New Zealand isn’t really known as a tropical destination with top beaches. So we set ourselves the challenge to find them! We traveled New Zealand for a year, both the North and the South Island, seen a fair bit and spoken to a lot of locals. Most of them said we probably have already seen more of New Zealand then they did. As New Zealand is an island and surrounded by water, we were always close to a beach, very convenient for us beachbums!
You will notice this list isn’t your average list of the best beaches in New Zealand. Most of those beaches you probably never heard of before, and that’s exactly why they are on our list. This are the beaches and bays that we discovered by just driving on deserted roads, talking to locals and staring at Google Maps and wondering how it would look like. If you want a different experience then the beaches that all the other tourists. There are just a few more populair beaches on the list but mainly because they are really worth visiting.
1. Rarawa Beach, Northland – North Island
There aren’t many white silica sand beaches in New Zealand, we even think this is the only one and it’s a beautiful one! It’s situated on the west coast of Northland, at the Great Exhibition Bay. Just to give you an idea, it would take about 5 hours from Auckland to get to this beach. From the main road, follow the gravel road for about 15 minutes. At the and you can park your car next to the beach. You probably have to cross a little stream (not deeper then knee level on high tide) or walk around it to get to this pure white beach.
Go for a swim, try your luck fishing or walk along the turquoise coastline. If you feel like one day is not enough, you can spend the night in your campervan or tent for 13 NZD per person per night at the basic DOC campsite closeby. There are toilets, a cold shower and drinking water.
2. Torrent Bay, Abel Tasman NP – South Island
Most beaches in the South Island are made of small pebbles. Visiting the Abel Tasman National Park near Nelson is a totally different experience. It feels so tropical with all the ferntrees, golden beaches and green waters. Getting to Torrent Bay can be done in two ways: You can either walk/hike to it or take a (taxi)boat. Torrent Bay is along the route of one of best hiking trails of New Zealand, the Abel Tasman Coastal Track.
In summer it’s busy with people getting dropped off to start their hike, but don’t worry. Most of the people will leave soon and you will have the whole beach for yourself. Even better if you decide to put up your tent there, and camp in front of the beach! (book in advance, as only 10 tentsites are available!) In peak season from 1 October – 30 April it’s 30 NZD per person, per night.
The easiest way is to book a watertaxi from Marahau with AquaTaxi Abel Tasman for 37 NZD per person, one way. There is no pickup from Torrent Bay, you have to walk to the next bay called Anchorage. It’s not that far, just an hour walk with high tide and just 20 minutes on low tide, where you can cross the bay. Just remember to bring everything you need like enough water, sunscreen and insect repellent, as it’s an national park and secluded.
Tip: if walking from Torrent Bay to Anchorage, just follow the track further up the hill towards Pitt Head Lookout. From here you have a nice view of Torrent Bay and surroundings. A bit further is Te Pukatea Bay, a small secluded beach which we are sure you will like.
3. Whale Bay, Matapouri - North Island
This beach is just breathtaking and fairly close to the bigger city of Whangarei. You probably don’t see clearer water then this, perfect for swimming. If you want a quiet beach, don’t go in the weekends. This is a general rule for all beaches in New Zealand, the weekend draws more people to the beach. We were there on a Saturday, and there were some people but it didn’t feel too crowded. The ten-minute walk towards Whale Bay is stunning with some really good views along the way. Whale Bay is just perfect to spend your afternoon and relax. Oh, and don’t forget to make pictures!
4. Castle Point Beach – North Island
Driving 2,5 hours from Wellington, this beach is just so impressive! Castle Point is of the main tourist route and we were so happy we took this road. The short trail up to the lighthouse gives great view of the bay and there is a freedom camping spot right at the end. We were lucky to have an amazing sunset as well, felt like perfection. If you’re there already, make sure to take the Deliverance Cove Track that starts from the freedom camp carpark and hike up to the Castle Point Beach lookout. It’s about an hour walking, but for us half a day, as there are so many great views along the track.
Must do: There is an unofficial walkway to the top of Castle Rock, which is definitely worth climbing up, but requires a reasonable degree of fitness. Big change of seeing seals and dolphins!
5. Fletcher Bay, Coromandel Peninsula - North Island
Coromandel Peninsula is loved by tourists as well as locals. The difference is that most tourists don’t drive all the way up to Fletcher Bay, mainly because the narrow and windy gravelroad but with oh-so-many good views. If you are allowed to go there with your rental campervan or car, just drive slow and keep your eyes focussed on the road (we know it’s hard with all those views!). If you have your own transportation even better and you should definately go there.
Because it’s almost a two hour drive from Coromandel Town, it’s probably better if you spend a night in the area so you don’t have to drive all the way back at the end of the day. In Fletcher Bay you can camp at the DOC campsite for 13 NZD per person, per night. All the basic facilities that you need are there and really wel maintained. Alternatively, you can book a bunkbed in Fletcher Bay Backpackers for 25 NZD per person, per night. They have a fully equipped kitchen, lounge, dining room and hot showers.
