by in the town, you’ll find an abundance of local stores, artists, cafes and restaurants, so this is a must-visit while you’re in Coromandel.
8- Tawharanui Beach, Auckland
Just 90 miles north of Auckland, Tawharanui is a perfect postcard stretch of golden sand with great swimming, surfing and rockpools.
You’ll also find a marine reserve and eco-sanctuary here.
The best time to visit this New Zealand beach is in summer when the pōhutukawa are in full bloom. The stunning red trees are New Zealand’s answer to the Jacaranda.
As the area is protected both on land and in the sea, there aren’t any predators for the wildlife here, meaning you’ll find a wealth of bird and marine life, including dolphins and orcas if you’re lucky.
Bring all the items you need for a day, as there aren’t any shops in this area.
9- Piha Beach, Auckland
A 45-minute drive southwest of Auckland is Piha Beach, one of the country’s most rugged and spectacular beaches and a world-renowned surf spot.
You can’t get public transport to this beach, meaning its unusual black-iron sands and jagged cliffs are largely untouched.
The most famous attraction here is Lion Rock, an ancient volcanic rock which you can climb for spectacular panoramic views.
Adventurous beachgoers can also try abseiling down Piha Canyon, and if you need to catch your breath, there are a couple of excellent cafes nearby with outdoor seating where you can grab a snack while enjoying the view.
10- Hot Water Beach, Coromandel
Although when you think of Coromandel, Cathedral Cove might come to mind, Hot Water Beach is an unmissable sight while you’re here.
It gets its name from the thermal water bubbling just under the surface of the sand, which might not mean much usually, but at low tide, you’ll discover something fun.
People flock here from all around at low tide to dig a big hole in the sand, full to the brim with hot thermal water so you’ll have your very own natural hot tub.
This activity is also a better bet than swimming as the rips and currents can be very dangerous.
New Zealand Beaches – South Island
11- Taylor’s Mistake, Christchurch
This little sheltered cove, which in Maori is called ‘Te Onepoto’ (Little Beach) is only 400m, but it well-and-truly makes up for its small size with its natural beauty.
It is located just over the hill from Sumner’s Beach, which means not many people discover it – even locals.
This beach is a great place for surfing due to the large waves that roll through the narrow cove, swimming in the shallows and fishing a little further out.
It’s also the starting point for Godley Head Walk, a popular three-hour loop.
12- Wanaka Lakefront, Wanaka
Although strictly speaking not a beach, Lake Wanaka is an absolute must-see when visiting New Zealand.
There is no doubt you’ll have already seen stunning images of the famous Wanaka tree.
Located in Central Otago, this is a pebble beach, but it is comfy enough to plant yourself on for a while amid the sweeping vistas of the lake and mountains.
Aside from photography opportunities, you can also kayak and paddleboard on the lake, and there are some shops and cafes nearby when you start to get hungry.
Otherwise, there is an endless stream of activities here, including horseback riding, cycling, skydiving, quad biking and climbing.
You might have a hard time choosing how to spend the day.
13- St Clair & St Kilda, Dunedin
Easily the most famous pair of beaches in the area, St Clair and St Kilda are a pure mecca for surf enthusiasts and pros alike, mainly because there is nothing between these beaches and the Antarctic, so the waves are unstoppable.
Behind St Clair, you’ll find a quaint promenade which you can stroll along and stop for a coffee before ending up at the famous St Clair Hot Salt Water Pool.
The heated pool is right by the ocean where the salty waves crash into the boulders below you, and great if you want to enjoy the saltwater but don’t want the chill.
On St Kilda, there is far more sand, the dunes are higher, and there’s a more wild feel.
Riding the Ocean Beach Railway is a fun activity if you’re travelling with kids.
14- Torrent Bay, Abel Tasman National Park
Abel Tasman National Park is a spectacular and untouched destination on the South Island’s northwestern tip.
Torrent Bay is well known for its large tidal lagoon, and the beach here is backed by thick forest while the sand is golden and the ocean is breathtakingly blue.
