Finding your favourite New Zealand beaches is one of the most fun parts of exploring the country.
Although NZ may be isolated down in the South Pacific, there's one obvious upside to being a small island nation: beaches, and lots of them.
Because of the abundance of New Zealand beaches, you're never far away from one and there is a huge variety in terms of landscapes and leisure activities available at each one.
One key element that has defined my travels around NZ is an attraction to the ocean. One of the many advantages of travelling around the country in a campervan is that you can often park up for the night literally right next to one of the most amazing beaches in the world.
Below I want to share some of my favourite New Zealand beaches and explain what I like about them most.
There is a big variety in this list, from secluded, hard-to-reach beaches like Wharariki and Gillespies Beach at one end of the spectrum, and urban beaches like Takapuna in Auckland at the other.
There's also a mix of beach types – Takapuna is a quiet, calm swimming and sunbathing beach, in contrast to the rocky and rugged Gillespies hidden away in the middle of nowhere on the South Island's West Coast.
In each case, there is something special about each beach that gives it a certain character in my memory.
Beside each New Zealand beach name I have listed the closest town or city to make it easier to find them and plan a visit. This is by no means a complete list – be sure to subscribe to the email list and check back in as I add more!
The skyline at Ohope is recognisable in an instant to anyone who has been there (if you want to get some great sunset photography without too much effort, Ohope will provide).
It's a broad, long, flat beach perfect for running, beach cricket and games of touch rugby during the summer.
Even in winter the beach holds a strong appeal – I stayed here for a month in the off season and had a beachfront camping spot to myself at the Top 10 Holiday Park, with power, for only $10/night. Though it's not super warm, this is the time of year when the beach gets the most consistent sunshine hours, and because the locals don't use it much in the winter I had the whole beach to myself. A great place to hole up for a while if you're travelling in the off season.
A very popular South Island holiday spot among locals, Tahuna and the Nelson region in general get some of the best weather in the country during summer.
As a popular holiday spot for Christmas and New Year's, there are often plenty of events and concerts on in the area. The beach itself is calm (though crowded in summer), perfect for swimming, sunbathing and chilling out.
It's also right next to Nelson city centre so it's convenient if you need to be in an urban centre (eg for working as you go).
Another very popular holiday spot with locals from around the South Island, and similar to Tahuna in many ways.
Kaiteri has the highest sunshine hours rate of any beach in NZ, so it's not surprising many of NZ's moneyed folk have started building holiday houses here.
That means it's been 'gentified' somewhat, perhaps too much for the traveller seeking authenticity, but there are still good camping spots available for the budget traveller here.
It's great for swimming and water sports, though it gets a bit overcrowded in summer. It's not uncommon to spot seals and dolphins around these parts as well.
The Bay of Islands is a bit like the North Island's version of the Nelson region.
Paihia, Russell and Kerikeri swell with visitors from Auckland and elsewhere in the North Island over the summer months, and if you're visiting over New Year's it's a pretty awesome place to party.
In the off season it's quiet here, but it has some of the best beach temperatures you'll find (apart from the fact that it rains a lot!).
In the summer it's perfect for sunbathing with a view, swimming, or exploring the Bay of Islands by boat or kayak (there are several spots along the beachfront in Paihia where you can hire kayaks starting from around $15-20).
Remote, rugged, and visually stunning, even by New Zealand beach standards.
Getting to Wharariki is a bit of a mission, requiring a big drive over the steep Takaka Hill, but the challenge means the more 'casual tourists' don't tend to make it up this far.
It's seclusion means it remains much more unspoiled and uncrowded.
It's wild, with big cathedral-pillar rocks jutting up from the surf, and it's not uncommon to spot wildlife on the beach itself, including seals and their pups.
One of my favourite hidden gems, which I actually stumbled upon more or less by accident when trying random backroads one day after visiting Franz Josef.
The road to Gillespies starts at Fox Glacier Township. The road turns to gravel and narrows as you head out towards the sea (beware, it's not ideal for large vehicles!).
