In a land blessed with majestic mountain ranges, alpine lakes, bioluminescent caves and endless countrysides, the beaches of New Zealand have a lot of competition in attracting attention. It says something when visually-stunning blockbusters like Lord of the Rings, Avatar, King Kong, and The Chronicles of Narnia all owe their setting to the island. And yet, somehow, the country’s coastlines still manage to go above and beyond. Whether you’re a more rugged soul looking to see chaotic seas crashing into cliff sides, or if you’re in search of that quaint little slice of paradise, the beaches of New Zealand have something for everyone. Check out our list below for the eight most stunning beaches in the country.
One of New Zealand’s most rugged beaches, Piha is framed by a mountainous terrain filled with black sand and home to Lion Rock — a commanding monolith that stares out at the sea as if to confront the incoming swells. It’s a popular surf spot among local Aucklanders, but the waves aren’t for beginners. If you’re new to the sport, be sure to head out with an instructor; and if you’re swimming, stay between the flags. Piha Beach is absolutely gorgeous, but it can get a bit unruly.
Koekohe Beach, Moeraki
Sprinkled along the coastline of Koekohe Beach is a curious collection of spherical boulders known commonly as the Moeraki Boulders. Looking like a landscape of oversized dinosaur eggs, this spot is a very unique opportunity for photography. Head to the beach at low tide to roam about and fully appreciate this geographical anomaly.
90 Mile Beach
Despite the fact it’s actually 55 miles (and New Zealanders use kilometers), this misnomer is a massive stretch of coastline offering more than enough space for adventure. Starting in Kaitaia and ending up by Cape Reinga — New Zealand’s northernmost point — the beach is flanked by epic sand dunes and clear waters. Many people opt to explore the region through a tour company that combines sand boarding, a visit to the Puketi National Forest, and a traditional kiwi lunch of fish and chips. It’s also a registered highway, so cruising a section in your car is a great way to spend the afternoon.
Perhaps the most photographable and Instagrammable gem on this list, Cathedral Cove is a massive natural arch that looms over soft white sand and clear water on the Coromandel Peninsula. The cove can be explored by kayak or on foot and feels like a lofty natural mansion on a secluded island. Hike along the ridge above the beach and eventually descend down to the cove — it’s a great place to picnic, so bring your supplies and set up shop for the afternoon.
Thanks to the high quartz content, the sand on Kaiteriteri beach glistens a rich gold. Located at the gates of the Abel Tasman National Park, Kaiteriteri is widely regarded as the best beach on the South Island. The area is threaded with hiking paths while restaurants offer delicious seafood and ice cream, and visitors can kayak to beautiful little lagoons and coves. It’s not uncommon to spot seals, penguins, and dolphins, so keep your phones at the ready and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife.
Hot Water Beach
The not-so-well-kept secret about Hot Water Beach is that visitors can create their own natural hot spring here. Pack some shovels, arrive at the beach within two hours of low tide and start digging. You’ll eventually release a slew of healthy minerals including calcium, magnesium, potassium, and warm water. Dedicated visitors build a little ring of rocks around their designated hotspot to make the heat last as long as possible until the tide comes rushing back in.
If you’re a fan of rock formations and generally think spotless beaches are lacking soul and character, Wharariki is the spot for you. Out on the water is a collection of massive rocks that demand attention. Perch yourself on the bluffs and watch a beautiful sunset over what is regarded as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. However, the wind and the current can get pretty heavy here, so it’s a better idea to stay on the shore if you’re not an exceptional swimmer.
Gillespies isn’t beautiful in the sense of a traditional white-sand, clear-water paradise. A bit like the United States’ Pacific Northwest or the fjords of Norway, the ocean is juxtaposed with landscapes that feel innately more dangerous and adventurous. The wind blows hard, and the beach itself is a desolate expanse of sharp rocks with a few lonely pieces of bleached driftwood. Looking to the east, you’ll find a beautiful view of New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Towering and snow-capped, it’s a view that takes the beach experience to the next level.