Fletcher Bay is the start of the Coromandel Walkway, another one of the Great Walks of New Zealand. To see it’s beauty, you don’t have to walk the whole track (3,5 hours one way), after an hour there are already great views.
6. New Chums beach, Coromandel Peninsula - North Island
This is one of those beaches that is getting more and more populair and for a good reason. It’s a long white sand beach with plenty of trees for shade and a green/turqoise ocean. From the carpark you follow a walking track across rocks and over roots for about 20 minutes untill you reach New Chums Beach.
If you are up to it, halfway the track there is a sidetrack on your right that goes up the hill for a stunning view (quite steep so be prepared to sweat). It’s hard to miss as there are no signs, so have a good look around. At New Chums, you can relax, go fishing and it’s a good surfing beach too! Even though it can get busy during school holidays and summer, the beach is huge so just walk a bit further and voila, beach for yourself.
7. Hahei Beach, Coromandel Peninsula – North Island
Just like New Chums Beach and Fletcher Bay, Hahei Beach is also in the Coromandel area. Good reason not to skip this region, as there are already three beaches from our list! We doubted for a while to put Hahei on this list as it can be really crowded, due to the famous beach Cathedral Cove.
On arrival at Hahei Beach it was almost impossible to park our car somewhere. In the end we found a spot at the most southern area (Wigmore Cres rd) of the beach. And we were glad we did because it’s a stunner! Hahei Beach wasn’t busy after all, as most people were walking to Cathedral Cove. On the right, there is a stairs going up to Te Pare point. You reach the viewpoint after 15 minutes with some great views to islands, bays and Hahei Beach. Even better, we were the only ones up there!
If you want to spend the night in Hahei, keep in mind it’s not going to be cheap to sleep in such a prime location. One of the cheapest options is to stay at a campsite on the Hahei Holiday Resort, where you pay a minimum of 60 NZD per night, based on 2 persons.
About Cathedral Cove: if you think of going there, expect loads of tourists. The walk is very nice and takes about 1,5 hour but it was just so crowded along the way that we didn’t enjoyed it at all. Arriving at Cathedral Cove was even more upsetting, the whole beach was swarmed like a nest of ants. You can get a different experience by going really early/late or in low season.
8. Wharariki Beach, Cape Farewell – South Island
It’s funny how you end up in places where you initially didn’t plan to go to. We had the same with Wharariki Beach. Talking to our neighbours on our campsite, they recommended to go to this beach. It’s about as north as you can go in the South Island, just follow the road to Puponga and further. At some point, the road turn into gravel but only for a couple of minutes so it’s managable. Just drive to the end of the road, park your car and walk through fields and forest to the beach. The most impressive feature about this beach is the massive Archway Islands. It’s best to go at lowtide, where you can walk up to the natural stone structures.
There is a big rockpool as well, have a look and you will most likely find some playful sealions up there. Just keep your distance and be careful as they are still wild animals. We were surprised by one of the young sealions that swam right up to us to check us out! We’re talking about not even half a meter between us and the animal. It was really friendly, started washing himself as we were in awe of experiencing this.
Spend more time at Wharariki Beach? The Wharariki Beach holiday park is closeby and for 20 NZD per person, per night you can watch the sunset or sunrise at this magical place.
9. Taupo Bay, Whangaroa – North Island
If you’re looking for a really special beach getaway, this is the place to be! It’s off the beaten track and maybe our best discovery of all the beaches in New Zealand. There are waves to surf, kayaks to rent, fish to catch and rockpools to explore. On your way to Taupo Bay, you will notice the huge rocky outcrop on the right, very impressive to see and have a closer look.
Tip: if you like seafood, there are some fresh mussels on the big black rocks in the water at the end of the right side of Taupo Bay. Collect them at low tide or get wet! We saw three big stingrays too, which are harmless, but watch where you put your feet.
Staying at the family owned Taupo Bay Holiday Park was the perfect choice, sites are around 40 NZD per night for two persons. They also have cabins if you rather sleep in a real bed.
10. Martin's beach, Hokianga - North Island
The combination of green hills, blue waters, sandy beaches, good fishing and the giant white sanddunes on the other side of the Hokianga harbour are making this a special place. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay long, as we came across this place on our way to the Kauri forests but we felt like we should have stayed here for at least a couple of days. The area has a relaxed vibe and a great beach holiday.
To get to Martin’s Beach, follow the Signal Station Rd towards Aria Te Uru Nature Reserve. From there on you park the car and have a walk to Martin’s beach or the scenic lookout. If the day is sunny and calm, you will have a beautiful tranquil, private beach to swim and you may even spot some dolphins or orca’s.