The Ultimate Guide to Surfing New Zealand

by Asia Kaczmarczyk

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

The good:

  • Remote locations and stunning places.
  • Shark attacks uber-rare compared to Oz.
  • The left-hand point breaks might be the best in the world.

The bad:

  • Unpredictable conditions.
  • Long drives to some breaks.
  • Cost of travel.

What will I find in this guide to surfing New Zealand

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

North Island

Raglan

waves in Raglan

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.

Read our ultimate guide to Raglan surf right now!

The Coromandel Peninsula

Coromandel

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.

Shipwreck Bay

Northland New Zealand

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.

Auckland

Auckland surf guide

Traveling to the buzzing metropolis of Auckland? You’re going to be within striking distance of some of North Island’s finest surf country. Choices abound, with the Northland coast on the Pacific and the Tasman Sea coast to the west. You can even find some surf spots within Auckland city limits!

Read all about the surfing in Auckland right now

Mount Maunganui

Mount Maunganui main beach thumb

Mount Maunganui is among the most popular surf towns in all of New Zealand. It’s blessed with uber-reliable Pacific swell on the top of the Bay of Plenty. It’s also really accessible, with breaks for all levels right in front of the beach-fringed resort town.

Read all about it in our ultimate guide to surfing in Mount Maunganui

Lyall Bay

Lyall Bay

Lyall Bay is the epicentre of surf culture in the New Zealand capital of Wellington. It’s got a south orientation right by the city’s main airport. That means most of the swell comes from the Pacific, but you can also ride other nearby spots like Houghton when things are better on the Tasman Sea. Always busy but great vibes in the water. Lots of peaks to go around.

Check out our complete guide to surfing in Lyall Bay

Piha

Surfing on Piha Beach

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.

Read our full guide to the surf in Piha right now

Lyall Bay

Lyall Bay

Lyall Bay is the epicentre of surf culture in the New Zealand capital of Wellington. It’s got a south orientation right by the city’s main airport. That means most of the swell comes from the Pacific, but you can also ride other nearby spots like Houghton when things are better on the Tasman Sea. Always busy but great vibes in the water. Lots of peaks to go around.

Check out our complete guide to surfing in Lyall Bay

South Island

Christchurch

Christchurch

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.

We’ve got a complete guide to the surf in Christchurch, from north to south

Kaikoura

Kaikoura waves and mountains New Zealand

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.

Read our ultimate guide to Kaikoura surf right now!

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.

NZ is notorious for its UV exposure. We ALWAYS pack a top-rated sunscreen for paddling out Down Under. Check out our guide to the five best on the market right now to get what you’re after – AKA a block with zinc oxide that’s okay for both your skin and the ocean!

Summer (December-March)

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.

summer wetsuit

Winter (May-September)

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.

winter wetsuit 5 3
Kaikoura surfer

Top things to do in New Zealand when you’re not surfing

New Zealand is one downright awesome country. Whittled by mighty mountains and fluted with fjords, the South Islands is considered the wilder of the two. But you still get smoking volcanos and sulphur lakes up north. Basically, we LOVE it here and we reckon you will too, even on days when the waves aren’t pumping…

Milford Sound

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.

Milford Sound

Mount Cook

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.

Mount Cook

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!

Franz Joseph

Travel essentials for anyone surfing in New Zealand

Quick facts

  • 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!?

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