The best surf spots in New Zealand

July 3, 2020 | Surfing
New Zealand: one of the best surfing destination on the planet | Photo: Rob Tucker

New Zealand has long had a love affair with surfing. With an extensive coastline, the country offers surfers of all levels the chance to catch a wave on an uncrowded beach.

According to Surfing New Zealand, the national governing body for the sport of surfing, one in 27 Kiwis surf.

Surfing was a part of Māori culture before the arrival of European settlers in the 19th century.

The practice was called whakahekeheke and was carried out using a variety of craft, including boards, or kopapa, and even bags of kelp.

With nearly 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) of coastline, it's no surprise New Zealand has a love affair with the ocean and surfing.

Like any surfing scene around the world, there are breaks that only the locals know about and that you won't find online or in a guidebook.

The best way to find these spots? Ask the friendly locals. Here are a few top tips on where to start:

Fitzroy Beach: a spectacular barreling wave firing near New Plymouth | Photo: Rob Tucker

North Island

Taranaki Surf Highway 45

State highway 45 runs along the west coast of the North Island between New Plymouth and Hawera.

The locals call it Surf Highway, and it lives up to its name.

There are popular spots like Ahu Ahu or lesser-known spots for better surfers like Stent Rd and Graveyards.

Chat to the friendly locals about the best spots for the conditions and those you can only be told about in person.

Gisborne: a popular surfing region in New Zealand | Photo: Tairawhiti Gisborne

Great Barrier Island

A short scenic flight, or four-hour ferry ride north of Auckland, Great Barrier Island is a hidden spot known to very few surfers.

Uncrowded, with consistent waves, Great Barrier (or Aotea, as it is known by Māori) has three main surf breaks.

Whangapoua, at the northern end of the island, is best for uncrowded waves.

Medlands has sandbars running along the length of the beach.

Awana offers year-round waves.

Visit the pub where like-minded surfers might be willing to part with some local knowledge for those in search of the perfect wave.

Don't forget to look up at night. The Great Barrier Island is an official Dark Sky Sanctuary boasting incredibly clear night skies.

Rarawa Beach

Not far from the Northern tip of the North Island, a beach on the East Coast at the southern end of Great Exhibition Bay is famed for surfing.

There are several peaks to choose from along the beach with both right and left-handers.

The sand is white silica and so smooth it squeaks when you walk on it.

Great Barrier Island: a hidden spot known to very few surfers | Photo: Mark Russell

South Island

Kaikoura

Kaikoura's rugged coastline on the east coast of the South Island can produce some incredible waves. The catch - they are more consistent in winter, so pack your full-body wetsuit.

With names like "Meatworks." it's important to talk to local surfers who know the waves before you jump in.

For beginners, or those not so confident, check out Ocean Fun Reefs.

Kaikoura: some of the best wave the South Island can produce | Photo: Shutterstock

Unique Surf Spots to NZ

Whangamata Bar

Hawaiian surfing legend Gerry Lopez once described the Whangamata Bar as the "Jewel of the Pacific."

When conditions are right, the bar serves up some of the best surf in New Zealand with a long barrel section and an epic wall that just keeps on going.

Shipwreck Bay

At the southern end of Northland's Ninety Mile Beach lies Shipwreck Bay, the surf spot that is probably on all New Zealander surfers' favorite break list.

You're almost always guaranteed surf here, and when it is really working, rides can get up to three minutes long.

Another New Zealand spot featured in "The Endless Summer."

Raglan, Manu Bay

Said to offer one of the longest rides on the planet, this peeling left-hand break on the west coast of the North Island was featured in the classic surfing film "The Endless Summer."

Raglan: the Kiwi spot offers one of the longest rides on the planet and was featured in 'The Endless Summer' | Photo: Shutterstock

Matakana Island

Not far from the Bay of Plenty town of Mount Maunganui, Matakana Island, on its day, can provide some of the best New Zealand has to offer.

First, you have to jump on a ferry or buddy up with some locals who might be able to drop you off out the back.

Forgot Your Board?

With the majority of surfboards ending up in landfill or lost to the ocean, New Zealand has some legendary surfboard shapers on the cutting edge of technology looking at different ways to make surfboards with sustainable materials.

Barron Surfboards

Paul Barron has been making surfboards since the mid-1980s, but it wasn't until 1997 that Barron Surfboards was borne.

After 20 years of working out of Christchurch, Barron took his business north to Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty.

Paul wanted to take an innovative new direction in his quest for fully sustainable surfboards.

Collaborating with New Zealand Merino and Kelly Slater's Firewire Surfboards, Paul came up with a sustainable cloth made from New Zealand wool sourced from New Zealand sheep.

The Woolight technology replaces traditional fiberglass, which is better for the environment and supports the New Zealand wool industry too.

Organic Dynamic

The only Gold Level Ecoboard manufacturer in New Zealand, Organic Dynamic make their surfboards using waste polystyrene recycled from damaged buildings.

Jack Candlish uses New Zealand paulownia timber grown using environmentally friendly agroforestry practices.

Get your own custom design shaped and pick it up from the team in Wellington, or have it sent to you in special recycled packaging.

Organic Dynamic: shaping surfboards using waste polystyrene recycled from damaged buildings | Photo: Organic Dynamic

Seasons Surfboards

The ultimate surfing getaway on Taranaki's surf highway on the west coast of the North Island is not just about catching waves.

Experienced shaper Bryan Smith offers a homestay and build your own board experience.

Stay at his coastal property just a stone's throw from the beach and spend the week surfing some of New Zealand's best waves, all while Bryan helps you build your very own surfboard.

Ethical and Sustainable Shopping

SeaSap

Designed to protect surfers from the New Zealand sun, SeaSap is a zinc-based product that is water-resistant, natural, and not only good for your skin but doesn't adversely affect the ocean.

Aurai Swimwear

Originally from Brazil, but now based in Auckland, Natalia Bertolo designs swimwear made from sustainably sourced fabric.

No Surf? No Worries

There might be the odd day where the waves aren't pumping, but there are still ways to experience surfing or giving back to the ocean.

Sustainable Coastlines

An award-winning New Zealand charity Sustainable Coastlines is run by a team of hard-working staff and a network of passionate volunteers and collaborators.

They coordinate and support large-scale coastal clean-up events, educational programs, and riparian planting projects.

Visitors can join Sustainable Coastlines on one of their volunteer days or visit The Flagship Education Centre in Auckland's Wynyard Quarter.

Open to the public from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm every day, this unique building is an education space that presents information through engaging, family-friendly displays, and multimedia content.

Tairawhiti Museum, Gisborne

The Te Moana Maritime Gallery at Tairawhiti Museum offers a glimpse into 1000 years of maritime myths, legends, and stories of the Tairawhiti East Coast region.

Included in the gallery is surfing in the region with displays of vintage surfboards and surf lifesaving.

Tairawhiti Museum's Te Moana Maritime Gallery: the space features a collection of vintage surfboards | Photo: Tairawhiti Museum

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