You’re always close to water in New Zealand, which also means you’re never far from a spectacular spot to stand-up paddleboard – or SUP.
With 15,000km of coastline and countless lakes and rivers crammed into a fit, friendly, action-seeker’s paradise, New Zealand is the perfect place to sightsee by SUP. Whether you choose an alpine lake or subtropical island, grab your board and paddle, and head out to explore.
Beautiful Bay of Islands & Glorious Tutukaka
If you're on the eastern coast of New Zealand's sub-tropical north, your hardest task will be to pick between the multitiude of beautiful scalloped bays home to clear waters, hundreds of islands, marine reserves teeming with life and some of New Zealand’s earliest and most fascinating historical sites. Try starting at Russell or Kerikeri, in the Bay of Islands, with a local SUP school like Northland Paddleboarding who'll give you a refresher lesson, suggest a tour of their favourite spots or provide you with a board and advice on which way to head off into the blue.
A bit further south down the Northland coast, and out from Whangarei, you'll find the gorgeous Tutukaka coast and Sup Bro Paddling who'll help you create your ideal day’s outing. They're the only SUP operators taking tours to the Poor Knights Islands - one of New Zealand's most famous marine reserves. Finish off your day on the water with a refreshing local craft beer and sunset fish’n’chips on the beach.
Fly to Kerikeri or Whangarei and drive to Russell or Paihia. Try visiting in February for settled weather and fewer summer crowds. Visit Mangungu Mission House at Horeke, one of the first European settlements in New Zealand, and the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the original treaty between settlers and indigenous Māori was signed.
If you're heading to Tutukaka, it's a 3-hour scenic drive north from Auckland. Tutukaka, the service port for the Poor Knights, is 30km northeast of Whangarei. New Zealand’s largest fleet of dive charter boats operate out of Tutukaka to the 50 dive sites around the islands.
Full Steam Ahead to Rotorua
You don’t want to miss Rotorua, a fascinating town set in an active volcanic zone – think boiling mud pools and steam vents, hot mineral springs and the distinctive smell of sulphur everywhere you go. With a strong Māori history and modern-day presence, it’s also one of the best places to learn about New Zealand’s unique indigenous culture. Rotorua is surrounded by lakes that have been created by thousands of years of volcanic activity, making it a dynamic place to paddleboard. With Rotorua Paddle Tours, you don’t just get to explore the deep blue (and green) lakes in the region, but also nearby rivers, bush, streams and natural hot springs.
Self-drive, take a bus or fly to Rotorua. Try visiting in autumn, winter or spring, when things are quieter and the hot springs will feel extra cosy. Rotorua and nearby Lake Taupo (a one-hour drive) are a true mountain-biker’s dream, so bring your bike as well. In winter, Mount Ruapehu, a 2.5-hour drive south, offers excellent skiing.
Discover Nelson’s National Parks
In Nelson, paddle from sweeping Tahunanui beach to explore Haulashore Island, Nelson Haven and the remarkable 13km-long Boulder Bank. If the tide is right, head up the Maitai River to one of the city’s waterside cafés, fuelling your return to the sands. In Abel Tasman National Park, an hour’s drive from Nelson, bright-yellow sea kayaks have been joined by paddle-boarders exploring the area’s turquoise seas and golden beaches. Moana NZ SUP or Abel Tasman Paddleboarding can get you sorted. The estuary around Kaiteriteri and Marahau is an especially lovely destination, offering caves, coves and plenty of deserted spots to pull up and swim or snorkel around the rocks.
Nestled between three national wilderness areas and popular with hikers and families, Nelson is one of the country’s top summer hotspots. Get there by air or bus/self-drive from the Picton ferry. It’s best to visit outside of the busy summer school-holiday period; November and March are perfect.
Explore Tekapo’s Glacial Beauty
Tekapo has to be experienced to be believed – and so does paddling on this icy glacial lake. Filled with fine, suspended clay dust, the lake is an ethereal pale blue – set off by white-tipped mountains in the cooler months – and a photographer’s dream. Hire a board from Paddle Tekapo and explore along the pine-strewn lake edge, brightened by colourful lupins in summer, and camp just across from the water. Finish off your trip with a soak in the lakeside hot springs or a steep walk up Mount John to check out the observatory and take in the 360-degree views of the extensive valley bowl.
Tekapo is an International Dark Sky Reserve and any visit must include a trip to Mount John Observatory for an astronomy tour. Drive or take a bus from Christchurch, Wanaka or Queenstown. Go between October and April to catch the warmer weather.
Outdoor Heaven in Wanaka
Wanaka’s dramatic, peak-ringed lake is the focal point of a vibrant waterside adventurer’s village offering excellent coffee, craft beer, gourmet food and shopping. On a guided SUP with Paddle Wanaka, you’ll learn a few techniques before exploring either the lake or the Upper Clutha River, then taking a trip to quaint Albert Town. There’s also the thrilling option of a heli-SUP trip to a high-country lake, flying over the glaciers near one of New Zealand’s highest peaks (3033m), Tititea/Mount Aspiring. After paddling on a deserted alpine lake 1000m above sea level, you can relax with a waterside gourmet picnic.
Drive from Christchurch or fly to Wanaka or nearby Queenstown. Go in the shoulder seasons to avoid crowds, or catch the full New Zealand summer holiday buzz in December-January. Make sure you take time to check out Wanaka’s friendly nightlife and diverse range of walks.
Fact File: Coastal New Zealand
- 15134km (9404 mi) of coastline
- North Island is the world’s 14th largest island
- South Island is world’s 12th largest island
- Main inhabited islands include: North, South, Great Barrier, Waiheke, d’Urville, Stewart, Chatham
- Together the North and South islands extend 1600km north – south
- Lapped by the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea