15 Best beaches to visit in New Zealand – North and south Island

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There’re thousands of miles of coastland offering pristine beaches, clear cool waters and rugged shorelines, so a day trip to some of the best beaches in New Zealand are not far away. 

The North and South Island offer some incredible beaches, each island offering different experiences. We love to relax on a sandy beach, while soaking up the sun, but if you like the water, then there’s plenty of water sports to keep you and your family entertained.  

Whatever you plan to do on your trip to New Zealand, you should include these best beaches in New Zealand to your itinerary.  

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Best beaches in New Zealand 

If you’re visiting the north, south or both islands, you should include at least one of these best beaches into your itinerary. 

Best beaches North Island 

Visiting the north Island, then you really should include a stop at one of these stunning beach locations. 

Some are easy to get to on a day trip from Auckland, while others are off the beaten path, which make them more special, with less crowds. 

Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove is in Hahei on the picturesque Coromandel Peninsula and is 175km from Auckland.

It is easily one of the best beaches in New Zealand because of the natural rock archway that takes centre stage. It is part of the 9km Cathedral Cove Marine Reserve, Te-Whanganui-A-Hei.  

You cannot access the beach with a car and instead have to reach it by foot, boat or kayak.

In the peak season, you will have to park at the Hahei Park and Ride car park and then catch a  $5 return shuttle to the entrance of the walk on Grange Road or walk there in 25-minutes.

However, in low season, you can park at the Grange Road car park, and from there, it will likely take you around 30-45 minutes along a 2.5km path to reach the beach. 

Cathedral Cove New Zealand
Cathedral Cove New Zealand

Remember there are no facilities available at the beach, so you will have to take everything with you, including food and water.

Alternatively, you can take the paved coastal path from Hahei Beach and stop at other fabulous beaches, such as Stingray Beach and Gemstone Bay on the way. This route is perfect if you want to admire the dramatic Coromandel cliffs in all their beauty. 

Finally, you could opt to reach the magical beach by boat or kayak, depending on how adventurous you are feeling.

This journey will allow you to appreciate the beauty of the water and will make your visit memorable. The golden sandy beach is a sensational spot to take some pictures, swim and have a picnic at the beach.  

Contributed by Rachel from Average Lives

Medland’s Beach

Fancy a stunning white sand beach without the crowds?  Then Oruawharo, more commonly known as Medland’s Beach, is the beach for you. 

Aotea Great Barrier Island is a beach goer’s paradise with so many stunning beaches to choose from but Medland’s is definitely a favourite with locals and visitors alike.  

This long stretch of white sandy beach is not only stunning but it is never crowded, there is plenty of room for everyone to spread out and enjoy this piece of paradise. 

Right smack in the middle of the beach is Memory Rock, climb to the top for fantastic views or visit at low tide to swim in the mermaid pool below. 

Some special endangered birds call this beach home including the New Zealand Dotterel and the P?teke (Brown Teal Duck).  This means there are rules about dogs on the beach but they are allowed in certain areas.

Medland's Beach located on the North Island of New Zealand
Medland’s Beach

Medland’s is one of the most frequented surf beaches on the island attracting keen board riders.  Swimming, bathing and beach walks are other popular activities that draw people to this beach. 

Also, when you get hot and thirsty you can wander down to the local brewery, less than a 10-minute walk from the beach.  Be sure to take your own vessel (an empty drink bottle will do).

Aotea Brewing prides itself on sustainable practices and does not sell any beer in single-use bottles. However, they can sell you a reusable vessel if you do not have one.  

If a walk to an incredible lookout interests you then head up the road to the top of Medland’s hill and the start of the Station Rock Track, just 15 minutes one way. 

For a longer walk carry on through to the Kowhai Valley Track, which will lead you back to the south end of Medland’s Beach.  This will take 2-3 hours.

For a night-time activity book an evening with Good Heavens for a dark sky experience that takes place right on Medland’s Beach. 

Aotea Great Barrier Island is one of only two dark sky sanctuaries in Aotearoa and one of only a few in the world. 

Medland's Beach is one of the best beaches in New Zealand
Medland’s Beach

Medland’s is a popular place to stay with several holidays homes to rent, lodges, a DOC campsite and backpackers nearby. 

