The Ultimate Guide to Piha Surf

by Rich Francis

The Piha surf is easily accessible from Auckland and offers some of the most iconic breaks in all of NZ. It’s beach breaks all around with good power, set beneath the lush Waitakere Ranges.

Piha surf

Piha surf at a glance

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The good

  • Punchy beach breaks
  • Gorgeous setting to surf!
  • Lefts and rights
  • Works for all levels

The bad

  • Gets busy in the summer
  • Parking can be a problem
  • Rips

This is just one part of our full guide to surfing in New Zealand

What’s in this guide to Piha surf?

An introduction to the Piha surf

Piha is the surfing playground for the Auckland crowd. It’s a stunning 45-minute drive through the lush Waitakere Ranges from the main city of North Island to the beach itself. If you’re thinking crowds, you’re right – Piha is one of the busiest spots in the country, although we always think the lineup in nearby Raglan is bigger. However, there are a couple of peaks that let you spread out, and the waves are generally of great quality.

The Piha surf is split into two by the huge stack of volcanic stone that is Lion Rock. You won’t be able to miss that. It looms high above the dusky sand in the very middle of the bay. The waves to the south of it are more accessible and more popular. They’re A-frames at anything over 5 foot with rips in the channels to make it easy to get out back. The north end of the bay picks up more power so its the place to search for Piha surf when the swell is low.

Piha is a small (tiny!) town and the beach itself is cut-off from civilisation beneath high mountains and ancient rainforests. It’s a breathtaking – like, seriously! – place to surf, with visions of the raw Tasman Sea coast unfolding before you. We’d recommend staying in Auckland to avoid inflated prices in the more local surf camps, although there are a few of those that are simply sick.

Where is Piha?

You’ll find the Piha surf on the western edge of the Auckland Region. The forest-topped Waitakere Ranges separate the bay from the main city of North Island, with beautiful roads that wiggle through the peaks to connect the two (have the camera ready for the drive, and be ready to stop!). Ragland, one of the other hotspots for NZ surf is about 2.5 hours’ drive to the south. The Northland region is further up the island, where there’s more surf in the area of Auckland.

A guide to the Piha surf spots

The famous Piha surf spots are centered on Piha Beach itself. You can roughly divide them into the ones to the north of Lion Rock and the ones to the South. We’ve done that below so you can check out how the waves change in character up and down the sand. We’ve also listed a few of the breaks close by, which often give a good alternative and pick up different swell directions that Piha itself…

White’s Beach

Whites Beach

One bay north of Piha is White’s Beach. Lesser known so doesn’t get the same crowds as its uber-famous neighbour, but still a class act. Pretty punchy, short rides that can get fast when there’s a SW swell. Try to catch it without wind (sometimes a big ask) and you’ll enjoy nice, wally lefts and rights off the peak.

North Piha

North Piha

North Piha bends the beach a little more north-westerly. That means it’s a bit of a magnet for any swells coming off the Southern Ocean and so the waves here are often working, even when it’s flat further south. It’s pretty much the same story as the rest of the beach in terms of wave. You looking at punchy peaks with left and right directions. Some of the best waves are around the rip by the stream, but be careful when it’s larger. High tide and big swells can create some dumpy shore slabs, so leave it to more seasoned surfers when things are creeping overhead.

South Piha

South Piha

The peaks of South Piha tend to be a little more wedgy than up north. Both left and right come off the A-frame lips and there are some fast drops into a rippable shoulder if you can time your sessions to match with the Piha surf report. South Piha beach actually has a more direct westerly orientation. That tempers the dominant SW swell from the Southern Ocean just a little. The result is that waves here are often a tad smaller and more sheltered, so it’s better on bigger days. Look for the reliable left that comes off the headland at the south (it’s known as Camel Rock). Also, try to use those channel rips to get out past the breaks – they’re handy but can also be rippy when it’s strong.

Karekare

Karekare Beach

Another beach break with typically peaky waves courtesy of the W channels on the Tasman Sea and the SW groundswells off the Southern Ocean, Karekare is probably a more intermediate and up spot. That’s because it can get hollow here on larger days with fast rides with the potential for tubes. It’s sand bottom but there are a few rocks. Karekare is home to one of the best-known Piha surf school and surf clubs.

Where to stay when surfing in Piha

You’ve got a choice when it comes to hitting the Piha surf. You could either base yourself in Auckland where there’s plenty of accommodation and make the 45-min drive over whenever you want to get in the water. Or, you could stay in Piha itself. There’s certainly less range on offer in the town and it will be WAY quieter than over in the city. But…you do get to taste the remote wilds of North Island and wake to the sound of the roaring Tasman Sea. That’s priceless stuff if you ask us. Here are some recommendations:

Surfer’s Sunshine Cottage ($$)

Surfer’s Sunshine Cottage is a mere 750 yards from Piha Beach, so you’ll be able to stroll to the breaks as soon as you wake and dodge any lineups coming in from Auckland. It’s a charming little cabin-style stay that’s uber-cosy inside and has a big deck overlooking the forest. Enough space for up to five guests at any time.

Romantic Piha ($$$)

Romantic Piha is a deluxe and damn gorgeous lodge in the wooded hills above Piha Beach. It’s got 5-star suites with balconies that jut over the canopy to offer sweeping views of the coast. Cosy, classy and a stay you’ll never forget!

