Best Surf Photography Locations in New Zealand

a frame surfing wave

If you’re a keen photographer looking into learning surf photography or wanting to expand your surf portfolio, New Zealand might not be your first choice of destination, but this little and mighty country delivers a punch when it comes to empty waves to capture!

New Zealand has some of the worlds best surf photography locations, from big surf photos to longboarding surfing photography, there is a wave to suit every surf photographer’s style.

If you are still perfecting your surf photography skills, why not take a look at my ultimate guide to learning surf photography.

It has crucial top tips you need to consider when trying to capture the best surf photos.

It also covers in detail what type of photography equipment you will need to capture epic surfing images.

However, here is a quick checklist of the essentials to pack in your surf camera bag for the surf trip of your life around New Zealand.

Surf photography recommendations:

Now that you know what you need to acquire to get the best surf photos, here are the top surf photography spots in New Zealand, in no particular order.

(Click to jump to your favourite)

 Grab your surf camera, let’s go!

ahipara point break surf photo
Felipe Skroski

Ahipara – Shipwreck Bay

Shipwreck Bay is a prominent surf beach in Ahipara, a village located at the southern end of Ninety Mile Beach in the Northland region.

These sandy coasts are famed for their lengthy rides, challenging take-off locations, and great barrel sections, making it a must-see spot for surf photography in New Zealand.

If you take your surf camera here, you should be able to get some great coastal surf images. 

Where to stay in Ahipara: 

Budget: Ahipara Holiday Park

A friendly holiday park with lots of amenities to keep you entertained. Plenty of accommodation options to suit all budgets, including dormitory rooms with common facilities. Local activities such as quad biking on Ninety Mile Beach, 4-wheel-drive trips, horse treks, and surfing can be arranged through the tour desk. They also rent surfboards and bikes.

Mid-Range: Ahipara Bay Motel

The beach is about a three-minute walk away. Ahipara Bay Motel, has an onsite bar and a restaurant as well as panoramic views over 90 Mile Beach. Previous visitors have said they appreciated being able to fall asleep to the sound of the waves.

Splurge:  Mukies Apartments

Attractive apartments with wonderful design and stunning beach views. The units are located in a very peaceful area and contain everything you could possibly need. Each unit is spacious, immaculate, and well-organised. Parking is available onsite.

Esther Schultz

Auckland – Piha

Piha’s rocky black sand beach is the most popular surf destination for Aucklanders and a superb place for surf photographers to capture local surfers.

South Piha is known for having a mix of left and right-hand breaks, whilst North Piha will put talented surfers to the test with some tough right-hand waves.

This wild west coast beach has a photogenic backdrop of native bush, take a hike up Lion’s rock for an excellent vantage point across the bay.

Where to stay in Piha: 

Budget: Piha Beachstay Accommodation

Beautiful, clean, and extremely comfortable homestay about a 12-minute walk from Piha surf. There is a lovely garden/outdoor space with a stunning view. Guests have complimented the pleasant hosts, who are really helpful and make you feel right at home. Dorms or private rooms with communal bathrooms are available.

Mid-Range: Romantic Piha

Nestled in the bush, waking up to the sound of local birds and a glimpse of Piha’s surf. If you’re travelling with a companion, Romantic Piha is a great option. The tranquil atmosphere and stylish decor of the apartments are guaranteed to make you popular!

Splurge: Surfer’s Sunshine Cottage – Piha Holiday Home

Surfer’s Sunshine Cottage can sleep up to four people and is pet-friendly! Directly across the road from the cottage is a path that leads to the beach. After waking up in the cosy downstairs bedroom, walk upstairs to make a coffee and view the surf from the deck. Surfer’s Sunshine Cottage offers breath-taking views of Lion Rock and Piha’s renowned waves. You’ll have a pleasant stay in Piha whether you’re there for a relaxing detox weekend or an adrenaline-pumping surf adventure.

mount maunganui beach waves

Mount Maunganui – Main break & Tay Street

An ideal surf break for both beginners and expert surfers.

The white beach here provides a beautiful backdrop for your surf photos, while the Mount itself provides a wonderful viewpoint over the main break.

The odd tube can be found towards the north end of the beach when the waves bounce off the cliffs which provides some epic surfshots.

