New Zealand, with its snow-kissed peaks, emerald hills, and dramatic fiords, often steals the limelight. But wait till you meet its lesser-known yet equally stunning celebrities – the beaches. Yes, New Zealand’s coastline is a treasure trove of unique and breathtaking beaches, each with its own tale to tell.
So, if you’re planning a road trip in your trusty campervan, we’ve got the perfect itinerary for you. Buckle up and keep your sunscreen handy as we guide you through the 10 best beaches in New Zealand that will make your Kiwi adventure truly unforgettable.
Nestled in the heart of the Coromandel Peninsula, Hahei Beach is a coastal gem waiting to be explored. Known for its golden sand and sheltered location, it’s a favourite among locals and a must-visit spot for travellers. Picture yourself surrounded by lush pohutukawa trees, with pink seashells underfoot and the calm, blue ocean beckoning. The offshore islands act as a natural breakwater, making the beach an ideal spot for swimming, boating, and fishing.
But that’s not all – the unique marine reserve surrounding the coastline and the islands are a paradise for diving, snorkelling, and kayaking enthusiasts. The reefs, caves, archways, and soft sediments are home to a diverse range of marine life, promising an unforgettable underwater adventure.
Just a short drive from Hahei, you’ll find the starting point of the walkway leading to the renowned Cathedral Cove. This iconic spot, with its impressive limestone rock arch separating two pristine white sand beaches, is a sight to behold. And if history intrigues you, don’t miss the Te Pare historic reserve at the southern end of Hahei Beach. This ancient Maori pa (fortified village) site offers a fascinating glimpse into the past.
In essence, Hahei Beach is more than just a beach; it’s an experience filled with natural beauty, adventure, and history, waiting for you to discover.
Ninety Mile Beach
Northland, North Island
For adventurous souls looking for a beach experience that’s far from ordinary, Ninety Mile Beach is your golden ticket. This almost never-ending paradise is renowned for its breathtaking sunsets and one of the world’s best left-hand surf breaks. Contrary to its name, Ninety Mile Beach is actually an 88-kilometre stretch of sand extending from Ahipara to Scott Point.
But what’s in a name when you’re standing on a beach that doubles up as a highway? Yes, you read that right – this beach is officially a highway, though it’s best navigated with a 4WD vehicle and at specific tide times.
You can try your hand at surfcasting, take a refreshing dip, or even bodyboard down the sand dunes. And if you’re feeling lucky, dig for tuatua, a native shellfish, at low tide. Need a break from the sun? The flanking Aupouri Forest provides a cool green escape.
And if you happen to be there in late February or early March, join hundreds of anglers in a five-day fishing competition, surf casting off the beach in the hopes of landing the biggest snapper. So, pack your adventure spirit and head to Ninety Mile Beach, where every grain of sand promises a unique tale of fun and excitement!
Anchorage Bay Abel Tasman
Lake Coleridge, South Island
You’ll find the first large camping area and hut within the Abel Tasman National Park at Anchorage Bay. This idyllic spot is well-protected by headlands to the north and south, providing a safe haven for yachts – a feature that inspired its name. With its stunning golden sands and crescent shape, Te Pukatea Bay lies just south of Anchorage, accessible via the scenic Pitt Head Loop track. To the north, you’ll discover Torrent Bay, separated from Anchorage by a tidal estuary.
The changing tides here offer unique opportunities for exploration. During low tide, you can embark on a 15-minute walk directly across the estuary to Torrent Bay or venture further to Cleopatra’s pool in about an hour.
However, if the tides are high, don’t despair. The Abel Tasman track offers an alternative route around the estuary, taking approximately 1 to 1.5 hours. This journey provides an opportunity to immerse yourself in the park’s lush landscapes while en route to your destination.
With its unique combination of sheltered anchorages, golden beaches, and easily accessible walking tracks, it’s a destination that captures the essence of New Zealand’s stunning coastal beauty.
