New Zealand probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think about beaches, but with vast stretches of coastline covering two very different islands you’re bound to visit some on your next trip. Where are the best New Zealand beaches? You’ll have to keep reading to find out! It’s important to note I haven’t been to every beach in New Zealand (and I haven’t been down the east coast of the North Island at all), but I reckon if you see all (or some) of the beaches below you’ll be more than satisfied.
Best New Zealand Beaches
The following are your classic white sand / clear blue water type beaches. The kind of beaches you’d typically find in more tropical parts of the world.
This beach in the Coromandel area is a local favourite over the summer holiday period, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a long beach with white sand and clear blue water, and there are heaps of different little spots where you can get some peace.
One of the most famous New Zealand beaches, Mount Maunganui is a great place to go for a hike and a relaxing time at the beach. The hike up the hill is the obvious highlight, but at beach level you’ll find plenty of bars and cafes and a massive stretch of beach ideal for surfing and swimming.
If you’re looking for some of the most tropical looking water in New Zealand, you can’t look past Matapouri Bay (and nearby Whale Bay). This beach in Northland has it all, including various small coves and bays, and a big rock you can climb for an awesome view.
A short walk around the coast from Matapouri Bay brings you to Whale Bay, my favourite beach in New Zealand. The water is calm and clear, and the beach is backed by thick forest. If you combine Whale Bay and Matapouri Bay you have, in my opinion, the best beach destination in New Zealand. And it’s only three hours from Auckland!
Palm beach is, in my opinion, the best beach on Waiheke Island. This island sits in the Hauraki Gulf and is a short ferry ride from downtown Auckland. The best part about this beach is the track which connects Palm Beach and Little Palm Beach — coastal views in New Zealand don’t get much better!
This beach, on Urupukapuka Island (the easiest island to visit in the Bay of Islands) is in a sheltered bay and is one of the most picturesque beaches in New Zealand. You can get a great view of it from the hill above the beach, as well as 360-degree views of various islands and coves.
Located on the Karikari Peninsula in Northland, Matai Bay (and nearby Waikato Bay) is a beautiful crescent-shaped, white sand beach. It’s a good place to visit when making your way up the coast towards Cape Reinga. There’s a camping ground there too and it seems like the perfect place to spend a night.
Anchor Bay is around an hour north of Auckland (more in traffic) and attracts big crowds in summer. You can see why though — the beach is awesome and there are some great viewpoints to explore. There are a few different sections of beach at Anchor Bay and the area is a protected reserve, meaning you’ll likely spot some native New Zealand birds.
New Chums Beach
My favourite part about New Chums Beach is the viewpoint above the beach. The track up there is a bit treacherous in parts, but you can’t argue with that view! The beach is great once you get down to it as well. New Chums Beach grabbed quite a lot of attention a year or so ago and is now known as one of the best beaches in New Zealand – the fact that you have to walk there seems to keep the crowds down a bit though.
One of the most popular beaches in New Zealand (and one of the more crowded that I’ve visited), Cathedral Cove more than deserves its reputation. The beach is accessed by a short walking track with some nice ocean views. The main appeal is obviously the “cathedral” like cave that you can walk through. The beach itself is pretty too though and it’d probably still be on this list without the cave.
Tautuku Bay is my favourite beach in the Catlins, a glistening stretch of coastline between Dunedin and Invercargill. The best thing about Tautuku Bay is the view you get from the car park above it (Florence Hill Lookout) but it’s great at beach-level too.
The rugged green headlands at Cannibal Bay are pretty scenic, but throw in some white sand and calm blue water and you have on of New Zealand’s best beaches. You can also walk across to Surat Bay, another good beach in the Catlins. Keep a look out for sea lions!
There are so many stunning beaches in Abel Tasman National Park and everyone that’s been there seems to have their own favourite. I really enjoyed Goat Bay – the sand was so white and the water so blue that I felt like I could have been somewhere like Thailand or Indonesia.
Anchorage Bay is another pristine beach in Abel Tasman National Park. There is a bit more infrastructure at Anchorage Bay than most beaches along the coastal track and this is a great option if you want to have a day out in the national park as you can take a water taxi there and walk to some of the beaches either side of it.