Getting to Aotea Great Barrier Island is a very scenic thirty-minute flight out of Auckland Airport to Claris Airport.  Medland’s Beach is just a five-minute drive from there. 

Alternatively, there is a much longer four hours and fifteen-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland to Tryphena wharf.  Most who visit come for at least a few days and hire a vehicle to get around the island as there is no public transport.  And let’s be honest, if you are going to make the effort to go to Aotea Great Barrier you are going to want to experience all that this island has to offer.

Contributed by Karllie from Yolo Solo Travel

Hot Water Beach

Hot Water Beach is unique due to the hot spring rising from the ground in the middle of the beach.

It’s a popular place because there’s nothing better than digging your own natural whirlpool! 

You can rent a shovel directly in the Café at the main parking lot. You don’t need to worry to find the hot spring because the beach is usually quite empty – except for the place with the hot spring (all the visitors are usually right there).

It’s important to know that you have to be on the beach at the right time – 2 hours before and 2 hours after the low tide. Tides are changing every day, so check the forecast.

Hot Water Beach
Hot Water Beach

Visiting Hot Water Beach is one of the best things to do in North Island. It‘s also a popular surfing spot (great for advanced surfers).

Surf Rescue operates here. Be sure to swim only in between the Flags because there are some sharp rocks next to the hot spring.

Hot Water Beach is located less than a 10-minute drive from Hahei. The main and nearest car park is paid (4$/ hour), and there are nice facilities – showers, toilets, café, and shovel rental. The only free car park is Middle Car Park, which is a little further away and there are no showers.

Contributed by Adriana from Czech The World

Devonport – Cheltenham Beach

Most visitors pass by one of the best beaches in New Zealand without realizing it. They focus their attention on Auckland or Waiheke, but miss out on beautiful Devonport.

Across the harbour from Auckland, a 15-minute ferry ride away, lies the charming town of Devonport.

Devonport is the epitome of a beach town, with multiple ice cream parlours and sweets shops on the main block. The town is mostly made up of commuters who want to live a simple life by the beach while working in Auckland.

I fell in love with Devonport’s Cheltenham Beach the moment I arrived. It has the same lush white sand beaches of Auckland’s popular Missions Bay without all the people. It’s a quiet escape from the bustling city with ample trees for shade from the country’s incredibly hot summer sun.

Pack a towel, something to read, and some money for a take-away lunch from town to make the most of this gorgeous beach.

Devonport – Cheltenham Beach in New Zealand
Devonport – Cheltenham Beach

Most people come to Cheltenham to relax. You won’t find many surfers or partiers. Instead, people splash around with their kids, hang out with their friends quietly, and watch the sun rise over the looming Rangitoto volcano in the distance.

Devonport is one of the 10 best day trips from Auckland. Use your Auckland transit card to take the ferry across the harbour. Stop for a fresh pastry from Chateaubriant. Wander the charming small town of Devonport, stopping in a used bookstore and some boutique clothing shops. Climb Mount Victoria for stellar views of the Auckland skyline and Ranigtoto. Pick up lunch at Manuka Café and head to Cheltenham Beach to enjoy an afternoon in the sunshine.

Don’t forget to make a pit stop at the free Torpedo Bay Museum for better bathrooms than you’ll find near the beach. Since Cheltenham is a local beach, there aren’t as many facilities for visitors.

Bring your camera to snap some pics of the stunning beach, free from the packs of people you find on other beaches in New Zealand.

Enjoy Cheltenham Beach in Devonport, one of the best beaches in New Zealand and a secret local hot spot.

Contributed by Nina from Nina Out and About

Ocean Beach, Kawhia

You’ll find Ocean Beach four kilometers outside of Kawhia, which is at the end of a road 90 kilometers south of Hamilton on New Zealand’s North Island.   

Kawhia is a small town, but Ocean Beach is vast.  Wide, long, and wild.  

You have to plan to come here, you’re not going to find it by accident, and it’s gloriously empty.  

The beach has a hidden secret.  It has geothermally heated water bubbling up through the sand, which means it’s like Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel, but with loads of space and zero people.  

Want a private hot tub experience on a deserted beach?  Then this is where you need to come.  Visit Ocean Beach at low tide for the hot beach spring experience.

