Best Surf Spots In New Zealand

While New Zealand may be overshadowed by its bigger neighbor Australia in the surfing world, many people would argue that the small island nation at the edge of the world has a surfing culture and climate to rival Australia as one of the very best!

Sporting three main islands and over 600 smaller islands, New Zealand’s unique geography, and positioning means that it has year-round surfing conditions that vary greatly depending on the season. With a coastline over 9 000 miles long, New Zealand has hundreds of world-class surfing spots.

While avid surfers may know New Zealand as one of the best-surfing destinations in the world, new or beginner surfers may not be aware of the history, culture, and quality of surfing that can be found at the edge of the world. Let’s explore them now:

What Must I Know About Surfing In New Zealand?

As one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, New Zealand is both accommodating and easy to navigate for international tourists (especially for English speakers, although it also has a very rich Maori heritage).

When it comes to surfing, it is worth exploring New Zealand’s surfing scene before booking your next getaway.

1. When Is The Best Time To Surf In New Zealand?

The diversity of New Zealand’s extensive coastline among its many islands means that New Zealand is a year-round surfing destination.

With its many coves, sandbars, reefs, and sandy beaches, New Zealand provides a level of consistency seldom offered by other popular surfing destinations, provided you find yourself in the right place at the right time.

The consistency of the swells is seen with some of the best left-hand point breaks in the world, while the locales usually sport wild, untamed, and unspoiled waters teeming with marine life (mostly friendly and not dangerous to surfers.)

However, different seasons can significantly alter the ocean swell meaning that the different ocean temperaments and conditions will appeal to surfers of varying experiences throughout the year.

In this regard, New Zealand would be seen to mirror other surfing destinations that identify summer as having calmer waves that are easier for beginner surfers to ride, while winter produces larger and more powerful waves for experienced surfers.

Consequently, each season needs to be seen with regard to the area where you want to surf, as this will determine the water conditions and temperatures that require different preparation:

  • Summer: During summer, from December to March, the weather in New Zealand becomes mild to warm, meaning significantly more people on the beach and in the sea.

While a wetsuit is seldom needed at North Island surfing spots, a 3/2mm is a necessity in the South Island, as the water temperatures are significantly colder, while the weather itself is more unpredictable.

  • Winter: During winter from May to September, the weather and water temperatures in both the North and South Island can plummet, requiring a thicker 5/3mm wetsuit, a hood, booties, and gloves.

Although surfing in winter is not recommended for beginner surfers, experienced and advanced surfers are bound to enjoy the challenge.   

In conclusion, you should plan your surfing trip according to your experience level and your preferred climate/surfing conditions. 

Furthermore, while the swells in New Zealand’s waters are consistent, the weather is notorious for being inconsistent during both the summer and winter months.

As a result of this, travelers are advised to always bring appropriate clothing, sun protection, and surfing equipment to prepare for any sudden and unexpected changes to the weather.

Furthermore, conditions in the sea can become dangerous quickly. For this reason, it is recommended that surfers new to New Zealand get advice from locals before you surf in a specific area and adhere to all safety rules as supplied by the beach.

New Zealand is aware of this and has made it as easy as possible for surfers to find out surf conditions in advance or to prepare for any dangerous weather. This can be done by:

  • Contacting the beach in advance either telephonically or online to request the latest surf reports, 
  • Asking tourism kiosks and i-Sites dotted around New Zealand’s tourist hubs, or
  • Looking for Qualmark logos at popular coastal destinations, as this is a sure sign that an area is secure as per objective, independent, and strict criteria.

Take note further that summer may result in busier beaches and higher costs, while winter can prove a cheaper but more advanced option more akin to serious surfers than casual hobbyists.

2. Is There A Surfing Culture In New Zealand?

Before the arrival of settlers in the 19th century, Polynesian people, most notably Maori communities, were seen to have practiced surfing on boards known as Kopapa.

While surfing declined during the 19th century as a result of European influence and enforced rules on dress and behavior, the sport gained popularity in the early 20th century following Duke Kahanamoku’s tour to New Zealand.

Along with the development of smaller, portable boards in the 1950s, as opposed to the heavier, cumbersome longboards prior to their arrival, New Zealanders were able to travel their island nation with ease, exploring different spots and growing the popularity of the sport.

The growth of surfing led to the establishment of Surfing New Zealand, which has been instrumental in promoting the sport for tourism, enjoyment, and reconnecting with ancient, traditional roots.

Consequently, surfing has become extremely important to the tourism industry and the wider economy while also embedding itself in New Zealand’s culture as one of the most popular sports in the country (especially when considering the diversity of professional surfers from New Zealand.)

New Zealand’s respect for the sport due to its historical ties to Polynesian culture, coupled with the friendly demeanor of most New Zealanders, means that New Zealand does not have localism issues like some other popular surfing destinations.

Just remember to always remain polite and friendly while respecting the spaces of other surfers when visiting New Zealand, and it is more than likely that many a local will treat you to a secluded surfing spot or popular hangout!

3. Are There Surf Camps In New Zealand?

Surfing camps are a fantastic option for new surfers looking to integrate themselves into a new surfing environment while also having the ease of lessons, guidance, accommodation, and equipment rental all in one place.