Piha Tiny House ($$)

A small footprint for a truly unique stay – welcome to the Piha Tiny House. In a clearing between the coast forests and salt-washed cliffs, you get this wooden cabin with a double bed and kitchenette. It’s perfect for a romantic stay surfing with your other half.

When to surf in Piha

Piha is a pretty reliable break all year round. The summer is always smaller but the orientation means there’s decent swells coming SW and W much of the time. Winter is better for intermediates and up.

Piha surf beach

Summer (December-March)

Piha’s reliability comes from its place on the western side of North Island. That’s where the land makes connection with the Tasman Sea, which can actually offer some pretty decent swell come the calmer summer months. They’re the same westerlies that power up Raglan, and it means decent days down on Piha South and North. Generally, though, summer is more chilled on the waves, with good conditions for the folk hitting the Piha surf school and other surf schools coming in from Auckland.

Wear: 3/2

Autumn (April & May)

Probably our fav time to surf Piha. The beach enjoys a whopping 85% swell consistency at this time of year. Moreover, crowds coming in from Auckland drop considerably. The winter SW and W groundswells give nice, long waves most days and you should find the lefts off Camel Rock working quite well. It’s just lush to be here at this time.

Wear: 4/3

Winter (June-August)

Storms can go pretty crazy all down the Tasman Sea coast of the North Island from June onwards. They’re not as bad as, say, Punakiki in the South Island, but they do give some serious punch to the peaks of Piha, which will be occasionally blown out or close out completely. We’d say the main hazard in winter is the rip, though. The beaches around Piha and the Piha surf beach itself get really towy when it’s going off.

Wear: 4/3

Spring (September & October)

Spring’s another good balance between stronger, bigger waves and the more relaxed swells of summertime. There’s actually a big difference between the Piha surf report in September to the Piha surf report in October. It’s a transition time, going from overheads with big rips to chest-high swells that are fantastic for learning. On top of that, watch out for increased rainfall and onshore winds.

Wear: 4/3 or 3/2

Surf shops in Piha

You can always stock up on essentials in Auckland before you drive over to Piha. If not, check out the smattering of lovely little local surf shops in this pretty North Island beach town.

Lion Rock Surf Shop

Lion Rock Surf Shop sits on the main street on the way to Piha Beach, inside Piha town itself. It’s one of the closest shops to the breaks and stocks pretty much all you could need – surfboard rentals, shaped boarsd, pop-outs, wetsuits, wax.

Piha Surf Shop

Piha Surf Shop is precisely the sort of ramshackle surf shack we love to find on our travels. Run out of a local’s garage, it’s home to racks of second-hand board and there’s a chatty owner who’s like an encyclopedia* when it comes to the Piha surf (*much better than this guide).

Best places to eat in Piha

Piha is real small. There’s space for a group of cottages and some surf shops (see above), along with just a couple eateries. Two of those are absolute bangers for us, and we love heading in whenever we’re over for the waves…

Piha Cafe

One of our favourite joints in the whole town, Piha Cafe is a cool little coffee stop off in a timber-lined shack close to the beach. It’s lovely inside, with a touch of the hipster kitchen about it. Menu has great brews, pizza slices, panini sandwiches and more.

Murray Piha

Don’t miss Murray Piha. A surf shack that’s worthy of Venice Beach in LA, it’s got some serious style. The fish tacos make the headlines, but it’s the chilled vibe and the location right by the sand that we think makes it such a corker!

Things to do when you’re not surfing in Piha

One of the most awesome things about choosing to go surfing in Piha is the region. Paddling out here means paddling out under some of North Island’s wildest peaks. It’s sort of like in Kaikoura, where the mountains are real close and there’s plenty of other adventure to have:

Waitakere Ranges

Waitakere Ranges

There are all sorts of hikes to get stuck into in the Waitakere Ranges. Best of all, some of the corkers are in the area of Piha Beach itself. We particularly love the Tasman Lookout Walk that takes you to a vista overlooking the beach itself. Those with more time will want to be sure to add the Kitekite Falls to thier list.

How to get to Piha

  • Fly: Auckland Airport is the gateway to the whole of the Auckland Region. It’s the main place to touchdown in the vicinity of Piha. The drive straight in from the terminals is pretty easy – takes around 50 minutes or so.
  • Drive: We’re going to go right ahead and assume you’re driving in from Auckland. Most people do that. Thankfully, the trip isn’t only easy peasy – it’s super pretty. Just head south west out of town on the Piha Road. It’ll take you the whole way there through wild vistas of Waitakere Ranges.

Travel insurance for trips to New Zealand and Piha

Piha is a fantastic place to head on your NZ surf trip, no doubt. With its wild waves and beautiful mountain setting, it’s sure to impress anyone. It’s good idea to have travel insurance in case something goes wrong on your surf trip. We’ve often used World Nomads. Their policies cover a range of adventure sports and activities. You can read more about their cover for surf right here.

All of the information provided about travel insurance is a brief summary only. It does not include all terms, conditions, limitations, exclusions and termination provisions of the travel insurance plans described. Coverage may not be available for residents of all countries, states or provinces. Please carefully read your policy wording for a full description of coverage.


We might use affiliate links in this post. Basically, you click em’ and we get a little something from your booking or purchase. They help us keep offering more and more in-depth surf guides to awesome places all around the globe. So, thanks for that!

This is just one part of our larger guide to surfing in NZ

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