Ocean Beach, Kawhia
Ocean Beach, Kawhia

There is a toilet and shower block at the parking lot of the beach, but the facilities for the beach are in the small town of Kawhia, where you’ll find a camping ground, fish and chip shop, and a small store.  Other than that, enjoy the solitude, the beach, and the landscape here!

Contributed by Sarah from Lets Grow Cook.

90-mile beach

Ninety-mile beach is what looks like an endless stretch of white sand located on the northwest coast of New Zealand’s North Island.

It’s actually “only” 55 miles long (88 kilometers) unlike its deceiving name suggests.

Rumor has it that it was named back in the days when the primary means of transport were horses. It presumably takes a day for a horse to cover 30 miles, and the journey along the beach took 3 days, so it was assumed that the beach was 90 miles long. While the maths of it works, it is more difficult to walk on sand which the early explorers did not account for.

One interesting fact about this beach is that it is officially a public highway, although it is not suitable for anything other than a 4WD vehicle and it is not safe to drive on it at some tides.

The beach was featured in an episode of Top Gear where Jeremy Clarkson drove through it in a Toyota Corolla in a race against an AC45 racing yacht where his car eventually got stuck in a sand-bog.

It’s not uncommon for cars to get stuck or sink in along the beach.

Ninty Mile Beach North Islands New Zealands best beach
Ninty Mile Beach

There are a few ways to get to Ninety-mile beach. Driving from Auckland to the settlement of Ahipara where the beach begins takes about five hours.

Alternatively, there are coach tours and scenic flights from Paihia. 

As it is an unspoiled beach, there aren’t many facilities available. There are toilets at a few campsites nearby, but that is about it, and eateries can be found in nearby towns.

Cape Reinga Lighthouse
Cape Reinga Lighthouse

Apart from the regular beach activities such as sunbathing and swimming, ninety-mile beach is a great place to go surfcasting. As a matter of fact, the beach hosts a fishing competition once a year in late February. During low tides one can dig in the sand looking for tuatua which is a native shellfish. 

Another famous activity is bodyboarding down the giant sand dunes. For the water sports fans, Shipwreck bay offers big, long rides for surfers. And one last treat is taking a sunset walk to Cape Reinga, where the Tasman sea and the Pacific Ocean collide.

In addition to a picturesque lighthouse, there is gnarled pohutukawa tree presumably 800 years old. According to a Maori legend, the spirits of the deceased would leap from the tree into the ocean and return to Hawaiki – their ancestral home.

Contributed by Nora from Go Frame the World

Karekare Beach

The West Coast of Auckland is known for its rugged beauty, with black-sand surf beaches bordered by the forested Waitakere Ranges.

Karekare Beach, in particular, is both stunning and wild. Smooth volcanic sand leads down to crashing waves, the shallow water reflecting the sky and the clouds.

Panatahi Island, little more than a craggy rock, juts out of the sea, adding to the drama of the landscape.

Karekare Beach was the setting for The Piano and is both lovely and remote, with relatively few visitors even in the height of summer.

There’s no public transport to the beach, so be prepared to drive the 45 minutes from Auckland city.

Visiting Karekare makes a wonderful day trip from Auckland, just bring a picnic, swimsuit and comfortable walking shoes.

Karekare Beach New Zealand
Karekare Beach New Zealand

Start your day with a walk through the stunning Waitakere Ranges. Karekare Falls is only about a 15-minute walk from the beach, and the pool beneath is a great spot for a refreshing swim or picnic.

If you want something a bit more energetic, take the route over the Zion Hill. The track is shady and goes through the bush, occasionally opening with stunning views of the coastline.

From this track, you can walk all the way to Piha, a neighbouring black sand beach. The full circuit takes about three hours.

After your walk, have lunch near the waterfall in the shade, as the beach gets very hot in the sun. Then head to Karekare for beautiful views and a swim or surf.

Be careful at this beach as the currents are strong and be sure to swim between the flags at all times. If you’re still there at sunset, you’re in for a treat. The setting sun reflecting from the black sand is truly spectacular. 

Contributed by Roxanne from Faraway Worlds

Piha Beach

Located just 50 minutes (40 km) away from Auckland, is one of New Zealand’s beautiful black sand beaches. If you’re looking for a relaxing day trip from Auckland, Piha Beach is the perfect spot and it fits into any North Island itinerary.

On each side of the beach are large cliffs, which are popular spots for gannet birds to nest each year. You can see them from August to March.

Piha Beach is one of the best beaches in New Zealand
Piha Beach

Piha Beach is also a popular surfing destination and visitors can take lessons at Piha Surf School or Piha Surf Academy.

In the summer, the waters are patrolled and there are areas flagged for swimmers. Be careful as the water has strong, dangerous currents.

One of the most unique parts of this black sand beach is the surrounding hills where you can hike to local waterfalls like Kitekite Falls.

Piha Beach, South Island New Zealand
Piha Beach

Grab some lunch at Murray Piha, a Mexican food truck and restaurant. They also have ice cream, perfect for a warm beach day.

For a budget option, bring your own picnic to the beach and enjoy a little rest on the black sand.

Contributed by Alanna from Periodic Adventures

Best beaches South Island 

Heading to the South Island of New Zealand, then include these best beaches to your New Zealand itinerary. 

Waipati Beach and Cathedral Caves

Located in the Catlins regions of the South Island, the Waipati beach is a stunning stretch of coast line. The seemingly endless beach is also home to the Cathedral Caves which can be found at the northern end.

The Cathedral Caves are an amazing sight, the natural formed sea caves that are almost 200 meters long and 30 meters high and can only be accessed at low tide, as they fill with water when the tide is high.

Cathedral Caves
Waipeti Beach and Cathedral Caves

We were visiting the Catlins as part of our South Island Itinerary and didn’t want to leave without seeing Waipati beach and the Cathedral Caves, so we arrived just at the start of low tide.

A few big waves chased us into the caves a few times but it made it all the more fun. We were also there first thing in the morning which meant we had the beach to ourselves.

To find the Waipati beach you’ll need to follow the Chaslands highway. Waipati Beach is located about 2 hours south of Dunedin and 1 hour 20 minutes from Invercargill.

As you approach you’ll see the signs for the carpark. The whole area is a reserve and is managed by local land owners. It’ll cost you $5 to park and there are toilets in the carpark but no facilities on the beach itself.

Once you’ve paid, simply stroll through the beautiful forest and within about 20 minutes you’ll be on the beach. It’s another 10 minutes along the beach before you reach the caves.

We’ve read reports of sandflies and suggestions of long pants but we didn’t find that to be the case. 

Waipati Beach and Cathedral Caves in New Zealand's South Island
Waipati Beach and Cathedral Caves

The Waipai Beach and Cathedral Cave walks are only open from late October to May due to the tides.

I’d recommend taking a thermos and some food and spending some time on the beach. Its so long you’ll be able to find a place to relax and enjoy the peace and quiet.

Contributed by Christine from Travellers With Time

Moeraki Boulders Beach

The Moeraki boulders beach is most famous for the unique geological formation on the beach. But it is also a beautiful black sand beach for the whole family.

The beach is a stop on the drive between Moeraki and Hampden along the Otago coast of New Zealand. The drive in itself is gorgeous. 

Large spherical boulders quietly lie on the Koekohe Beach. The boulders appear on photo galleries of New Zealand for their beauty and uniqueness. They occur naturally along the beach due to wave action on local bedrock and mudstone.

Over millions of years, waves have carved the giant balls on the beach, some isolated and others in clusters. They make a fun playground for kids and adults. Think of it as a natural play structure on a beach. But, locals have many legends and folklore that stories of the boulders.

Moeraki Boulders Beach New Zealand
Moeraki Boulders Beach New Zealand

The café up on the cliff from the beach offers good food and coffee. You can visit the beach for a quick 15 minute photo stop, a couple hour lunch, coffee or play stop or a day at the beach. It’s a unique geological formation to be enjoyed. 

Contributed by Jyoti from Story At Every Corner

Sumner Beach, Christchurch

One of the best things to do in Christchurch is to hit the beach and Sumner Beach is perfect for everyone. 

In the height of summer when it often peaks at 30C, locals and visitors alike will flock to Christchurch’s long coastline.  But even when its busy, there is plenty of room for everyone.