Hot Water Beach
Waitkato, North Island
If you are in search of a unique beach experience, let Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel coast be your next stop. Famous for its naturally heated mineral waters that bubble up through golden sands, this beach offers its very own DIY spa experience. Just head towards the rocks at the southern end of the beach, grab a spade (don’t worry if you didn’t pack one, the local cafes have got you covered), and start digging.
Time your visit around two hours on either side of low tide, and voila! You’ve got yourself a natural hot pool, mere meters from the cool Pacific Ocean. Now, how many beaches offer you a hot-cold plunge experience right by the ocean?
But there’s more to Hot Water Beach than just its geothermal wonders. For the wave riders among you, the beach serves up some great breaks during moderate easterly swells. But be warned, the strong undertows can make it a challenging spot for swimming.
If you prefer a more laid-back experience, the long sandy beach stretching north and curving eastward under a headland offers secluded spots perfect for lazy sunbathing. And when you’re done soaking up the sun, explore the nearby cafes and art galleries for a taste of Kiwi culture.
Koekohe Beach (Moeraki Boulders Beach)
Hampden, South Island
How often do you get to walk among relics from the dinosaur era? At Koekohe Beach, also known as Moeraki Boulders Beach, you can do just that! Nestled on New Zealand’s southeast coast, a stone’s throw (or should we say, boulder’s roll?) away from the town of Hampden, this beach is home to the legendary Moeraki Boulders. These almost perfectly spherical stone giants, some standing up to two meters tall and weighing several tonnes, are anything but ordinary beach pebbles.
Aged at approximately 65 million years, they sure have some stories to tell. According to Maori legend, these boulders are massive gourds lost at sea from the great voyaging canoe Araiteuru. Now, that’s what we call a beach with a backstory!
But don’t just come for the boulders. The beach itself is a picturesque sandy stretch offering a serene ambience and beautiful views. While scientists may explain the boulders as calcite concretions formed about 65 million years ago, we like to think of them as nature’s own sculptures, mysteriously scattered across the beach.
So whether you’re a geology enthusiast, a history buff, or simply someone who appreciates unique natural phenomena, Koekohe Beach is a must-visit. After all, it’s not every day you get to see a beach that rocks… quite literally!
Whangārei Heads, North Island
Open your eyes to the unspoiled beauty of Ocean Beach, Whangarei’s premier surf destination. This beach is a palette of enchanting white sands and clear waters, all set against the stunning backdrop of Bream Head.
If you’re a thrill-seeker, the waves here offer an exhilarating ride. If you’re more of a beach bum, the soft sand is perfect for sunbathing or building that dream sandcastle. And if you’re an explorer at heart, the surrounding environment is ripe for discovery. Just remember, whether you’re planning to frolic in the surf beaches or take a leisurely dip, there are lifeguards on duty during the summer months to ensure your safety.
For those who love a good walk, two trails – one heading south to Waimarama and the other north to Whakapau Bluff – offer picturesque routes along the beach. But remember to check tide times, let someone know where you’re going, and allow yourself plenty of time to return.
Now, how many beaches offer a combination of natural beauty, outdoor activities, and a dash of history? So grab your sunscreen, pack a picnic, and make a beeline for Ocean Beach – it’s a seaside escape that’s sure to make waves.
Pūponga, North Island
Now, let’s talk about a beach that’s not just a destination but a spectacle – Wharariki Beach. This is the kind of place that people across the globe admire on their Windows 10 screensavers, but let us assure you, experiencing it in person is a whole different ball game.
Nestled in the Nelson Tasman region, Wharariki Beach is a magnificent blend of wild west coast elements and dramatic Golden Bay landscapes. With a coastline adorned by an array of caves, rocks, and arches, it’s like Mother Nature decided to show off a bit. A short walk through coastal forests and rolling pastures opens up to a vast beach where you could spend days exploring and still find new wonders.
But the showstopper at Wharariki Beach has to be the two archway islands that dominate the seascape, framed by windswept sand dunes and sculpted cliffs. Around every corner, you’ll discover secluded coves and tranquil rock pools. And if you’re lucky, you might even spot the resident seal colony frolicking along the beach or coastal birds darting playfully through the pepper cress bushes lining the sand dunes.
