Australia & New Zealand | Destination Guides

New Zealand is more than mountains and Mordor, as these 12 beaches prove

Recently updated on September 28th, 2023 at 10:40 am

New Zealand has got it all. It’s a legendary film hub, famed for its Lord of the Rings filming locations. It’s a foodie haven with some of the world’s best beef, seafood, cheese and wine. It has a rich cultural heritage with the indigenous Māori, and it’s a scenic wonderland with gems like the snowy Southern Alps, the fairytale Fiordland and Milford Sound, and the dazzling Franz Josef glacier. But did you know New Zealand‘s beaches are also world-class?

With strips of soft white sand, turquoise water, and incredible marine life, you can add tropical paradise to New Zealand’s list of accolades, too. And since the country’s summer falls from December to February, it’s the perfect place to escape the chilly Northern Hemisphere winter. To help inspire your winter sun vacation, we’ve scoured 15,000km of coastline to find 12 of New Zealand’s best beaches. 

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For other winter sun hotspots, check out our Seasonal Travel Sale – and save up to 10% off selected tours in autumn, winter and spring

1. Abel Tasman National Park, Nelson Tasman, South Island

New Zealand’s Abel Tasman National Park has so many beautiful beaches, it’s impossible to choose just one. If you’re looking for the famous golden sands, lush forest, and beachside camping, head to Anchorage Bay. It’s also close to the enchanting Cleopatra’s Pool. If you want to swim in crystal turquoise waters, stop by Torrent Bay. If you want to kayak and camp on the water’s edge, Observation Beach is for you. Totaranui Beach is another spectacular gem with clear waters and golden sands fringed by the native bush. It’s a great spot for swimming, kayaking or fishing, plus there’s a nearby campground. 

There’s also the pristine Awaroa Beach, which is so beloved, it was purchased in a crowd-funding campaign in 2016. Around 40,000 Kiwis came together to buy the beach for more than $2 million and donated it to the Department of Conservation. The beach is a 90-minute boat ride from Kaiteriteri or a five-mile hike from Onetahuti or Totaranui, but it’s worth it to experience this protected slice of paradise.

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2. Wharariki Beach, Nelson Tasman, South Island

The rugged and remote Wharariki Beach is perched at the Western point of Cape Farewell, the northernmost tip of the South Island. To get there, you’ll need to navigate the 20-minute walking track through farmlands from the end of Wharariki Road. Once you arrive, you’ll be rewarded with rolling sand dunes, caves, rockpools and the Archway Islands, a giant trio of arch-shaped rocks. Surrounded by lush green pastures, this is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular beaches in New Zealand. While it’s not a great place to swim, it is ideal for photography (especially at sunrise and sunset), horse riding and spotting wildlife like fur seals. Once you’re satiated, head back into town for a plate of local seafood and Sauvignon Blanc.

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3. Cathedral Cove, Coromandel Peninsula, North Island

With its turquoise waters, golden beaches, chalk-white cliffs, and lush green forest, the Coromandel Peninsula is one of the most extraordinary destinations in New Zealand. There are dozens of beaches and coves to explore here, and Cathedral Cove is the most best. You can access it by boat, kayak or on foot. If you’re walking, you’ll walk the trail at the northern end of Hahei Beach, hiking for an hour along the clifftop, then pass through a cathedral-like arch to reveal two hidden coves. It’s the perfect spot to take a dip in the turquoise water next to the white cliffs, reminiscent of the Greek Islands. Enjoy a picnic on the golden sands or under the shade of the aromatic pohutukawa trees. And don’t forget to take an iconic photo under the giant stone archway!

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4. Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, North Island

Just a ten-minute drive from Cathedral Cove, the famous Hot Water Beach is another unmissable stop. This beach is unique in that when the tide gets low, you can dig out your personal hot spring in the sand. The best time to do it is within two hours before or after low tide at the rocks at the southern end. Dig a hole in the sand (you can rent a shovel from nearby cafes) then sit back and soak in your private hot spring while looking out over the Pacific Ocean! It can get up to a sizzling 147°F but the good news is if it gets too warm, you can simply jump in the ocean to cool off. If you head here in the evening, you’ll even get a spectacular sunset show.

GET INSPIRED BY: Jewels of the Bay

5. Koekohe Beach, Waitaki, South Island

Koekohe is one of the most unique beaches in New Zealand. Located on the South Island’s Otago Coast, Koekohe is dotted with more than 50 giant boulders. Known as the Moeraki Boulders, these enormous rocks were carved out over 65 million years of coastal erosion and stand up to 6.5 feet and weigh several tonnes. Maori legend says the boulders are gourds that washed ashore from an ancient canoe wreck. Besides the boulders, you can also explore the fishing village of Moeraki, or walk the Kaiks Wildlife Trail to the old wooden lighthouse. You might even spot some penguins and fur seals.

