Six of New Zealand's waterside spots to dive right into

Six spectacular waterside spots in New Zealand that you may never want to leave.

Six spectacular waterside spots in New Zealand that you may never want to leave – selected from New Zealand’s extensive (15,134km) coastline.

The choice is endless – well almost – because New Zealand’s two main islands (the 12th and 14th largest islands in the world) extending 1600km north – south with a maximum width of 400km (250 mi) offer some 15,134km (9404 mi) of coastline to discover. 

Whether you’re chilling out on the beach to a surf soundtrack, relaxing on a riverbank, or simply lazing lakeside, these wonderful waterside New Zealand destinations will captivate you completely.

Surrounded by Islands

At the heart of the aptly named Bay of Islands in the country’s subtropical north, Paihia’s position affords million-dollar views by the minute. Swim with dolphins, get a history lesson at the beautiful Treaty Grounds of Waitangi or walk to Haruru Falls and see if you can spot the taniwha (water monster) rumoured to live in the pool below the falls. The town sprouts scenic walks in all directions and secluded golden-sand beaches dot the coastline. Don your reef sandals and check out the locals’ favourite swimming spot, Sullivans Beach, just a short rock-hop from the southern end of Paihia Beach.

Travel Tips

Paihia is about three hours’ drive north of Auckland. The Bay of Islands Airport is at Kerikeri, 30 minutes away. Paihia enjoys mild winters and the water is warm enough for swimming well into autumn.

Where Mountain Meets Sea

The beachside community of Mount Maunganui has long been a favourite spot for summer camping holidays – think lazy, sun-drenched days lounging around on the fine white sand while licking melting ice-creams. But this bustling Bay of Plenty town is also home to a community that embraces the laid-back surfing lifestyle year-round. After a brisk hike up Mauao, aka The Mount, and a rejuvenating soak in the saltwater hot pools at the bottom of the hill, settle in for steamed dumplings and a tasting paddle of craft beers brewed in-house at The Rising Tide.

Travel Tips

Mount Maunganui is a 15-minute drive from Tauranga and just under three hours’ drive from Auckland. It’s about an hour to Hobbiton of The Lord of the Rings fame, as well as the hot thermal wonderland that is Rotorua. The Bay of Plenty enjoys some of the highest hours of sunshine in the country.

So Hot Right Now

Not all our waterfront towns are on the ocean. Take Taupo, which sits on its namesake lake, a water-filled crater formed by a series of enormous volcanic eruptions. Not surprisingly, hot pools remain an attraction in the area. Walk the Otumuheke spa trail that leads to natural hot springs. Or stroll among the native flora – and, in spring, a host of vibrant rhododendrons and azaleas – at the Waipahihi Botanical Gardens overlooking the lake. All that lake air will give you quite the appetite, which you can remedy nicely with the barbecued goodness at Southern Meat Kitchen.

Travel Tips

Taupo sits in the centre of the North Island, 3.5 hours’ drive south of Auckland and 4.5 hours’ drive north of Wellington.  Simply look out for steam or ask a local where to find the free hot springs that are dotted all over the place. In winter, an 80-minute drive will see you on the slopes of Whakapapa ski field on Mount Ruapehu.

On the Nelson Craft Beer Trail

Descending into Nelson affords a sweeping view of Tahunanui Beach, just one of the many glorious stretches of sand dotted along Tasman Bay on the northern tip of the South Island. There is a lot to relish here – great galleries, divine national parks – but the Nelson Craft Beer Trail shouldn’t be missed. Good beer abounds in this sunny part of the country where hops grow happily. You can taste a great local beer at the Free House – a laid-back, friendly pub in what was once a Dutch Reform church. Spring is a good time to visit the Miyazu Japanese Garden because it’s when the cherry trees are in blossom. Speaking of cherries and other berries – look out for roadside produce stalls that operate with “honesty boxes”.

Travel Tips

Nelson is a short flight from Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch. The Nelson-Tasman region takes in the spectacular Abel Tasman National Park and Nelson Lakes.

When in Wanaka

Walkers and bikers alike will love Wanaka’s Outlet Track alongside the Clutha River near this pretty lakeside town. It’s especially splendid when decked out in autumnal gold. Get in touch with Classic Flights to book an aerial tour of this grand landscape with a flight in a 1940s Tiger Moth. Then there’s that tree. It started life sprouting from a roughly hewn fence post almost 80 years ago, but now, with the old fence line partially submerged at the lake’s edge, it’s become a huge Instagram hit as #thatwanakatree. There’s something evocative about this lone willow so stoically determined to grow despite having very wet feet.

Travel Tips

Wanaka is just under an hour’s drive from Queenstown. Easter 2018 brings the world-famous Warbirds over Wanaka air show. The closest ski fields are Treble Cone, and Cardrona, and the cross-country delights of Snow Farm are also within a 40-minute drive.

Coasting in Kaikoura

Perched on a peninsula on an isolated stretch of Pacific Ocean coastline where snow-capped mountains slope down into the sea, Kaikoura is rightly famous as a top spot for whale watching – and for its bounty of delicious seafood. On a half-day guided trek with Kaikoura Llama Trekking, you can ride these placid but intelligent animals along the beachfront and out to the fur seal colony on the headland. Of course, no beachside break is complete without ice-cream, and in this town Poppy’s comes up trumps with its homemade, generously proportioned scoops.

Travel Tips

Kaikoura is a 2.5-hour drive north of Christchurch. November to March is the best time to spot whales. Keep an eye out for the caravans beside the highway selling fresh ocean delicacies such as crayfish.

Coastal New Zealand fast facts:

  • 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
  • 3820 lakes covering more than 1ha