Experienced surfers will want to head to the southern end of the beach to catch some waves, or if the weather isn’t quite right, can head just 15 minutes over the hill to the popular Taylors Mistake surf spot.

Beginners to surfing can hire a surfboard and get surf lessons in the summer.  Kids lessons run after school during the week as well as during the weekends.  You can also have one on one coaching if you require it.

Sumner Beach, Christchurch is one of the best beaches in New Zealand
Sumner Beach, Christchurch

One of the most beautiful parts of Sumner Beach is its long promenade that runs from one end to the other.  Perfect for those who love a stroll without getting sandy feet, and its popular for those with scooters and bikes.

At the southern end of the beach is a lovely cafe with the all important kiwi favourite, hand rolled ice cream. 

It’s also a popular spot with the youngsters as it is home to a brand new playground and splash pad.  Great for toddlers who get a bit cold in the sea. 

Christchurch water temperatures can be a little fresh.

If you are basing yourself in Sumner for the day, you may also want to head over to Godley Head at Taylors Mistake.  There’s a beautiful 10km coastal walk that is just stunning on a fine day.

Contributed by Jennifer Parkes from Backyard Travel Family: Active Family Travel Specialists in New Zealand

Curio Bay/Porpoise Bay

Curio Bay/Porpoise Bay in The Catlins is well known for its stunning sea cliffs and 180 million year old petrified forest on the beach.

While this is already plenty to make your trip worthwhile, even more impressive is the extremely rare wildlife you can find here.

Curio Bay is a breeding spot for Yellow-eyed penguins, the rarest penguin species in the world. If you head to the Petrified Forest around dusk in summer (December to February) and sit very still, there is a really good chance that a couple of these cute feathered friends come waddling out of the ocean.

Once they’re out they’ll stand on a rock to let their feathers dry before heading to their nest, which is when you can get a good look at them.

This is not all though, because on the other side of the cliffs in Porpoise Bay, swim Hector’s dolphins.

These are the smallest and rarest dolphin species in the world, and they are super playful!

Porpoise Bay beach is a beautiful wide half-moon shaped sandy beach, great for sunbathing on a sunny and wind still day, but you’ll want to get into the water.

If you’re a surfer you’re in for a treat, because the surf in Porpoise Bay is great, and the dolphins will surf right alongside you!

If you’re not a surfer there is still fun to be had. Squeeze yourself into a wetsuit because the water is really cold, and either just swim into the bay or rent a paddleboard from the surf shop on site.

Once you’re in the water the dolphins will almost certainly come over to say hi and show off some jumps and backflips out of the waves.

When you decide to get into the water do remember that even though dolphins are very friendly and playful, they are still wild animals. Never chase them but instead let them come to you, and never touch them when they do. This will ensure that they’ll feel safe and that they won’t flee their natural habitat. Abide by these rules, and your visit to Curio Bay/Porpoise Bay will be an incredible experience you’ll never forget!

Contributed by Tom & Zi from Craving Adventure

Allans Beach on Otago Peninsula

Located on the fabulous Otago Peninsula on the South Island, Allans Beach is a real New Zealand gem.

Come here to enjoy the glorious white sand beach and fabulous clear blue waters of the South Pacific Ocean. You can find this gorgeous 1.9km stretch of beach just outside of the city of Dunedin, which makes it one of the must-do things during your Dunedin city break.

Allans Beach is a great place for a lazy day on the beach. Go for a relaxing walk along the picturesque coastline or take a refreshing dive in the water. Just be mindful of possible strong winds and currents which make it dangerous to swim out here.

Allans Beach on Otago Peninsula - South Island
Allans Beach on Otago Peninsula – South Island

Due to its favourable conditions, this is a great surfing destination nearly all year round. Otherwise, Allans Beach is a quiet and secluded beach.

Aside from the amazing wildlife, that is, the beach is often frequented by fur seals and penguins. And if you don’t mind sharing the beach with basking sea lions, then this is just the place for you!

The best way to get to Allans Beach is by car. It’s only a 30-minute drive from Dunedin city centre. Take either Portobello Road or Highcliff Road to Portobello. Turn right onto Allans Beach Road and follow the road until you reach the car park at the end. From there it’s only a 5-minute walk onto the beach.