After 15 kilometres or so of winding, narrow gravel road you're rewarded with a freedom camping spot and a wild, rocky beach littered with gnarled and sun-bleached driftwood, perfect for building your own bivouac with.
Just make sure you bring waterproof gear – when it rains here, it pours.
Some of the most expensive houses in the country line the shore at Takapuna Beach on Auckland's North Shore.
It's very popular for sunbathing and swimming (the water here is calm so don't go looking for surf, but stand-up paddleboarding is becoming more and more popular all the time. Lots of nice bars, cafes and restaurants nearby.
On the southern side of the harbour, in Auckland City proper, you'll find Mission Bay facing across towards Takapuna (there are two other beaches, Kohimarama and St Heliers – both are quieter than Mission Bay).
Mission Bay was one of my favourite Sunday afternoon spots when living it Auckland – calm, warm water perfect for swimming, lots of activity, great fish and chips, a Belgian beer cafe and plenty of ice cream shops to choose from.
This part of Auckland is the most common place to find kitesurfers and windsurfers as well.
There are a handful of bays around Banks Peninsula with amazing beaches that remain unknown to most travellers passing through – take your pick. I particularly like Le Bons Bay for its seclusion – it's one of those places I look for where you can feel like there's no one else around for miles.
The Hawkes Bay has some pretty impressive stats when it comes to sunshine hours, and although the stony beach may not be the most idyllic sunbathing or swimming spot I have plenty of fond memories of staying at the Snapper Holiday Park here and taking the dog for walks along the beach.
The Snapper Cafe itself is also quite nice for a coffee and lunch (you don't have to stay at the park to stop in for a bite).
If you're in the South Island in March, I highly recommend trying to make it across to Hokitika to check out the Wild Foods Festival.
This is a big South Island event, with many people coming across from Christchurch and other towns to get involved.
It's a chance to dress up in costume, get drunk in the sun, and eat some thoroughly weird food (beware the 'Mountain Oysters').
Out on Auckland's West Coast you'll find several incredible, wild and rugged beaches with black sand and great surf.
Bethells is one of the quieter ones – Piha, nearby, is a little more active and popular with surfers.
You can swim out at these beaches but the waves can get pretty rough so beware, if you're not a strong swimmer I'd stick to the city beaches around the harbour.
The Western beaches are a great place to decompress from hectic Auckland life, less than an hour's drive from the city centre.
Coromandel is absolutely stuffed with great beaches – Hot Water Beach, just north of Tairua, being one of the most famous – but I find the peninsula is becoming a little too overcrowded these days.
For the best experience I suggest spending more time in one of the smaller towns rather than the major hotspots, and Tairua is a great candidate.
It is more or less a holiday town, but it's still small enough that it doesn't feel like it's been ruined by over-development yet.
Probably the most famous of all the New Zealand beaches on this list. Standing on 90 Mile Beach makes me feel like I'm in a scene from Mad Max - it's so isolated it's easy to imagine you're the last person on earth here, until someone comes roaring along the sand in a four wheel drive.
The surf is pretty rough here, but the main activities to get involved in here are sand dune sledding and the aforementioned four wheel driving.
One of the more hidden gems of Northland, becoming more popular as a holiday destination with Kiwis but still missed by many travellers, Ahipara is an idyllic little seaside town famous for its surfing.
If you visit I highly recommend staying at the Endless Summer Lodge backpackers – it has a nice homely B&B feel to it and family-like vibes amongst the visitors. They also hire surf gear and runs lessons, as well as tours to Cape Reinga.
The beach where you'll find the famous and mysterious Moeraki Boulders, half sunk in the sand.
There's not a lot to do here other than check out the boulders – it's mainly just a tourist sightseeing spot – but it's one that's worth pulling over to take a look at.
The cafe is also pretty decent so it works as a stopping point if you're driving from Dunedin to Christchurch.
Allans Beach (Dunedin)
Tolaga Bay (East Cape/Gisborne)
Tautuku Beach (The Catlins)