If you like… mountain views
Mount Maunganui beach regularly nabs ‘New Zealand’s best beach’ gongs: its award-winning attributes include golden sand, sheltered waters and mighty Mount Mauao.
Bathing belles, aquatic adventurers and wannabe mermen and mermaids – you’ve come to the right place. Dust off your sunnies and jandals (flip flops) for New Zealand’s best beaches…
If you like… mountain views
If you like… surf and sunsets
Auckland’s rugged West Coast boasts limitless-looking stretches of ink-black iron sand, powerful surf and vivid sunsets. Grab your surfboard for Piha, the country’s most famous surf beach, which is fringed by lush rainforest (go for a hike and a dip in one of the waterfalls).
If you like… city day-trips
Escape the city for a day with a trip to Tāwharanui Regional Park, an hour’s drive north of Auckland. Pick from two secluded bays, each with a rocky headland. If you’ve got a thing for black sand, Bethells Beach (or Te Hanga) in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park is just a 45-minute drive from Auckland. It’s worth the trip for its sand dunes and Lake Wainamu. From Christchurch, it’s a 90-minute drive to Akaroa, where you can swim with dolphins; from Wellington, it’s a two-hour drive to dramatic Cape Palliser, home to a grand old lighthouse and a colony of fur seals.
If you like… diving
Poor Knights Islands are a cluster of islands off the east coast of the North Island’s Northland region; they’re rightly famed for being one of the world’s best dive spots (even Jacques Cousteau said so). Tutukaka – a half-hour drive north-east of Whangarei – is the gateway to the marine park, where kelp forests, sponge gardens, gorgonian fields, a tumbling ‘giant staircase’, underwater caves and wildlife-rich waters await. Alternatively, the Bay of Islands’ 144 islands feature white-sand beaches, azure waters and prime diving – just a three-hour drive north of Auckland.
If you like… limitless sand
Ninety Mile Beach’s name is deceiving – instead of 90 miles, you get 55 to sprawl out in, but you won’t feel shortchanged when you see its golden sand dunes and majestic breakers. Best beach? It’s certainly New Zealand’s biggest. If you’ve got an on-loan 4WD, you can drive along the sand. Fly to nearby Kaitaia from Auckland.
If you like… rugged coastlines
Raglan, on the west coast of North Island’s Hamilton-Waikato, is loved for its surf scene, laidback vibe and dramatic beauty. Manu Bay has one of the longest left-hand breaks in the world, but there’s plenty for landlubbers too, thanks to the excellent local boutiques and cafes. Try kayaking or stand-up paddle-boarding in the harbour; inland, hike to Bridal Veil Falls, whose waters hurtle from heights of 55m.
If you like… hiking and kayaking
You’ll share Abel Tasman National Park in Nelson with the dolphins and fur seals that call its waters home. Two-legged visitors will love sea-kayaking and hiking in the park’s rugged splendour.
If you like… pretending to be a local
Discerning Kiwis head to the Coromandel Peninsula – a 2.5hr drive south of Auckland – for a heady hit of sun, sea and sand. Follow in their footsteps and you’ll discover idyllic bays and hidden coves, native bushland and cascading waterfalls.
If you like… city sunbathing
Mission Beach is just a short drive from Auckland CBD (central business district), so on sunny days, you can expect to share the sand with ice-cream-eating, frisbee-playing, beach-walking locals. Admire the vivid-red blooms of the Pohutukawa trees in summer. If you’re based in Wellington, make a trip to the Oriental Parade on Wellington Harbour; in Christchurch, don’t miss Sumner Beach.
If you like… re-enacting famous film scenes
You might recognise Karekare’s wild black sand and dramatic scenery from The Piano, which was filmed here. This beach is rugged and quiet – powerful currents mean swimmers need to stick within the areas marked out by flags.