Unsurprisingly due to its beauty, there are many privately owned beach houses here, and the locals closely protect this slice of paradise.
But if you manage to go, you’ll be in for a day of sunbathing and swimming on one of New Zealand’s best beaches.
15- Queenstown Bay, Central Otago
Much like Wanaka, Queenstown Bay beach borders the spectacular lake Wakatipu, the country’s third-largest lake.
Backed by the snow-capped ‘Remarkables’ mountains in the distance, unsurprisingly named for their beauty, this beach is a great place to head with friends for some drinks or a picnic while you watch the world pass you by.
While you’re here, tour the lake to visit famous spots, and the trout fishing is pretty good too.
16- Tautuku Bay, The Catlins
The Catlins coast has more than one rugged and windswept beach, but Tautuku Bay is easily one of the best.
There is a large sweeping crescent of white sand backed by trees and grassy hills, there is a small lake and boardwalk to explore.
Otherwise, you can take a long walk along the soft sand and enjoy the sunshine.
Most recommended here is the Florence Hill Lookout, located just above the beach, where you will get panoramic views of the beach below.
Although you can do a day trip here, making the Catlins into an overnight trip will ensure you see the best beaches in the area.
17- Wharariki Beach, Tasman
There’s no question you’ve seen this beach before – on your Windows screensaver!
Wharariki is one of the world’s most beautiful and famous beaches, with its large weathered rock formation standing imposingly in the sand and other-worldly sand dunes.
On the South Island’s northern end, the beach is as remote as you can get, so it can only be accessed by car, not public transport.
Here you’ll find locals and tourists alike looking for an adventure, as well as (unsurprisingly) photographers.
For some sporty fun, a board and go sand dune surfing, take a scenic horse-riding excursion or explore the surrounding caves.
If luck is on your side, you might get to see some of the beach’s local residents, the playful seals who make their home here.
18- Allans Beach, Otago
Allans Beach is famous for one thing (aside from its beauty), and that is sea lions.
You’ll find loads of adult and baby sea lions lounging around the beach here, soaking up the sunshine, which is an exciting experience if you’ve never seen them before and makes for some incredible photography opportunities.
Aside from the friendly sea lions, you might also be lucky enough to see some yellow-eyed penguins.
The scenery is spectacular, the water is crystal clear, and the surf is very popular.
For unparalleled views, hike up to Sandymount or Mount Charles.
19- Koekohe Beach, Moeraki
Rated among popular media as one of the 50 best beaches on earth, this unusual beach, located in Moeraki, is famous for its unique ‘Moeraki’ boulders.
More than 50 huge dome and half-dome shaped boulders are scattered along the sand.
The boulders have been slowly formed over millions of years, although according to the Maori legend, they are what’s left of eel baskets washed up from the wreck of the ship that originally brought over the ancestors of the South islanders.
They make for a fun photo spot and many people jump and climb on them.
If boulders aren’t your thing, the raw natural beauty of Koekohe beach is still captivating, with wild sweeping views towards the headland stretching out before you.
A short distance away, you’ll also find a yellow-eyed penguin sanctuary, families of sea lions and dolphins just off-shore.
20- Sand Fly Bay, Abel Tasman
Sandfly Bay, much like its other Abel Tasman counterparts, is well-protected by local secret-keeping.
Located in a tiny bay, it is essentially a crystal blue lagoon formed by the nearby sandspit that curves around it.
As this cove is so remote and tiny, it is extremely difficult to reach unless you charter a private boat or join an organised tour.
The bay is so closed off, it is almost like being beside a lake which makes it tricky to navigate even with a boat.
On the other hand, if you manage to get here, you’ll be rewarded with an entirely empty stretch of sand and sparkling waters, backed by lush green forest.
There is nothing around for miles, being in a national park, so it is wise to bring everything with you, but on the plus side you’ll get to experience the remote beauty of this beach all to yourself.
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