New Zealand’s North Island
The North Island of New Zealand is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes you’re ever likely to see. Quite literally, there is a unique view around every bend, and with all that coastline there are plenty of high quality surf breaks. I spent 5 months covering every corner of this fantastic island, and uncovered some great spots to surf along the way.
When to Go
Summer time. New Zealand is notoriously pretty chilly, and though the North Island is certainly warmer than the South Island, the Winter still brings some pretty low temperatures, along with some icy water. There are a few different micro-climates in different spots around the island, but generally the summer brings relatively consistent sun. I wasn’t so lucky, spending my time there on what was one of the wettest summers in recent years, but even I had plenty of sunny days.
Where to Surf
Perhaps your first stop, being the closest reliable break to Auckland. Piha Beach is renowned for being a pretty powerful, often messy break, and a lot of the time this is the case. If you catch it on a still day, though, it can produce some beautiful waves, particularly as there almost always seems to be some swell.
Name sound familiar? Shipwreck Bay featured in Endless Summer, unsurprisingly considering the quality of the waves. The region catches any swell around, and orders it into well formed waves, which travel down the headland for a long way. The varying sections means there are often waves for surfers of all abilities.
On the east coast of Northland, this beach is a relatively undiscovered gem. The contrast of the bright blue water and white sand is truly amazing, and we were lucky enough to be there on a day when the waves were pumping. The south side of the beach forms some barrelling sections, and there were only 3 or 4 of us sharing the waves.
As good as it gets in New Zealand, and one of the better spots in the world. Ngaranui Beach is the main beach here, and on a good day can serve up some high class waves. It’s the point breaks for which this area is known, though, with three points serving up incredibly consistent, almost perfect left handers. We weren’t fortunate enough to see it, but if the swell is big enough, these waves all join up, and can even make their way all the way to the beach, forming one of the longest lefts in the world.
Gisborne is a medium sized town, set on the inaptly named Poverty Bay. There are two beaches which offer high quality, albeit completely different waves in the area. Waikanae Beach is within Poverty Bay, and you’ll see plenty of long boarders riding these slow, but very shapely waves. When there is a bit of swell, these breaks can be truly heavenly, offering up long running barrels. Wainui Beach is 5 minutes drive to the north, and is the more rugged sibling of Waikanae. When it’s on, Wainui can throw up some very fast, barrelling waves, reserved purely for advanced surfers. The biggest we saw it was probably double overhead, but it’s the power more than the size which sets the wave apart. It is seriously fast, with waves throwing their whitewater metres out in front, and crashing down like thunder.
Set on the Bay of Plenty, Mount Maunganui is an ideally sized surf town. Immediately next to the city of Tauranga, there is a lot to do in the surrounding areas, but the town itself is a mix of cafes, restaurants, and bars, with a relaxed vibe. This is a popular spot for surfers to visit, because the quality of waves when it’s on can be extremely high. There are peaks all along the main beach, and for miles further to the south east, while a right-hand point break often forms off the Moturiki Island, a very small peninsula which juts out off the beach. The actual Mount Maunganui rises 232 metres from sea level immediately next to the beach, offering up some spectacular views while you’re in the water.
With a 2,518 metre high volcano named Mount Taranaki overlooking this spot, New Plymouth and its surrounding areas is one of the most beautiful places to surf on the island. New Plymouth has an array of beaches, which can offer up some very hollow, powerful barrels. When small, this wave is suitable for surfers of all abilities, particularly on the east side of Fitzroy beach, which tends to be significantly smaller. When it’s pumping though, make sure you know what you’re doing if you’re going to paddle out.
Where Else to Visit
Surf aside, the North Island of New Zealand is truly a beautiful place. It is home to perhaps the most concentrated array of geographic attractions I have ever seen. There are caves, waterfalls, beaches, lakes, forests, mountains, all of which are within a few hundred kilometres of each other.
Northland was perhaps the most beautiful place we visited. Referring to the area north of Auckland, this region starts as a narrow peninsula, and narrows even further about 100 kilometres from the northern tip of the country. The east coast is home to some extraordinary beaches – light blue water, white sand, and some pretty nice waves if you catch the right day. The northern tip of the country is an amazing place, a spiritual haven for the Maoris, and the meeting place of the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea. I didn’t think much of this initially – surely you can’t tell where one body of water ends and another starts. I thought it was arbitrary, but it is actually an extraordinary collision of water, currents travelling in different directions all meeting in one confined area to create a powerful, beautiful mess.
The Coromandel Peninsula juts out of the east coast of the island, and is one of the most picturesque areas on the island. A single road follows the coast almost the whole way around the peninsula, surrounding an impenetrable mountain range in the middle. On the west coast, the road perches itself magnificently on the edge of the water. This coast looks back towards the mainland, and Auckland can be seen on clear days. Orcas have also been known to sneak into this bay, so keep your eyes peeled. As you head around the tip of the peninsula and back down the east coast, you’ll find the best beaches on the peninsula. The aptly named Hot Water Beach has, at low tide, hot water bubbling away under the sand, if you can find it. Some pumping waves, too.
Then there’s Raglan. The perfect surf town. Even without factoring in the breaks, this is a town with a great personality. The lifestyle around here for most people in the summer is pretty much as follows: wake up, grab a coffee, have a surf, eat lunch, grab a coffee, have a surf, drink a couple of beers, sleep, repeat. Not the worst way to live.
So, what’s the moral of the story? Quite simply, it’s to visit New Zealand’s North Island. It is home to some incredible beauty, and some great surf. What more could you want?