As promised, here’s the full update of surf spots visited and lessons learned on our long haul family surf trip to New Zealand.
Hopefully you can grab a tip or two for your next surf tour to Kiwi land.
Surf spots visited
With 3 weeks in New Zealand, we decided to stick to the North Island.
We stopped at the thermally thrilling Rotorua and found Killer Whales in the Bay of Islands, but below is the low-down on the surf spots we visited:
Piha, near Auckland
Summary: beautiful beach break that works at all tides.
Surfboard hire cost: $20 for 2hrs or $30 for half day, from Lion Rock surf shop
Lion Rock surf shop is attached to the general stores, next to the campsite a row back from the beach front. It offers surfboards rental, wetsuit hire, surf lessons and the usual surf accessories.
I was amazed when the chap in the shop knew of my home town Bodmin. Apparently he hung out in Newquay for a while. This became a recurring theme of shop assistants.
Piha is very rippy! It’s so dangerous they have a permanent video camera in the lifeguard shack to film a rescue show for TV. Eddie Vedder nearly drowned whilst surfing at nearby Karekare.
It was onshore when I surfed it, but there were still head high good waves to be had out back. The shifting peaks changed constantly with the tide.
The black sand is like molten when the sun shines. Impossible to walk on without sandals (or jandals as they’re called in NZ).
Summary: legendary point break, produces some of the best lefts in the world.
Surfboard hire cost: $30 half day from Raglan surf emporium
Raglan is actually the name of the town nearby, where there’s lots of surf shops and cafes. There’s also a couple of surf shops that hire boards located on the road to Manu Bay. Manu Bay is the main break, with Whale Bay a bit further out around the corner.
It took us about 3 hours to get to Raglan from Auckland in the campervan. Camping and accomodation options are limited, so it’s best to book ahead during peak season.
We didn’t book ahead, so ended up stayed at Kevs, an eco campsite! Meaning no electricity and drop toilets, but it did have good views out over Raglan estuary.
Summary: variety of beach breaks and reefs to explore but fickle in the summer
Surfboard hire cost: $25 half day from Pandora Kayaks
In Napier there’s a choice of surf spots including Awatoto, City Reef and Westshore – but there was only a ripple whilst I was there.
I did consider driving 45 minutes south out of town to Ocean Beach or Cray Bay, but the 0 – 1 ft surf forecast convinced me to take a tour of the wineries instead.
Stayed at Kennedy Park resort, 20 minutes walk in to town centre. Loads to do for the kids, swimming pool and great facilities.
World class red wine is grown here on the ‘Gimblett Gravels’, a unique volcanic area deemed perfect for certain grape varieties. So make sure you allow time to visit a few wineries. I enjoyed a tasting and bought a few bottles from Esk Valley Wine Estate, to ease my wave withdrawals.
Hahei and Hot Water Beach
Summary: unverified right hand reef break
Surfboard hire cost: unknown but available from the Top 10 Hot Water Beach holiday park
Allegedly there’s a decent right hand reef break at Hahei, but alas not when I visited.
The beach break at Hot Water Beach 15 minutes drive south didn’t yield any waves either.
However both spots are well worth a visit.
Hahei is the gateway to the infamous Cathedral Cove, which is promoted in all the tourist gumf and has featured in one of the Narnia movies (can’t remember which one).
There is a campsite next to the beach but it was full. It’s also quite expensive, but you can get sea views and it’s a hop and skip to the beach.
Hot Water Beach is named after the fact that at low tide you can dig a hole in the sand, and you have your own thermal spa bath. This is due to the beach being directly on top of a fault line. I’m guessing you can surf here in boardies all year round?
1. Before you go, banish all misconceptions of your family holiday being a surf trip
My better half and daughter don’t surf (yet). They both like the beach, but only if the sand is cool enough to walk on, the sea warm enough to swim in and the weather hot enough to burn in.
Even if all of those conditions are met, we are talking about 2-3 days entertainment max. So I advise having plenty of options near by, including playgrounds, swimming pools, ice cream vendors, shops, family tourist attractions.
2. Leave the surfboard at home
The cost of transporting and repairs will often outweigh the cost of hiring a board. Even if hiring is a bit more expensive, it’s worth it to save the hassle of carrying it around everywhere whilst trying to deal with all the usual frustrations of travelling with tired children and partners.
Surfboard hire is no problem at all the surf locations I visited. Reasonable rates and a decent choice of surfboards were the norm. So embrace the chance to try new board shapes and sizes. Chances are they’re more suited to the local waves than your board back home.
3. Pack the wetsuit
New Zealand water is cold all year round. Not as cold as the UK, but you won’t look silly in a full 3mm steamer in summer. A shorty will do the job in the warmer months and you can surf in your shorts for the novelty, but you’ll get cold quickly.
4. If there’s a wave, get in there
This rule applies at home, but even more so on holiday. Don’t wait for better conditions or a more convenient time. If there’s a wave grab a board and get wet straight away, you may not get another chance.
5. Go West
During my time in NZ (Dec/Jan) the West coast waves were far more consistent. The beaches near Auckland nearly always had a wave, and the surf forecast for Raglan always showed a bump. However onshores were a constant threat.
The New Plymouth / Taranaki region appears the most fruitful option for surfers, with a wide range of consistent breaks. Unfortunately it was a bit out of the way for us and appeared to offer little in the way of entertainment for the kid. Maybe next time.
The east coast areas I visited are more setup for tourism and have more to offer families, but the swell is much more fickle.
The Gisborne region also has a lot to offer for surfers (and wine lovers) but it’s a good days drive from anywhere of significance and sadly we didn’t have enough time on this trip.
6. Check the surf forecast
New Zealand has a lot more breaks and surf options than I thought. From the wild west coast points to east coast artificial reefs, but before you travel days in search of waves – check the forecast. If you know the surf is going to be flat, do a bit of sightseeing instead and cash in on quality time with the family.
I found the free Sherpa surf guide app really useful, unfortunately I discovered it two weeks into my trip. It could have saved me a few disappointments and settled a few ‘beach or sightseeing?’ debates.
If you’ve got any good family surf trip tips to share, please add them in the comments below.