New Zealand’s coast is dotted with stunning beaches, and some astonishing stretches of coastline highlight black and gold sand. You can sit beneath sunsets that dip and blaze across the sky. Enjoy pristine coves where the sunshine and turquoise water is well-loved by locals. Consider a picnic dinner followed by stargazing. Here are some top picks, but every beach in New Zealand is a beauty. Delight in at least one on your New Zealand vacation.
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Koekohe Beach, Otago Coast
Giant, round boulders sit on the shore. They measure over six feet in diameter and weigh several tons each. The Moeraki Boulders seem to have been plopped on this part of the coast like cookie batter pushed off a spoon onto a baking sheet. But, they’re actually rock formations that formed 60 million years ago, and their unusual shape is due to the forces of erosion. They look like a sculpture and are unique to Koekohe. The large beach-ball rocks invite you to play. Stand on top of one, and take pictures.
Awaroa Beach, Abel Tasman National Park
When this beachfront property came up for sale in 2016, 40,000 New Zealanders (Kiwi’s) sprang into action. They raised money to buy it and gifted it to the Department of Conservation. At the top of the South Island, this sublime beach is surrounded by dense native bush. Its waters are turquoise, and the sand is golden. Rightly called “The People’s Beach,” it is deep in the Abel Tasman National Park in Golden Bay. Restoration and protection of the eco-system is underway, and coastal birds nest nearby.
It sits on the northern-most point of the south island, and getting there is half the adventure. You’ll walk across rolling pastures and enjoy some unique scenery, New Zealand-style, on the way. Explore caves, pools, and dramatic sand dunes. Keep your eye out for local wildlife, and be prepared for powerful winds. Just off the shore, you’ll recognize Archway Islands, three gigantic rocks shaped like arches. Consider discovering this beach on horseback—it’s truly an authentic experience.
Mt. Maunganui, Bay of Plenty
This beach is often voted as having the best surf in New Zealand, but you don’t need to be a pro to get into the spirit of “The Mount.” Dip your toes in, rent a boogie board, body surf, or sit at a beachside café. Pure, white sand stretches from horizon to horizon with views of the peninsula. The water is blue, the hills are green, and the atmosphere is laid-back. Get an ice cream at the shop just across the road, and bliss out.
It’s worth a visit to Rottnest Island, just off Perth, to get a glimpse of a quokka or three—they will make your heart happy. 10,000 quokkas live on the island and, if you’re patient, at least one will approach you. The helpless baby spends about six months in its mother’s pouch. If the baby, or joey, doesn’t survive the mother has others waiting in her womb, in a suspended state of development, as back-up. They are herbivores, can live off the fat stored in their tails, and they can go for one month without water. This is lucky—fresh water’s in short supply on Rottnest Island.
Cathedral Cove, The Coromandel
It’s just 2 ½ hours from Auckland, but it is worlds away in atmosphere. All of Coromandel is gorgeous, but Cathedral Cove is the gem. You can’t drive right to the beach, which is one reason it’s pristine. First, decide how you want to see it—you can kayak, boat, or walk. (On the way, you can stop at Hot Water Beach—it’s just ten minutes south.) It takes about 45 minutes, walking on lovely paths, to reach the cove. You’ll see a cathedral-shaped rock across from golden sands. Breathe the wonder.
Maitai Bay, Northland
On the Karikari peninsula, the beaches are absolutely tropical. Swim or snorkel in turquoise waters. Birdwatch or hike on white sand beaches surrounded by pohutukawa trees, also known as New Zealand Christmas trees. This is an ultimate beach destination, and any New Zealand vacation should include at least one experience that feels like Fiji.
Anchor Bay, Tawharanui Regional Park
Tawharanui Regional Park, just north of Auckland, is at the end of a peninsula that reaches into the Pacific, north of Kawau Island. Before you get to the beach, you’ll drive through a rural area called Matakana. Dip into a shop for local crafts or wine. Continue through farmland—as a matter of fact, the Regional Park was once a large, private farm. There are shady areas above the beach, perfect for picnicking. Find the ecology trail—it’s beyond a protected breeding area of rare New Zealand birds. You’ll pass a round-stone beach and then the path climbs across farmlands to a valley of native woods. Just 80 minutes north of Auckland, and you’re in paradise.
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