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Surfing in New Zealand

Surfing New Zealand on a campervan rental holidayNew Zealand is well-known in the surfing fraternity as one of the world’s most exciting surf destinations. A long, thin country bordered on all sides by ocean, we have thousands of kilometres of readily accessible coastline with a huge variety of beach, point, reef and bar breaks. And our narrow shape means that the West and East coasts are close together, so there’s always a good break not far away.

When to Surf in New Zealand

You can surf all year round in New Zealand. From December to March, especially in the North Island, you don’t usually need a wetsuit – you will need one if you’re surfing the North Island from March to October, and all year round in the South Island, due to the cooler water temperatures. The advantage of the cooler water is that the beaches are uncrowded, and shark attacks are rare.

Campervan Surf Holidays

The great thing about camplervan surfing holidays is that they take you off the beaten track and you get to explore the real New Zealand – so much better and more authentic than just doing the rounds of the tourist spots everyone visits. Surfing is also a great way to meet the locals. And the freedom and independence of travelling by motorhome is the perfect fit for your Kiwi surfing holiday. In many parts of the country, as long as you’re in a self-contained campervan you can stay right there overlooking the surf (make sure you check with the local information centre first to make sure that freedom camping is allowed). Check with your campervan rental company to make sure the camper van model you plan to hire can accommodate your surfboards inside the vehicle or on the roof. And especially in the colder months, it’s a good idea to hire a campervan with a diesel or gas heater, to reward you with toasty warmth after several hours in the surf. Some motorhomes even come with a drying room for wetsuits and towels.

Where to Surf – North Island

Surf breaks abound right along the length of New Zealand, on both coasts. There’s great surf even close to the major cities – you’ll find the black sand beaches of Piha and Muriwai only a 45 minute drive away from Auckland, or in the right conditions you can even surf beaches such as Takapuna on Auckland’s North Shore. Ahipara and Shipwreck Bay, in the Far North of the North Island, are definitely worth a visit, both for the stunning landscape and the 1km long ‘supertube’. If you’re travelling north, you can drive the Twin Coast Discovery Highway to take in the surf on both coasts. Popular surf spots on the east coast to the north of Auckland include Mangawhai and Te Arai. South of Auckland, the surf community of Raglan is a must-visit – the superb conditions of Manu Bay are world famous.

South of Auckland on the East Coast you’ll find the Coromandel Peninsula, home of white sandy beaches and a variety of popular breaks including Hot Water Beach, Pauanui and, further south in the Bay of Plenty, Mt Maunganui, home of New Zealand’s first artificial reef. Around the East Cape you’ll find some stunning beaches. Gisborne, the first city in the world to see the sun and a great place for a dawn surf, has some of the best breaks in New Zealand, facing south and east. On the western side of the North Island, the Taranaki area (known to locals as the ‘Naki’) boasts many surf beaches – Fitzroy beach is one of the most popular due to its reliable surf and easy access. Surf Highway 45  covers the entire Taranaki region. Continue south from the ‘Naki and you’ll eventually hit the Wairarapa region, just around the corner from the capital, and home to miles of uncrowded waves (beware of big southerly swells). You can even surf in Wellington itself – Lyall Bay is great on a southerly swell.

Where to Surf – South Island

The South Island is home to many unspoilt surf beaches, from Westport to Greymouth on the rugged West Coast, and the whole way down the East Coast. Surf Kaikoura, famous for its wildlife, and you’ll be sharing the surf with Dusky dolphins and seals. Breaks to the south of Kaikoura include Mangamanu, Meatworks and Oaro. Closer to Christchurch you’ll find many surf spots as well. Check out New Brighton, one of the most popular beaches in the area, and Jack’s Point, south of Timaru. If you can brave the cooler temperatures, Dunedin is one of the best surfing regions in New Zealand, with a large number of breaks all situated quite close together.

New Zealand Surf Reports 

You can find surf reports on all New Zealand’s best-known surf breaks on Surf.co.nz.

Safety in the Surf

Be aware that some NZ beaches can be dangerous, especially for swimmers or novice surfers, due to strong rips and consistently large waves (Muriwai and Piha on Auckland’s West Coast are examples). Lifeguards patrol the most popular beaches during summer, and it’s a good idea to talk to local surfers or lifeguards, about conditions and hazards. Surf in a group if you can, and if you’re swimming on a patrolled beach, keep between the flags. Also, remember that the NZ sun is notoriously strong so don’t forget serious sun protection.

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