At the south end of the beach is a right-hand point break known as the ‘blowhole.’ On a good day, the blowhole can generate rides up to 150m long! It should become busy with locals when it’s on, so there will be lots of action to capture.

Check out a nearby break at Tay Street if you prefer longboard surfing photography, the local longboarders tend to hang out here.

Where to stay in Mount Maunganui: 

Budget: Seagulls Guesthouse

A peaceful, immaculate, and reasonably priced Mount Maunganui accommodation choice! Seagulls Guesthouse is a 5-minute walk from Mount Maunganui’s surf beaches and has excellent reviews from previous guests.

Mid-Range: Blue Haven Motel

The Blue Haven Motel is a beach-themed motel with a great position in central Mount Maunganui. A peaceful setting only steps from the main beach surf, restaurants, cafés, and local attractions. All units are on the ground floor, with parking outside and their own individual courtyard gardens.

Splurge: Cutterscove Resort Apartments

Cutterscove is an exquisite and spacious retreat away. There is everything you could desire for a completely relaxed surf vacation, including a tennis court, pool, jacuzzi, sauna, gym, golf driving net, mini-golf, BBQs, and much more. The apartment complex provides magnificent beachside living. Elegant, modern design, high-quality fixtures, and large rooms with spectacular ocean views, pool views, or views of the Kaimai Ranges.

photo of man surfing whangamata bar

Whangamata – Whangamata Bar

Whangamata is one of New Zealand’s most beautiful beaches, with a natural white coastline and excellent waves that draw surfers of all capabilities.

The beach break here offers consistent waves year-round. Towards the Marina you’ll find the Whangamata Bar which can produce both lefts and rights, as well as barrels.

It is most known for its long, walled-up, almond-shaped left-hand rides. The surf action here can be easily captured from the shore, and on a big swell you can get some epic big surf photos.

Did you know, the Whangamata Bar was nicknamed the “Jewel of the Pacific” by surfing icon Gerry Lopez?! It is possibly New Zealand’s most contentious surf break.

It is located at the entrance of Whangamata Harbour, where the ebb tidal delta sand bottom helps to create the perfect waves.

Since the Whangamata marina was built in 2009, there has been much discussion over whether the construction of the marina and the continuous dredging of the marina access channel affects the wave quality at “The Bar”.

Where to stay in Whangamata: 

Budget: Surf N Stay Whangamata

A beautiful guesthouse with a terrace that allows you to enjoy the sun. The beach is less than a 5-minute walk away, and you can hear the surf from your room. The pleasant and helpful owners have a wealth of local information to share.

Mid-Range: Breakers Motel

Superb self-contained motel accommodation in Whangamata, near to the surf break. There are studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments available, plus rooms with spa bath options. All rooms have a great view of the onsite pool. The property also has a huge BBQ area, which is ideal for some outside dining.

Splurge: Brenton Lodge

Brenton Lodge boasts breath-taking ocean views and spectacular sunrises. The quiet, spacious guest houses have been designed for comfort and solitude. Wake up knowing that your stay includes a delicious full breakfast. You’re guaranteed to enjoy the luxury and seclusion that Brenton Lodge has provided its visitors for over 25 years.

raglan manu bay big surf
Jun Kaneko

Raglan – Manu Bay – A famous rocky beach featured in the 1996 film “Endless Summer” 

Manu Bay is the most well-known of the Raglan point breaks, which also include Indicators and Whale Bay.

On a good day, surfers combine these point breaks for a longer, more spectacular ride. This region draws a large number of expert surfers when the swell arrives.

So, if the swell forecast is pumping, you are guaranteed to capture some amazing surf shots with your surf camera at this surf break.

The local board riders club hosts regular competitions at Manu Bay so it may be worth checking when the next competition is to capture the locals in action!

Where to stay in Raglan: 

Budget: Raglan Backpackers

All Rooms have access to a shared bathroom, and some have balconies or sea views. A lounge and a communal garden are available. Guests are also welcomed to use the sauna.

Mid-Range: Bow Street Studios

Each room has a closet and a garden terrace. One of the apartments even offers a view of the sea. Each unit comes with an electric kettle, and some include a kitchenette with a dishwasher, microwave, and refrigerator.