Contributed by Zarina from Miss Travel Clogs

Tunnel Beach

South of Dunedin you’ll find a unique spot called Tunnel Beach. During the 1870s a man named John Cargill wanted a private beach for his family so he blasted a tunnel through a cliff and added some stairs to access this beach.

If you have your own car then you can drive to the parking area off of Tunnel Beach Road. However, you can also take the local bus to Corstorphine and walk from there.

The walk from the parking area takes about 20 minutes to arrive at the beach. The walk from the bus stop to the trailhead is 30 minutes so it would take 50 minutes total one-way.

The beach is rather small and nestled below towering cliffs. You’ll want to be sure and visit during low tide and this is not the best place for swimming as the rip currents are strong.

You won’t find any facilities here but what you will see is the most amazing sunrise.

This beach has been named the most romantic spot in Dunedin so come here for beautiful views of the rocky coastline and tranquil sunrises. This is one thing you must do in Dunedin.

This is a great spot for an easy walk and you can explore the caves and search for fossils in the cliff walls. Do make sure and check the tides before you venture into the caves.

Contributed by Mikaela of Voyageur Tripper

Coquille Bay

If you are looking for a beach with golden sand, turquoise waters, and lush surroundings, then look no further than Coquille Bay.

Coquille Bay is one of several beaches making up the spectacular Abel Tasman National Park coastline of New Zealand’s South Island, and it is truly a gem.

As it is located inside a national park, visitors cannot simply drive up to Coquille Bay. So there are a few different ways to reach this lovely, little beach.

The simplest way is to drive or shuttle to the closest town of M?rahau and walk about forty-five minutes along the stunning Abel Tasman Coastal Track. The more-adventurous option is to rent a kayak and row up the coastline from M?rahau Coquille Bay.

Either way, you will be enjoying a bit of a workout before reaching Coquille Bay!

Coquille Bay New Zealand
Coquille Bay New Zealand

Once at Coquille Bay, you might be lucky to have the beach to yourself, as it is one of the smaller bays in the national park.

There is not much to do at Coquille Bay besides enjoy the surrounding nature, so bring a book or similar entertainment if you do not plan to hike and kayak around Abel Tasman’s gorgeous beaches all day.

Coquille Bay has facilities such as non-flush toilets and untreated tap water, but be sure to pack enough food and drink before departing from M?rahau.

You will not find any food or drinkable water in the park!

If you are interested in camping overnight at Coquille Bay and watching the next morning’s sunrise, there are six tent sites available, which you must book in advance online for NZ$15 per adult per night.

Contributed by Em from That Travelista

What to pack for a day trip to the beach 

When the weather is glorious the first thing we think about, is taking a day trip down to the seaside.  

New Zealand beaches are the ideal location for a family day out, solo traveller to relax on a sandy beach, or a couple of friends having some fun and games beside the seaside.  

If you’re looking for fun and games at the beach, don’t forget to pack your surf board, some beach games and these essential things to pack for a trip to the beach.  

Best time to visit a New Zealand beach 

New Zealand is located in the southern hemisphere, so the seasons are opposite to the northern hemisphere.  

While the northern hemisphere might enjoy the hot summer between June to August, it is New Zealand’s cold winter.  

While December to February is New Zealand’s summer, making this the perfect time to visit.  

It can get a bit busy during the summer months, so you may wish to travel to New Zealand during the spring and autumn, where conditions will be far cooler, with less crowds.  

Looking for road trip ideas while visiting some of these incredible beaches in the South Island of New Zealand, we would recommend a road trip from Christchurch to Queenstown.


So, there we have it, some of the best beaches in New Zealand, from the North Island all the way down to the South Island.  

I missed out on so many of these beautiful beaches, when I spent a couple of days in Auckland and wished I had explored more.  

As you plan your holidays, or staycation, you should include a stop at these awesome beaches in New Zealand, you won’t be disappointed.  

What was the best beach you visited? Is there a beach that you visited but wasn’t mentioned? Maybe you have always wanted to visit a specific beach in New Zealand but not yet got there? Tell us about it, by leaving a comment below. 

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