After an easy beach getaway? Aside from a place to stay, all you really need is a beautiful stretch of sand and a decent set of shops behind it.
Sure, you could bring food from home or stock up at the local Four Square but, with small-town New Zealand offering up some of the best kai in the country, it’s worth investing in at least one or two meals out.
In between eating, all you need to worry about is remembering to reapply sunscreen. The beach and town amenities and attractions will take care of the rest. Below are five of our favourite Kiwi beach towns. Share yours in the comments.
Crowded for good reason, this classic Kiwi beach town keeps families – and hard-partying youths –coming back year after year.
Blessed with a golden-sand surf beach that’s safe to swim in, Whanga also boasts an estuary ideal for kids – and those who prefer not to do battle with waves – to splash about in, a hidden lagoon, forest park in its backyard, and plenty of good places to eat and drink
For an easygoing adventure, hire a kayak or standup paddleboard and make for Whenuakura (Donut) Island, where you’ll slip through a dark, 12-metre-high tunnel to find yourself floating on a bush-ringed, open-air lagoon with water so clear you can see to the bottom.
If you’ve had a touch too much sun, head just south of town to the hidden valley that marks the start of the 3km track from the idyllic campsite to Wentworth Falls – a 40-metre-high double waterfall.
Kaiteriteri, to the north, may boast a more beautiful beach and Mapua, to the south, may be poshermotu, but Motueka is arguably the best base for exploring the many treasures of this part of the Nelson Tasman region. Think Abel Tasman National Park, Golden Bay, the Motueka Valley, Motuere wine country and, yes, Kaiteriteri and Mapua.
There’s plenty to stick around for though. Local attractions include a boot-shaped hotel, the highest tandem skydive in New Zealand, a waterfront walkway featuring the Instafamous Janie Seddon Shipwreck, the Motueka Saltwater Baths, and the Riwaka Resurgence, where the river emerges from a marble cave, creating clear pools which even the scientific minds at the Department of Conservation concede have a “fairyland quality”.
Motueka is also a foodie’s friend, with an excellent Sunday Market, a doughnut version of the Willy Wonka chocolate factory (The Smoking Barrell), and the legendary Toad Hall with its top-rated real fruit ice creams, brewery, award-winning café and glorious garden complete with quirky kids’ playground.
A walker, foodie, swimmer and surfer’s paradise less than two hours from Auckland, “magical Mangawhai” offers similar hedonistic treasures to nearby Matakana – with thinner crowds and largely lower price tags.
The broad stretch of dune-backed fine white sand is the town’s star attraction with its consistent surf and a clifftop walkway which, with its nīkau palm-framed views out to Great Barrier and the chance to spot sharks and whales, is one of New Zealand’s best short walks.
It’s one of five superlative beaches within a 15-minute drive of Mangawhai town, making it perfect for a classic Kiwi beach holiday – with added urban extras. Think quality cafés and restaurants, wineries, olive oil producers, art galleries and a boutique chocolate factory. Basically, it’s the Gold Coast’s Surfers Paradise by way of the Med. Enhance the south of France vibe with a wine tasting session at Brooke Lane Vineyard, which hosts music- and dancing-filled evenings on the last Saturday of the month.
For a quintessentially Kiwi summer evening of cool drinks, quality pub grub and live music though, head to harbourside Mangawhai Tavern, an essential stop for many a touring musician over summer.
Named one of the most beautiful small towns in the world by luxury travel publication Conde Nast Traveler, New Zealand’s whale-watching mecca is photogenically sandwiched between the Seaward Kaikōura range and an underwater canyon teeming with dolphins, fur seals and, of course, whales.
You can swim or kayak with dolphins and seals on guided tours, or get up-close-and-personal with whales on cruises or scenic flights. You don’t have to spend a cent to meet the local wildlife though: the 12km Kaikōura Peninsula Walkway offers ample opportunity to take in sunbathing seals.
The sandy Gooch’s and Jimmy Armer’s beaches and South Bay are popular for swimming, but resist the temptation to take a dip north of the Kaikōura Memorial Gardens where beaches feature steep inclines, strong undertows and rips. It’s still worth heading that way though – famed surf spots Mangamanu and Meatworks are also top spots for cobweb-clearing strolls, and Rākautara is home to legendary crayfish shack Nin’s Bin.
With unpretentious homes set back from a long, white-sand surf beach fringed by pōhutukawa, Ōhope is retro New Zealand at its finest.
Stretching 14 sublime kilometres, Ōhope Beach has been named New Zealand’s best on multiple occasions, and it’s not hard to see why. Its good looks aside, it caters for swimmers, surfers, seafood gatherers, surf casters, and lovers of long walks and lazing for hours on end on the sand.
Founded by local surf legend Bevan (Beaver) Porter and his wife Yvonne, Salt Spray Surf School has taught countless grommets to hang ten along the western side (aka the West End). From here, it’s just a 15-minute clifftop walk or 10-minute kayak to one of the best-kept secrets in the area: Ōtarawairere Beach. Expect scores of seashells and Fiji-clear water.
Separated from the beach by a giant sand spit that supports the town, Ōhiwa Harbour is a top spot for fishing, bird watching and kayaking – KG Kayaks’ moonlit tour paddles past Pātaua and Hokianga islands, potentially taking in bioluminescence and flying fish.
A golf course surrounded by water on three sides, harbourside trail, classic Kiwi holiday parks, and a roadside fish and chip shop (Ōhiwa Oyster Farm) complete the wholesome holiday vibe.
Beaches can be dangerous places. Surf Life Saving New Zealand recommends checking safeswim.org.nz to find a lifeguarded beach and swimming between the flags. Always keep children within arm’s reach in or near the water and, if in doubt about the conditions, stay out.
What are your favourite beach towns in New Zealand? Let us know in the comments.