Splurge: The Silos Apartments

The boutique rooms at The Silos Apartments are housed in converted cement silos on the Raglan waterfront, a short distance from the town centre. All apartments provide views of the sea, as well as free private parking and Wi-Fi.

gisborne new zealand barrel wave
Blair Dods

Gisborne – the most consistent surf in New Zealand

The Gisborne region on the East Coast of New Zealand, offers some of the most consistent surf in the country.

There are multiple kinds of surf breaks available for beginner, intermediate, and expert surfers.

It’s a great place to bring your surf camera and practise your surf photography. The surf isn’t typically huge, but every now and then a winter swell can produce some triple overhead conditions that are safe to ride!

So, if the swell forecast is looking promising, be prepared to take some big surf photos!

Where to stay in Gisborne: 

Budget: Tatapouri Bay

This campground is located on Tatapouri Bay’s surf beach. The sea-view cabins are a wonderful treat. You can wake up and see the world’s first sunrise from your bed!

Mid-Range: Ocean Beach Motor Lodge

Wainui Beach, one of New Zealand’s most popular surf beaches, is only a two-minute walk away. Just 5 minutes’ drive from the centre of Gisborne, Ocean Beach Motor Lodge provides great service, pleasant, knowledgeable staff, and modern, well-appointed large and affordable suites.

Splurge: Whispering Sands Beachfront Motel

If you’d rather be closer to town. Whispering Sands Beachfront Motel is located on Waikanae Beach, just a 10-minute walk from the heart of Gisborne. It provides breath-taking panoramic views of Poverty Bay, with Young Nick’s Head and Kaiti Hill in the background. Every unit has a view of the ocean.

taranaki surf highway photograph
Warren Smart

Taranaki – The Surf Highway

The Taranaki area is a must-see destination for any surf photographer visiting New Zealand.

This place offers several breaks to capture and has its own highway, literally nicknamed the surf highway.

Taranaki is located on New Zealand’s North Island and offers the largest number of outstanding surf spots in a single region.

The waves spread out around the base of Mt Taranaki, from Waitara in the north to Hawera in the south, giving a variety of swell and wind exposures.

If you’re in the area, there’s almost certainly a wave with great conditions for some surf photography!

Streams and river mouths carve the rural environment, eroding reefs and releasing stones to produce a slew of world-class pointbreaks.

Where to stay in Taranaki: 

Budget: Oakura Beach Holiday Park

Oakura Beach, in Taranaki, is one of the region’s most popular surf beaches. Oakura Beach Holiday Park offers a variety of accommodation options as well as free private parking. The park has a playground for children as well as barbeque facilities and is less than a minute walk to the Tasman Sea.

Mid-Range: The Metrotel

Rooms are clean, contemporary, and well-equipped, with huge bathrooms. A short walk to shops and eateries puts you in the heart of the city. On-site parking is free.

Splurge: Millennium Hotel New Plymouth, Waterfront

Millennium Hotel New Plymouth is situated directly opposite the water in New Plymouth’s city centre. The Tasman Sea views are spectacular! You can wake up and watch the surf whilst eating your breakfast in your room. There is also a restaurant and bar onsite. The studios and suites are equipped with a refrigerator, microwave, and tea making amenities.

Westport – Tauranga Bay

Tauranga Bay near Westport, on New Zealand’s South Island, has a left-hand point break off the rocks at the southern end of the beach.

In addition to a sandy bottom beach break with multiple peaks throughout the bay.

The left-hand point is a strong left-hander with a great wall and powerful form that can barrel in good conditions.

Surfers jump from the rocks to join the line-up, which can provide for some amazing surf photos.

This region is suitable for intermediate to advanced surfers. On bigger days, there can be deadly rips. It would be best to leave it to the experienced surfers and capture your surf shots from the shore.

Tauranga Bay is surrounded by scenic walkways and is home to a seal colony with a great observation platform and views out to the Tasman Sea.

Where to stay in Westport: 

Budget: Bazil’s Backpackers BBH Hostel & Surf School

Bazil’s Backpackers Hostel & Surf School is located just 2 minutes’ walk from Westport’s township. Accommodation options include a dorm or private rooms with shared bathrooms, as well as a self-contained studio. There is a tranquil garden with hammocks for guests to enjoy, as well as a fully equipped communal kitchen that allows you to make your own meals. Alternatively, the hostel hosts regular pizza nights using the stone baked pizza oven.

