New Zealand has more than 9,000 miles of coast and hundreds of pristine beaches. From jagged, rocky shores to hidden black and white sands, turquoise lagoons to tumultuous surf, seaside natural hot springs to immense dunes, there's a beach for every temperament in the land of the Kiwis. Whether it's adventure, relaxation, or wildlife you want, we'll guide you to the best stretches of coast on both of New Zealand's wild islands. —Nick Davidson
Ninety Mile Beach: Cape Reinga, North Island
The longest stretch of sand in New Zealand, Ninety Mile Beach is lined with big, grass-topped dunes and the piney Aupori Forest on the island’s northernmost peninsula. Part of the official highway system, the misnamed beach covers 64 miles of packed golden sand, best seen by tour buses outfitted to race down the surf’s edge at low tide while spray lashes the windows. Swim or surf the southern end at Ahipara, or fish the roiling waters—Ninety Mile Beach hosts the Snapper Classic, an annual five-day surfcasting competition at the end of February—then sled down the massive Te Paki dunes at the northern terminus.
Hot Water Beach: Coromandel, North Island
The Coromandel Peninsula bears a range of tropical wonders—verdant rainforest, volcanic hills, ancient and massive kauri trees—but perhaps none more pleasant than the surfside natural hot springs of Hot Water Beach. Grab a shovel and come two hours either side of low tide to dig your own personal hot tub in the sand where two fissures spout water up to 164 degrees (your bath will be cooler). Soak in a geothermal mixture of calcium, magnesium, and potassium until the tide rises to wash your pool away. Then cool off in the sea, but beware the notoriously strong rip tides near the outcrop that bisects the beach.
Gillespies Beach: West Coast, South Island
An empty pebble beach at the foot of the Southern Alps with dramatic views to the blue-flecked Fox Glacier, Gillespies is an often overlooked gem for travelers along the South Island’s famed West Coast. Drive six miles down a canopied gravel road to the beach, an old gold-mining settlement and primitive DOC free campsite. Walk for hours along the coast to spot remnants of the old gold dredge, a miners’ tunnel, and the Galway Beach seal rookery, then sit around a sunset bonfire with the other backpackers. From Gillespies, head back toward town for an early morning stop at Lake Matheson for a flawless reflection of the peaks nesting Fox Glacier.
Manu Bay: Raglan, North Island
Set in a nook of the North Island’s rugged west coast, Raglan is renowned among surfers for some of the best left-handed point breaks in the world. Small wonder. Manu Bay, which featured in the 1966 surf film The Endless Summer, boasts swells that break over a distance of 1,000 feet and immaculate 10-foot-plus waves lined up like blue corduroy. This is experienced surfer territory, but you can book a three-hour lesson through Solscape ($85, including board and wetsuit). Then it’s five miles back to Raglan, New Zealand’s bohemian arts and crafts center where you can soak-in the laidback vibe.
Wainui Beach: Gisborne, North Island
New Zealand’s austral sun shines first on Gisborne, and you’ll find no better place to watch it rise than majestic Wainui beach. Set on a reserve amid emerald hills tumbling down to the sea on Makarori Headland, Wainui accesses several short walking tracks, including a dune-top hike running the length of the beach. Watch surfers riding waves from a handful of idyllic picnic spots, or grab your board and join them on world-class left- and right-hand beach breaks with eight-foot barrels. Intimidated? Head a few miles north to the emptier, beginner-friendly Makarori Beach on the far side of the headland.
Allans Beach: Dunedin, South Island
A scenic drive to the Otago Peninsula on the outskirts of Dunedin, the Edinburgh of the South, takes you to a smatter of beaches flush with wildlife. Allans Beach is among the remotest and most overlooked of those, several miles down an unpaved road to a quiet stretch of sand ringed with jagged cliffs and bright green moss. At dusk, wait at the edge of dune grasses to spot yellow-eyed penguins returning from the sea to their colony. Then take a sunset stroll down the beach and watch for napping seals and sea lions camouflaged by the sand and rocks.
Mosquito Bay: Abel Tasman National Park, South Island
Mosquito Bay nestles in a small cove along the Abel Tasman Coast Track, surrounded by white sand, lapis-hued waters, and a thick subtropical canopy of manuka and fern trees. Boat-only access means you’ll likely have this paradise to yourself. Rent a sea kayak from the tiny town of Marahau and either layover at a Torrent Bay campsite or make a long push through the Mad Mile—an intimidating stretch of unsheltered sea with high winds, rocks, and choppy waves—to Mosquito Bay. Time your arrival with high tide to avoid carrying your gear 100 yards to camp. Relax, explore, and spot native birds and nearby seals before nighttime gazing at bright clusters of strange constellations in the southern sky.
New Chums Beach: Coromandel, North Island
One of the last undeveloped beaches of the Coromandel Peninsula, the remote New Chums Beach gives visitors ingress only by foot or boat. It’s worth the effort. Hike 40 minutes from the Whangapoua Beach carpark through native bush, then wade across a lagoon and over a low saddle to enter New Chums, fringed with Pohutukawa trees. Track fresh footprints in the virgin white sand and dip into the gentle turquoise water while you soak in the Kiwi sun and reflect on your Edenic surroundings.
Koekohe Beach: North Otago, South Island
The mysterious Moeraki Boulders strewn along Koekohe Beach like veined dragon eggs stir the imagination of scores of daily visitors. Stroll along the beach beneath mudstone cliffs, where golden sand ensconces dozens of spherical boulders at the tide line, many weighing several tons and stretching 10 feet in diameter. Formed some 60 million years ago, these concretions conglomerated from ancient seafloor sediments until shoreline erosion gradually unearthed them from the cliffs. Some lay partly submerged in the sand, others cracked open like shells to show their honeycombed centers, filled with clear tidewater. Come with your camera at dawn or dusk for more solitary viewing and an otherworldly vibe.