St Clair Beach
St Clair Beach (which becomes St Kilda Beach about half way along its length) is my favourite city beach in New Zealand. It’s only around 5-10 minutes’ drive from the centre of Dunedin and there is so much to see and do there. It’s great for surfing, there are a few cafes, bars and restaurants at the St Clair end and the whole thing is backed by sand dunes, which you can climb up and relax with an incredible view.
Since I was born (and raised ‘til I was 10) in Timaru I thought I’d better add this to the list of the best New Zealand beaches. Caroline Bay is pretty much right in the middle of town and it’s backed by a big network of tracks, parks and gardens. During the summer there’s also a carnival, making this one of the best beaches to visit at night in New Zealand!
Scenic New Zealand Beaches
These beaches all have some kind of scenic beauty, whether it be some interesting rock formations or stunning views.
Koekohe Beach (Moeraki Boulders)
While Koekohe Beach is nice enough on its own, the reason it’s on this list is the group of spherical boulders located there. The scene looks quite different depending on the tide, and it’s best seen at sunrise (and who really wants to get up for a sunrise?), but it’s an interesting place to see at any time.
Wharariki Beach, in the Golden Bay region of the South Island, is most well known for its rock islands sitting just off the beach. The beach itself is good too and the whole area, including the 20-minute walk to get there, is pretty idyllic.
This rough, stony beach in the West Coast region of the South Island is best seen at sunset. Looking out to see is nice, but turn around and you’ll see the snow-capped Southern Alps receiving their last rays of sunlight. There’s also a DOC camping ground there and it’s a good place to spend the night.
Another rough, stony beach (this time on the east coast of the South Island), Kaikoura Beach is on this list for the mountain views. It’s not often you see snow-capped mountains this close to the coast! The beach is right in front of town and there’s a good viewpoint at the southern end of town.
This is my favourite beach in Christchurch and is also the start of one of the best coastal hikes in New Zealand (Taylor’s Mistake to Godley Head). The black sand and green, suburban surrounds makes this a nice beach to visit, and it’s best seen from the start of the track heading to Godley Head. Other beaches in Christchurch include Sumner Beach and Brighton Beach, but they didn’t quite make my list!
This black sand beach in North Canterbury is probably the most off the beaten path beach on this list. We were the only souls in sight when we visited, and the view looking down at the beach as you drive down the gravel road is the main reason I’ve included it.
This beach in Nelson doesn’t look like much until you see it from above. It’s a little causeway thing leading to Peppin Island, and the surrounding scenery is pretty awesome. You can see this view from the Cable Bay Walkway — just walk up the hill from the beach if you don’t want to walk the whole thing.
Piha Beach, on the wild west coast of Auckland, is a popular beach for surfing. It’s also a great place for a stroll — hike up Lion Rock for awesome views or visit one of the nearby waterfalls.
New Zealand Lake Beaches
Lakes have beaches too! Here are some of my favourite lake beaches in New Zealand.
The first of our lake beaches on this list is in the Kai Iwi Lakes area of Northland. The main beach / camping area is Pine Beach, a narrow stretch of sand opening out to some of the clearest water in New Zealand. It’s relatively shallow for much of the way out, making it an ideal place to swim (a good place for kids too).
Right in the heart of Queenstown, Queenstown Bay is the focal point for this holiday giant (at least when the weather is good). There are plenty of places to sit, there’s always a buzz of activity and the water is especially pretty. I highly recommend grabbing some takeaways from Fergburger (surely New Zealand’s best burger joint) and eating at the beach at least once on your trip to Queenstown.
Another beach in Queenstown (or just outside Queenstown), Bob’s Cove not only features an awesome lake beach but also a viewpoint above it which also looks out over Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains.
There’s pretty much only a camping ground at Glendhu Bay and it’s a very relaxing place outside of the busy Christmas / New Year period. Glendhu Bay features some of the most inviting lake water you’ll in New Zealand and the scenery around Wanaka makes for a great backdrop.
I could easily add another 10 or 20 beaches to this post but I guess it has to end somewhere! Some other nice New Zealand beaches include Curio Bay (The Catlins), Hot Water Beach (Coromandel), Allans Beach (Dunedin), Ngarunui Beach (Raglan), Oriental Bay (Wellington), Tumbledown Bay (Banks Peninsula).
What are you favourite New Zealand beaches? Let me know in the comments below!
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