North Island’s Best Beaches

Best Beaches in North Island NZ

Best for sunrise

The early bird catches the worm, so the saying goes, and the first city sunrise in the country is to be seen from Gisborne. There are several beautiful beaches nearby if you like your sun coming up over the waves. Kaiti Beach was where Captain Cook first landed in New Zealand back in 1769, following in the footsteps of the first Maori waka (canoe), but Waikanae Beach closest to town is the most convenient. Gisborne’s nicknamed the “Chardonnay capital of New Zealand” but it’s also got a great reputation for food so you can enjoy a fantastic breakfast after sun-up before sampling a glass at one of the area’s boutique wineries.

Best Beaches in North Island NZ: Sunrise on Waikanae Beach
Sunrise on Waikanae Beach: Photo Ray Sheldrake / CC BY-SA 4.0

Best for a long drive

There’s only one obvious choice if driving along the sand is your thing, and that’s Ninety Mile Beach, an official highway up in Northland. It’s actually about two-thirds the length its name claims to be, but it’s still an impressive, if dangerous, stretch of sand facing off against the beautiful Tasman Sea. If you’re renting a car, note that you won’t be insured to drive on the sand, so do the smart thing and take a tour instead.

Best Beaches in North Island NZ: “Sunk car” in Waikanae Steam on 90 Mile Beach
“Sunk car” in Waikanae Steam on 90 Mile Beach: Photo I, Konstable / CC BY-SA 3.0

Best for film buffs

The beach in The Piano can be found not far from Auckland. Karekare Beach, where in the film the party comes ashore and where Ada’s piano is abandoned, is a spectacular place to visit. From its black sands, you’re more likely to spot seals than a musical instrument, so this relatively unspoilt beach is a must for fans of the film and nature lovers alike.

Best Beaches in North Island NZ: Waitakere Ranges, Karekare Beach
Waitakere Ranges, Karekare Beach: Photo Michal Klajban / CC BY-SA 4.0

Best for a soak

On the Coromandel you’ll encounter Hot Water Beach, where the sands are fed by hot springs. If you dig down and make yourself a hollow, you can take a warm bath right there on the beach a couple of hours either side of low tide. The temperature can reach scalding point in places, so test the water carefully before taking the plunge, but of course it’s easy to top up your al fresco bath with some cooling sea water to get the temperature just right.

Best Beaches in North Island NZ: Excavations on Hot Water Beach by Steve & Jem Copley
Excavations on Hot Water Beach: Photo Steve & Jem Copley / CC BY-SA 2.0

Best for sunset

With around 40km of coastline to choose from, you’ll be spoilt for choice. You can do worse than Paraparaumu, the principal town and a stone’s throw from Wellington, whose beach offers a clear view of Kapiti Island a few kilometres offshore. While you wait for the sun to set you can practise pronouncing this tongue twister of a place name, meaning “scraps from an oven” or accept your limitations and just soak up the view.

Best Beaches in North Island NZ: Kapiti Island Clouds
Kapiti Island Clouds: Photo Andrew McMillan / CC BY 2.0

About JuliaHammond


Julia Hammond is a Geography teacher turned travel writer with a passion for places. Winning Mail Travel's Deep South competition was the catalyst to write for a diverse range of publications including Bradt's Bus Pass Britain Rides Again. She’s written Kindle guides to Cape Town, Peru and London for Unanchor and advice on Savannah for Wanderlust. When not travelling, she can be found at home in Essex planning her next trip, her two golden retrievers curled up at her feet.

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