Surfing on New Zealand’s sunny East Coast is an experience every travelling surfer should add to their itinerary. While most visiting surfers head straight for Raglan on the wild West Coast of the North Island, it is in the east that some of New Zealand’s most picturesque waves break.
There are countless surfing hot spots and communities based on the East Coast of New Zealand, starting way up in Northland on the North Island and stretching to Dunedin and beyond on the South Island. The unique shape of New Zealand’s East Coast means that it is exposed to swells that arrive both from the north, due east and the Antarctic south.
Where to surf on the East Coast of NZ
If you’re planning to surf the East Coast of NZ and don’t want to stray too far from mythical Raglan, then a great destination is Mount Maunganui, just a two hour drive, straight across the island.
While the East Coast is more visually pleasing, the waves are not as consistent as the west, which gets slammed relentlessly by a siege of swells that hasn’t abated since the dawn of time. The west-side is true surfing territory and point breaks like Raglan and those around the Taranaki region are where you should head. These reefs do their best to enforce some order upon the surging swell lines that otherwise tend to overcook the beach breaks.
But if you’d like venture east-side then here’s…
5 Places to Surf on the East Coast
- Taupo Bay, Northland: A powerful beach break and a regional classic. A magical part of New Zealand.
- Mount Maunganui, Bay of Plenty: Insanely long, white sand beach. Check out Matakana Island if you get the chance.
- Gisborne and East Cape region: Facing south, these breaks are way more consistent than up the coast. You will score waves if you venture this far.
- Kaikoura, South Island: Home to some of New Zealand’s best surfing options. If the stars align, Kahutara delivers waves that wouldn’t look out of place at J-Bay.
- Dunedin, South Island: White sand beaches, blessed with swell and enough nooks and crannies to find offshores nearly everywhere. Smails Beach is where we got our best waves on a recent trip.
For travellers who are going to be spending most of their time on the upper North Island, there’s something you need to know. On the East Coast you wait. And wait. Sometimes for weeks, sometimes for a whole month.
Last winter saw local surfers lucky to score shoulder high waves a handful of times. But bring on the summer and any hint of a cyclone in the Pacific rubs a magic wave genie out of the golden sands, bringing the place to life. Sleepy beach breaks become grinding monsters, heavy with breath at their gaping, barrelling nostrils. Surfers gone soft from catching two footers on their fish are forced to fire up their back muscles for paddle-outs that can bring one to tears.
But when you make it out there, all time stops.
When it’s good, the waves that break along the NZ East Coast will fool you into believing you’re somewhere else. Like Fiji, or Indo. The recent cyclone Victor brought waves that will remain in the minds of local surfers for years to come. Perfect, solid walls of turquoise glass reeling off at every beach, turning the Coromandel into Hawaii and the Bay of Plenty into the Mentawais.
So next time you’re in NZ keep a close eye on the surf reports because you might just get lucky. Mount Maunganui is a good base because it is close to Auckland, close to Raglan, and has everything a travelling surfer needs. There’s plenty of accommodation, surf shops and a beach that couldn’t get crowded if it tried.
Hint: when the hot spots like Tay Street get hectic just walk 100 metres down the beach and find a peak all to yourself. In New Zealand such things are still possible.
Another Hint: Remember that the locals wait all year for epic conditions so, if you’re lucky enough to score great waves, don’t be a dick. Wait your turn, be cool in the water and have fun. A smile or hoot for someone else will likely be reciprocated when you get the inside spot.
When the swell fades away, as they always do, take a moment to walk along the golden sands before you race back to the West Coast for more crimson sunsets and reeling point breaks.
Surfing the East Coast of New Zealand is something many visitors don’t expect to enjoy. New Zealand for many conjures up images of windy, black sand coastlines, surfing in gloves and booties, ice-cream headaches and heavy locals dominating the popular points. Harsh conditions for a hardy folk.
But this is only half of the picture. The East Coast is blessed with tropical microclimates, sand in shades of gold, and warmer water, funnelled down from the Pacific Islands.
If you’re lucky you might just score a few waves while you’re there.