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The Best Destinations for Surf Trips – North Island NZ (Beginner-Advanced)

For most, it’s been a long couple of years, with the ability to travel all but removed and our choice of surf destinations subsequently drastically limited. For those of us fortunate to live near enough to a quality surf break or two that might not have been such an issue, but nonetheless being able to take to the air in search of an overseas surf trip will be something that is welcomed back with open arms. In this series, we’ll take a look at some of the best surf trip destinations around the planet for surfers of all abilities. Now, it’s time to head to New Zealand’s picturesque North Island.

Ah, New Zealand. It might be small enough to fit inside Australia around 29 times, but its lack of size belies its incredibly diverse landscape. Our little neighbour to the east is home to volcanos, waterfalls, rainforests and most importantly, a bunch of good waves, making it a great place for a surf trip – particularly if you’re based in Australia.

You certainly won’t be the only one there living this kind of lifestyle – there are vans aplenty, and at most of the spots named below you’ll likely see numerous people setting up shop for a day or two at one break, passing their time surfing, relaxing and not much else. 

Getting there

If you’re in Australia, getting there is about as easy as overseas travel gets. Most airports, be they big or small, should have pretty regular flights to Auckland, particularly if you’re located anywhere near the east coast. If you are, you’re looking at a couple of hundred bucks and about three or four hours in the air. If you’re across on the west coast, you can pretty much double those numbers.

Once you get to Auckland, there are a few different ways to get from point A to point B, but the easiest solution is probably to get a car. The North Island isn’t big and is relatively easy to get around by road – though there are a few mountains and volcanos which can slow you down – but if you want to experience all the best waves the region has to offer you’ll need to cover a few kilometres, and a hire car is the easiest way to do it. 

The waves

The North Island is, as you may have guessed, an island, meaning that there are breaks facing in all directions. As a result, there is plenty of variation, with point breaks and beach breaks in equal measure, and both powerful, heavy barrels as well as more mellow, beginner-friendly options. This, of course, means that the North Island of New Zealand has something for everyone, and these are five of the first waves you should check out on any trip there. 

Raglan

Raglan is piece de resistance of surfing in New Zealand, home to some of the best waves in the world and an incredible natural beauty to match. The beaches in this small, laid-back town are home to NZ’s famous black sand, and surrounded by huge cliffs, vast expanses of deep blue ocean, and some of the best left-hand point breaks you’ll ever see. The main beach is called Ngaranui, and can offer up anything from beginner-friendly rollers through to heaving, overhead conditions. The surf here can be really good on its day, but Raglan’s fame really comes from the point breaks to the south. 

Just a short drive from Ngaranui, the furthest south of these is the aptly named Indicators, which gives a glimpse of what’s to come at first Whale Bay and then Manu Bay. These long and near-perfect lefts function as individual waves most of the time, but if you’re lucky enough to be there during a particularly big swell, they can join up and form a left whose length has to be seen to be believed. At its best, this left can run all the way down to Ngaranui Beach, and if you manage to latch onto one you better hope your quads are switched on, because they’ll be burning by the end of it. 

Piha

Piha is only around 40 kilometres from the Auckland city centre, but you wouldn’t know it by either the beach itself, or the last 20 minutes of the drive there. A winding road through the bush eventually spits you out high above Piha Beach, offering spectacular views of the famous Lion Rock and the beach moreover. 

This exposed beach can at times be subjected to plenty of rips and powerful surf, and when it’s not blown out by westerlies can offer up some seriously high-quality rides. But it’s not only for advanced surfers here; on smaller days there are plenty of beginners riding the friendly, mellow waves, so if you pick your days right there’s something for everyone at Piha – and given it’s just a short drive from Auckland, it’s very easy to head here for a day if that’s where you’re based.

Muriwai Beach

Muriwai is another quality surf spot in relatively close proximity to Auckland, making it popular among city surfers. Located northwest of New Zealand’s biggest city, this is an exposed stretch of beach stretching for 60 kilometres, meaning that there are generally relatively empty banks to be found if you’re willing to walk, even on good days. Given its exposed position, Muriwai can get too powerful for most surfers on any decent-sized swell, but when it’s two to four feet, there are plenty of great rides on offer.

There’s also plenty of wildlife around here, with a big gannet colony overlooking the surfers definitely worth taking a look at while you’re there. There’s also a seal colony not too far offshore, which means that there are likely a few big fish which like to eat them swimming around too.

Shipwreck Bay

Shipwreck Bay is situated up in the beautiful region of Northland, which as you may expect, is at the northern end of the North Island. A long left-hander, Shipwreck Bay might not have the reputation of somewhere like Raglan, but for most people who have been lucky enough to catch it when it’s at its best, it’s right up there among the best waves in New Zealand.

When it’s on you can theoretically get rides of up to three minutes long here, and with the wave separating itself into sections suitable for a wide range of different abilities, anyone from beginners to people who have been surfing their whole lives can paddle out here. The break here is super consistent so you’ll be able to find something to surf there most times of the year, but the beauty of the northern end of Northland is that less than 20 kilometres separates the west coast from the east, so if the winds are no good you can always trek across to the other side without too much trouble.

Wainui Beach

Gisborne is a medium-sized town located nearly as far east as you can get in New Zealand, making it one of the first towns in the world to welcome in the new day. The surf here is great; the town itself is just on the edge of a bay, with a soft, beginner-friendly wave at Waikanae Beach sitting inside the bay. Head a couple of kilometres out of town and you’ll get to the more exposed ocean beach known as Wainui, a wave which is about as different to Waikanae as you can get.

When solid swells and offshore winds combine, the waves here are genuinely world-class; powerful, barrelling things which spit their water towards the beach with a venom hard to appreciate until you’re actually out in the water. Even on smaller days the waves here are pretty punchy, so if you’re learning it’s best to stick to Waikanae. For the experienced, however, it could be one of your best surfs in New Zealand.

New Zealand might be small, but given its status as an island nation it’s probably no great surprise that there is such a large number of high-quality waves in the country. The North Island is home to plenty of them, and given how small it is, if you’ve got a car and a few days up your sleeve, you can tick most of the above spots off your list relatively easily.