Mid-Range: Out the Bay | Rua (2)

A magnificent contemporary tiny house with spectacular views down the coast and all the way to Cape Foulwind. Being so near to the ocean and wildlife makes this a terrific location. Easy walks just outside your door. On a clear night, you can hear the sea and see the Milky Way.

Splurge: The Bay House Beachfront Accommodation

Excellent position with panoramic views of Tauranga Bay. The accommodations seem to be very new and beautifully equipped. Doc and Sandra are fantastic hosts that go above and beyond for their guests. Breakfast is included in your stay and is provided with a view of the surf breaks. You can also order dinner to be prepared for you.

managamaunu kaikoura surfing photography
Sean Michael Pritchard

Kaikoura – Mangamaunu – where snow-capped mountains meet the surf

The Hikurangi Trench off the coast of Kaikoura enables swells to come straight out of deep water which provides the area with a large number of high quality waves.

When the winter swells arrive, surf photographers should be ready to capture some big, dramatic, and hollow surf photos.

Mangamaunu, located along the coast on State Highway 1 north of Kaikoura township, is this region’s most popular surf break.

It’s a lengthy, right hand point break nestled next to the Kaikoura mountain ranges and has a backdrop vista of the snow-capped mountains in winter.

The scenery here is spectacular and ideal for unique surfshots.

Where to stay in Kaikoura: 

Budget: Kaikoura TOP 10 Holiday Park

The Top 10 in Kaikoura offers a selection of cabins and self-contained accommodations to suit varying budgets. The beach is only a 2-minute walk away, and the park is well located just a short stroll to the town’s cafes and restaurants.

Mid-Range: Hapuku Carriages Kaikoura

Only 2 minutes’ walk from the beach, Hapuku Carriages Kaikoura provides unique lodging in a renovated railway carriage. It features a terrace with stunning mountain views. Guests here have enjoyed relaxing in the outdoor bathtub while admiring the stars and listening to the sound of the surf. The carriage is beautifully decorated with Kiwiana décor as well as unique rail accessories.

Splurge: Glenburn Coastal Retreat

The views from Glenburn Coastal Retreat’s accommodations are spectacular! The apartments are spacious, elegantly designed, and every detail has been considered. There is a large bathroom with a bathtub and a rain shower. Dolphins can even be seen from the bedroom window if you’re lucky, and binoculars are provided for guests’ use. 

Double page spread from Carve Magazine issue 214 Ⓒ Sean Michael Pritchard

Christchurch – New Brighton, Sumner & Taylors Mistake

If you are a surf photographer, Christchurch has to be the best city in New Zealand to live in. It is where I spent most of my time in New Zealand.

There are three major breaks, all of which are reasonably accessible from the city centre.

The Pier at New Brighton Beach is a wonderful location for shooting surf shots since it provides a unique position where you can be above the surfer!

This is also an excellent location for capturing a sunrise surf session; New Brighton has to be one of the most spectacular places in Christchurch to watch the sunrise.

Check out this article on my win in the Carve Surf Photography Competition 2022 with photos from the area!

Sumner is perfect for longboarding surf photography; on a summer’s day this beach attracts huge crowds, and the break can soon get busy.

Taylors Mistake attracts more advanced surfers, and you can catch some great photos of individuals in barrels here.

Taylors is probably the most picturesque out of the three breaks as it is a more remote and rugged beach.

Where to stay in Christchurch: 

Budget: South Brighton Holiday Park

A peaceful campsite within walking distance of the beach, the low-cost choice of cabins with shared bathrooms is ideal for budget-conscious travellers. The facilities are clean and well-kept, and the staff are courteous and helpful. Guests rated the beds as extremely comfortable!

Mid-Range: The Pier Lodge Bed And Breakfast

A lovely bed and breakfast with kind and helpful hosts. The beach is only a 7-minute walk away from this house. Set among lovely grounds. Guests can use the barbecues and the shared kitchen. The Pier Lodge Bed and Breakfast’s décor includes several antique artworks and statues. 