Surf camps are also a fantastic way to meet like-minded people, both locally and internationally, with which to spend time at the camp, out on the surf, or traveling around New Zealand’s many islands!

Surf camps are particularly useful for new-time surfers or travelers to New Zealand, as navigating the islands with surfing equipment can prove to be a costly and difficult affair, whereby surfing camps will assist surfers with guided tours and transport.

Just bear in mind the nature and vibe of each surf camp before booking your stay, as some are centered around children and teenagers, while others are more (or strictly) adult orientated.

Furthermore, surf camps usually organize their booking slots relative to bulk days rather than individual days. Therefore, you should reach out to the surf camps in advance to make sure you can book days that fit into your itinerary. 

Which Are The Best Surf Spots In New Zealand? 

Stretching over 9 000 miles, New Zealand has a very large coastline, bordering both the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, despite the country’s small size. Consequently, there are literally thousands of surf spots to enjoy during your stay in New Zealand.

While it isn’t possible to list them all, especially since the locals keep many of the best surf spots a secret, let’s look at six of the best and most well-known surf spots across New Zealand:

1. Raglan, Waikato

Immortalized in the 1966 surfing film “Endless Summer,” Raglan situated in Waikato is arguably New Zealand’s most famous surfing destination. With Manu Ray said to have some of the most consistent, accessible, and longest left-hand breaks in the world.

Intermediate and experienced surfers can ride these waves for upwards of two kilometers, with local surfers more than willing to help new surfers to the area, provided they obey the sustainable, friendly, open, and polite culture Raglan has fostered over the years.

It is also an outstanding spot for new surfers, with ample surf schools that will most likely get new and beginner surfers accustomed to the gentler waters of Ngarunui Beach.

Ngarunui Beach is a long sandy beach teeming with friendly locals and lifeguards to give you peace of mind while you learn to wrangle a surfboard in one of New Zealand’s most popular coastal destinations.

2. Piha, Auckland

Situated a mere twenty-minute drive from Auckland is Piha on the west side of Waitākere Ranges Regional Park.

Recognized as a hotspot for surfing since the 1950s, Piha’s beach break is considered one of the best in New Zealand, with consistent swells that cater to all abilities all year-round.

However, just make sure to time your visit accordingly, as the popularity of the locale can lead to numerous surfers and bathers.

Finally, Piha promotes surfing for everyone via its numerous surf schools and the hosting of free annual events for differently-abled persons through the Disabled Surfers Association of New Zealand.

3. Castle Point, Wellington

Situated an hour’s drive from Masterton, Castle Point is one of the most beloved and popular beaches in New Zealand, despite being off the beaten track.

Castle Point is a beach break in and of itself, resulting in a consistent swell that slips through an inlet where after it breaks onto a golden-sand beach. At the same time, the beach has a tight curve with a long wall to create an A-frame that does result in barrels.

The protection offered by this little surfing spot means that the wind and other unpredictable patterns that plague some surf spots are mitigated, meaning that the swell remains smooth and even, rather than choppy and inconsistent.

While Castle Point is certainly a highlight for surfers of all experience levels, none surfers can engage in various coastal activities in one of the most beautiful coastal getaways in all of New Zealand.

4. Taranaki, Waikato

Situated on the western side of New Zealand’s North Island are the Taranaki coastline and Highway 45 that hugs the coastline, appropriately known as Surf Highway 45. 

Known for its manicured gardens, artists’ galleries, and the Egmont National Park, Taranaki paints the perfect backdrop for some of the best surfing spots on the North Island.

Itinerates recommend a four-day journey across the coastal line starting at the northernmost part of Taranaki at New Plymouth and down the coastline via Highway 45 into Hawera. 

Along the way, you will encounter picturesque historical towns, sweeping landscapes, and a variety of surf conditions to suit the needs of surfers across all levels.

Just make sure to confirm the weather and surf report before embarking on this journey so as to maximize your time out on the surf as much as possible!

5. Gisborne

Keeping our focus on the North Island, we find the small coastal city of Gisborne. While perhaps not as well-known as some other spots on this list and one of New Zealand’s smaller cities, Gisborne punches well above its weight.

Boasting consistent swells and moderate weather suitable for surfing upwards of 2/3rds of the year, Gisborne has a variety of surfing spots to explore for the adventurous traveler.

Home to the famous Grizzly Pipe at Midway Beach, suitable for advanced surfers, down to the mild, calm waters of Waikanae, which is perfect for new surfers, Gisborne is considered a place that all surfers can enjoy in abundance.

6. Dunedin, Otago

Shifting our focus from one of the smaller cities in the North Island down to the second-largest city in the South Island, we have Dunedin.

Said to have upwards of thirty beaches at a mere thirty-minute drive from the city center, Dunedin likes to advertise as “cold-water Bali,” believing itself to have some of the best surfing spots in New Zealand and, therefore, the world.

Although the jury may be divided on that claim, there’s no denying that of all the bigger cities and most popular tourist destinations in New Zealand, Dunedin certainly has some of the best, most accessible, and most consistent surfing spots in the country.

Conclusion

With its varied coastlines and seasonal swell conditions, New Zealand deserves its position as one of the world’s best-surfing destinations. It is a must-visit for beginner, intermediate, and advanced surfers alike!