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6. Whale Bay, Northland, North Island

With its powder white sands, brilliantly blue waters, and emerald forest, Whale Bay may just be one of New Zealand’s most beautiful beaches. It’s located in Tutukaka in Northland, almost 3 hour’s drive from Auckland. But if it weren’t for the red-blooming pōhutukawa trees, you might think you were in Sardinia or some Mediterranean haven. Only accessible by foot or water, it’s a great place for swimming, snorkeling and picnic-ing in a fairly secluded slice of beach paradise. If you’re feeling active, head to the bush to find several walking tracks that connect the beach to Matapouri Bay, with other gorgeous beaches nestled in between. 

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7. Ninety Mile Beach, Northland, North Island

Prefer your beaches with a bit of action? Ninety Mile Beach is for you. Located on the western shores of the Far North, this endless beach actually only measures 55 miles! From surfing and bodyboarding to horseriding and 4WDing, you’ll certainly get an adrenaline rush here. Officially designated as a highway, this beach is only suitable for 4WD vehicles, or you can take a coach tour.  You can also check out both ends of Ninety Mile Beach. At the southern end you’ll find Ahipara Beach, said to be one of the best surf beaches in the country. You can also try surfcasting and land yachting, or do the “tuatua twist” which involves twisting your feet into the sand until you dig up a delicious shellfish. You also can’t miss the breathtaking sunsets here. 

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8. Maitai Bay, Northland, North Island

With its crescent of soft, white sand and crystal-clear water, Maitai Bay is the go-to for locals and travelers alike. Set in the remote Karikari peninsula, you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’re in Fiji when you touch down in this tropical oasis. Whether you want to snorkel, swim, kayak or sunbathe, Maitai Bay has it all. You can even visit the nearby Karikari Estate, the northernmost vineyard and winery in New Zealand. And if you just don’t want to leave – don’t! Sleep under the stars at the Maitai Bay campsite. You’ll be accompanied by the gorgeous pohutukawa trees, or ‘New Zealand’s Christmas tree’, with its sweet-smelling, red blooms.

GET INSPIRED BY: Contrasts of New Zealand

9. Kaikoura Beach, Canterbury, South Island

Head to Kaikoura Beach on the Northeast Coast, and you’ll find a natural playground. This wild beach is an incredible place to spot marine life, from migrating whales and frolicking dolphins to penguins and seals lounging in the sun on the rocky shore. With the snow-capped Kaikoura Ranges as the majestic backdrop, this is one of the most unique beach locations in the country. Take on the  Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway starting in the town center and arriving at panoramic lookouts like Point Kean. The town of Kaikoura is also a great place to savor some of the country’s best seafood and local produce. 

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10. Piha Beach, Auckland, North Island

Set in Auckland’s wild west an hour from the city, Piha is another unique beach. It’s famed for its glittering black sand and Lion Rock, a towering volcanic island on the edge of the sand. It’s also known for its enormous waves and it’s a great spot for a picnic while you watch the surfers take on the swells among the gorgeous scenery. This beach is so beautiful, it was one of the locations for the film, The Piano. If you want to get more immersed in nature, take one of the walks around the area through the forest. You can explore the surrounding hills and see the cascading Kitekite Falls.

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11. Tāwharanui Regional Park, Auckland, North Island

Located just over an hour’s drive from Auckland, Tāwharanui Regional Park is a true hidden gem. Home to some of the world’s whitest sand beaches and incredible wildlife and nature, Tāwharanui is truly dazzling. There are plenty of beaches to explore, but most start with Anchor Bay. It’s a great spot for a swim and a picnic under the pōhutukawa trees. You can also venture out onto the walking tracks and soak in rock pools, or spend the night in the Tāwharanui campground. If you do travel over the weekend, you can also stop into the Matakana Farmer’s Market, dishing up the freshest local produce every Saturday. There’s also the fantastic Sculptureum just 15 minutes drive from Tāwharanui, with a gallery, garden and restaurant to explore.

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12. Mount Maunganui Beach, Bay of Plenty, North Island

This stunning white strip of sand is watched over by a dormant volcano, Mount Maunganui. Rising more than 700 feet over the ocean, you can head to the top of “The Mount” for incredible views over the Bay of Plenty. Down on the beach, you can go swimming, surfing, or soak in the hot saltwater pools. There’s also plenty of beachside cafes and other spots to explore in this chilled-out surf town. Be sure to get a scoop of hokey pokey (honeycomb toffee) ice cream or grab dinner from the Gourmet Night Market food trucks on Friday evenings in summer. 

What are your favorite New Zealand beaches? Let us know in the comments below!

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