Splurge: Coastal City Retreat – New Brighton Accommodation

A bright and lovely modern vacation property in a great position near New Brighton Pier. Flawlessly clean and today throughout. This property is a short walk to the town centre of New Brighton, which boasts a variety of exciting cafés and shops to visit. The New Brighton Hot Pools, which overlook the beach and are popular with residents, are also nearby.

Dunedin – St Clair Beach

St Clair Beach, a vast white-sand beach only minutes from the city centre, is Dunedin’s most popular surfing spot.

The swell reaching this surf break is steady throughout summer and winter which thrills local surfers.

Off the rocky point near the swimming pool, there’s a good dependable right-hander. It has beautiful barrels to photograph and can turn hollow.

Where to stay in Dunedin: 

Budget: Dunedin Holiday Park

Dunedin Holiday Park is located 5 minutes’ drive from St Clair Beach and 200 yards from St Kilda Beach. Guests can enjoy modern communal facilities and extensive outdoor dining spaces with BBQ amenities. Private rooms, bungalows, and apartments are among the available accommodation choices.

Mid-Range: Hotel St Clair

This boutique beachside hotel has rooms with super-king beds! Some rooms include floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook St Clair’s Beach. Direct access to St Clair Beach is on your doorstep. Previous guests highly rated the hotel’s location within walking distance to many wonderful restaurants and cafes.

Splurge: Majestic Mansions – Apartments at St Clair

Only 50 yards from St Clair’s Beach. This renovated property has a relaxing beach ambiance and a range of apartments, many with sea views! Each unit is fully equipped for a comfortable stay. The majority of apartments have a lounge. Free toiletries and a hairdryer are provided in the separate bathrooms.

ocean waves crashing on shore

Catlins – Papatowai – Big surf photos

Papatowai is the most popular spot for big wave surfers in New Zealand. If you’re looking to capture big surf photos in New Zealand, this is the place to go.

Papatowai is a reef break offshore with a massive right-hand break and a brutal left hander.

This big surf photo spot requires swells of at least 5m before surfers can attempt to ride. The wave drops dramatically into a big barrel.

Surfers require a jet ski or boat to get to this big wave break. Only experts should venture out here.

I’d recommend taking your big surf photos from a viewpoint on land with your telephoto lens!

Where to stay in Catlins: 

Budget: The Whistling Frog Resort

The Whistling Frog Resort is a short drive from Papatowai and offers a variety of accommodation options to suit a wide range of budgets. The double or twin rooms are an excellent bargain for this secluded location.

Mid-Range: Catlins Area Motel

Located in Owaka, a short drive from Papatowai. This hotel provides clean, peaceful, large apartments as well as convenient amenities. Previous visitors remark about the welcoming staff and convenient location for exploring all that Catlins has to offer.

Splurge: Surfinn Eco Cottage – Papatowai Cottage

The Surfinn Eco Cottage is right in the heart of Papatowai. This is a two-bedroom holiday home that is completely equipped with everything you need for a comfortable stay. Decorated with old surfboards, this is a great spot to soak up the positive vibes that this remote surfing destination has to offer. Gather a group of friends and have a rad time. Guests can take advantage of free Wi-Fi and on-site private parking.

Final thoughts: 

New Zealand is gradually becoming a favourite destination for surfers looking for empty waves, and there are lots of possibilities for surf photographers to grab some incredible surfshots here.

Whether you’re just starting out learning surf photography or a pro looking to grow your stock photography portfolio, New Zealand is a terrific place to capture some new surf photos.

There are beautiful peeling waves ideal for longboarding surf photography, as well as massive walls and barrels for more intense big surf photos!

The greatest thing about New Zealand is that when the waves are taking a break you have places like Lake Tekapo during lupin season to visit!

However, you are guaranteed to find a wave here to suit your style of surf photography.

I hope you have the opportunity to visit and take some great surfshots at some, if not all, of New Zealand’s finest surf destinations on your next visit!

Don’t miss the other great sports photography opportunities New Zealand has to offer!

DISCLOSURE: I may earn a small commission from some of the links above. For the benefit of the doubt, please assume all links might be affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

man surfing on big waves nz

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