Surfing New Zealand means remote spots in stunning settings. Throw in some of the most awesome left-hand point breaks on the globe and you’ve got yourself a darn fine surf destination.
New Zealand’s surfing at a glance
- Remote locations and stunning places.
- Shark attacks uber-rare compared to Oz.
- The left-hand point breaks might be the best in the world.
- Unpredictable conditions.
- Long drives to some breaks.
- Cost of travel.
What will I find in this guide to surfing New Zealand
An introduction to surfing New Zealand
New Zealand splits its surf between the North and the South islands. Like the culture and geography of the nation, that means two very different places to paddle out!
Up around Auckland are perhaps the most famous spots in the country. They roll out along the west coast by Raglan (NZ’s surf mecca) between headlands where the left-hander points are some of the longest and most consistent in the world – goofies eat your hearts out. Go further and you hit the eastern shores of Mangawhai, with long beach breaks and reef spots with regular waves and regular dolphin visitors. North Island also throws in the treats of Coromandel Peninsular and the rights of rocky Stent Road, which sits in the shadow of snow-capped Taranaki volcano, and that’s really just scratching the surface of what’s out there.
Head across the Cook Strait to South Islands and the surfing in New Zealand takes a turn for the hardcore. The west coast around Christchurch is by far the most popular region. It’s got Sumner Beach and the long peaks of New Brighton. But the true class of waves there comes with Kaikoura. Whale watchers will frequent the shoreline, as they look for pods beyond the perfect, peeling points and mushy beach breaks alike.
New Zealand surf destinations guide
The home of surfing New Zealand is surely Raglan. It’s the place that put the islands on the map for surfers way back as early as the 60s and 70s. The reason? It’s trio of world-class left-hand points. The most famous of the lot is surely Manu Bay. A classic point, it can clock up long (seriously long) rides right across the front of the cove. Indicators is the northerly option, with speedy waves that zip left off steep sections. Whale Bay is great for longboarders and starters looking for something more chilled.
The Coromandel Peninsula
There’s surf all over the wild Coromandel Peninsula that juts out of the top of North Island. It’s a haven for ancient kauri forests and hidden beaches. But those with their board in tow will also find tonnes to get stuck into. On the south-eastern shores, check out Pauanui and Onemana for sandy beach breaks that offer multiple points – both left and right. Further north are the Hahei points, which need a bit of punch to get going, and stunning Hot Water Beach, where shimmering sand meets all sorts of wave types.
For goofy riders, Shipwreck Bay is heaven. It’s considered the jewel of the Northland region, with a series of left-handers that draw their power straight from the trenches of the Tasman Sea. The rides here tend to be mellow, cruisy longboard waves, but can also get big and fast at times. The secondary break at Peaks is harder, with steep drop-ins and some barreling. Try to linger a little – the early bird catches the worm in Shipwreck.
Long, white-sand beaches backed by dunes meet a challenging point break in this small surf town around an hour’s drive north of Auckland. The beach tends to be mellow, with left-to-righters coming in off the wide channel. The point break at Mangawhai Heads offers something a little heavier and higher. When that’s out, expect a lefty reef coming off a steep point that can get crowded.
The beach break at Piha is now the stuff of legends. It’s a reliable wave getaway for Aucklanders, so busy it gets on the weekends. The most iconic feature is the huge Lion Rock (a little like the Haystack on Cannon Beach in Oregon). That splits the bay into two and produces a hefty rip current to help paddlers. There are peaks at both ends of Piha Beach and lots of surf schools in the vicinity.
The Garden City of South Island isn’t all vintage trams and leafy parks, you know. It faces the open Pacific to the east, which means there are waves aplenty. Top spots include the awesome Taylor’s Mistake, where you’ll need to wait for ripe conditions, but can nail perfect 4-foot rippable frames. You’ll also catch Sumner Beach (Or Sumner Bar) within reach – home to sets and secondary sets of nice right-handers when the swells are up.
Choose Kaikoura to challenge yourself on the hard points of Kahutara. That rocky reef draws in big crowds of locals when it’s working, with steep drop-in zones and some seriously high-speed runs across the gravel and stone. That’s not all there is, though. You can also hit the rock-bottomed Meatworks for some shallow points (helmets recommended!) or hit the gorgeous Mangamaunu bay, which comes shrouded by the high ridges of the Kaikoura Range.
A guide to the New Zealand surfing season
One of the great draws of surfing New Zealand – like Australia – is just how reliable the waves are. You can usually find something working every day of the year, provided you’re happy to drive for it. Generally speaking, warmer, calmer and more uniform conditions come with the summer months, while winter brings strong storms, gnarly swells and more challenging weather.
As the warmth cranks up and the rain drops away, the surfing in New Zealand really comes into its own. There’s nothing quite like a day on the glimmering sands of Mangawhai at this time of year – not a wetsuit or a hood in sight. Still, this is NZ, and that means weather is ALWAYS unpredictable. Rain can hit any time and winds can pick up too, especially around the coastal mountains on South Island. Oh, and talking of South Island…you’ll need to bring a wetsuit if you’re heading there, summer or not.
When the adventure meccas of Queenstown and Wanaka are under layers of snow, there Tasman Sea and the Pacific get pretty wild. Storms crash into the Wild West Coast of South Island – you wouldn’t even consider surfing north of Greymouth unless you had an in-depth knowledge of the rips! Up north, wetsuits are needed but Raglan and Piha can see some of their best breaks. The waves of Coromandel, meanwhile, tend to get a little mushy and broken.
Top things to do in New Zealand when you’re not surfing
Wow – just wow. It doesn’t get much more dramatic than this huge inlet on South Island. Do a glass-roofed bus and ferry combo to make the most of it.
Mount Cook might be a little tricky to climb, but you can drive to see its glacier and do hikes like the Sealy Tarns around Mount Cook Village.
Franz Joseph Glacier
Eye-watering Franz Joseph Glacier can’t be missed. You can even do glacier treks that will take you right onto the ice!
Travel essentials for anyone surfing in New Zealand
- Currency: New Zealand dollar (NZD)
- Population: 4.8 million
- Capital: Wellington
- Language: English, Māori
Where exactly is New Zealand
If you’ve got anything to add to this ultimate guide to surfing New Zealand, then we’d sure love to hear it in the comments below! We’re always looking to update and change the information here so it’s in line with what’s currently happening on the islands – otherwise it would hardly be the ultimate guide, eh!?