In terms of sheer scenic beauty, Wharariki Beach easily rivals the recognised wonders of the world. So pack your adventurous spirit and head to this wondrous coastal playground, where every visit feels like the first. Because at Wharariki Beach, the only constant is awe!
Otago, South Island
If you’re an intrepid traveller at heart seeking an off-the-beaten-path beach experience, then Tunnel Beach in Dunedin might just be your next treasure trove. This beach is a visual shock – in the best possible way – with its massive sandstone arch that towers over the landscape, commanding attention and admiration.
As you embark on the well-maintained walking track that leads you down to this coastal wonder, prepare yourself for an immersive experience that includes dramatic cliffs, crashing waves, and panoramic coastal views. The trail, suitable for all ages, crosses private farmland before opening up to a tranquil meadow that’s perfect for a breather.
But hold onto your hats (and maybe your heart), because the real adventure begins here! Nestled in the meadow is a hand-carved tunnel that descends 72 steps to a concealed beach below. Yes, it’s a bit dark and can be slippery, but it’s also thrilling and utterly unique, with fossils embedded in the rock walls adding a touch of prehistoric mystique.
Once you emerge from the tunnel, you’ll find yourself on a beach surrounded by cliffs and strewn with sandstone boulders. Time your visit with low tide to fully appreciate this hidden gem. With exposed layers of rock on the cliffs creating a natural, graffiti-like appearance, Tunnel Beach is not just a location, but a captivating story etched by nature itself.
Auckland, North Island
Can’t get enough of the surf and sand? Then it’s time you experienced Piha Beach, New Zealand’s most famous surfing hotspot. Situated on the west coast of the North Island, just a 40 km drive from Auckland, this black iron-sand beach is where the Tasman Sea shows off its might with awesome waves.
Piha Beach, however, isn’t only about riding the waves. The rugged cliffs and the awe-inspiring Lion Rock standing guard create a dramatic and inspiring panorama. Nestled against the backdrop of the Waitakere Ranges, a preserved sub-tropical forest, Piha lays out numerous bush tracks for those who prefer hiking boots over surfboards.
And with all the basic amenities close at hand, the laid-back beach community promises a simple, good life. But remember, Piha Beach demands respect for its power. So whether you’re fishing off the rocks or diving into the waves, always check with the local surf clubs for safety guidance.
Matapouri, North Island
At last, let’s meander off the beaten path and step into the idyllic haven of Whale Bay. Nestled along the Tutukaka Coast, this Nature Reserve is a hidden gem that can only be reached on foot – but trust us, it’s worth every step.
Framed by Pohutukawa trees, the white sand beach and clear blue sea make this one of our top picks for New Zealand’s best beaches. Whether you’re here to bask in the summer sun or to find serenity in the off-season, Whale Bay promises to leave you breathless with its untamed beauty.
What’s on the agenda at Whale Bay? Well, how about a leisurely stroll along the beach, exploring the rock pools and dipping your toes in the crystal-clear waters? Or maybe, settle under the shade of the Pohutukawa trees with a picnic, letting time slip away as you soak up the tranquil ambience (and yes, there are public toilet facilities at the beach).
If you’re up for a walk, the linked headland walkways between Whale Bay and Matapouri offer stunning coastal views and mature stands of puriri, pohutukawa, and kowhai. So get ready to discover the charm of Whale Bay – it’s a slice of paradise that will have you coming back for more.
Want to start your beach exploration of New Zealand? Travellers Autobarn offers campervans out of Auckland and Christchurch, so you can beach hop across the country on a perfect NZ road trip!
If you are looking for more campervan travel tips, check out our Campervan Travel tips section…
Bastian is the Sales & Marketing Manager here at Travellers Autobarn. He holds a Master of Commerce in Marketing and International Business Management, and 20+ years experience in campervan hire, road trips and travel.