One of the adventure capitals of the world, there are few places that get the adrenaline flowing like New Zealand. Its array of national parks present so many things to do for all types of traveller. Tough and challenging hikes, mountain biking, and epic road trips are all on the cards. And that’s before we talk about the beaches. New Zealand has more than 15,000 kilometres of epic coastline, so it’s perfect for a range of water sports!
In this post, I’ll take a look at some of the best water sports you can enjoy on New Zealand’s beaches. Hopefully, it’ll give you a better idea of where to go in New Zealand and what to do while you’re there.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Let’s start off slowly with one of the more chilled out water sports on the list - if you want it to be, that is! Stand up paddle boarding is one of the most versatile water sports out there and it’s an ideal way to get a full body workout. It will work on several areas of your core, but most importantly it’s a wonderful way to see the stunning surroundings of the fjords and beaches off the New Zealand coast. Some of the best places to SUP in New Zealand include the Bay of Islands, Abel Tasman National Park, and the islets off Auckland.
While New Zealand might not be the first country you think of when it comes to surfing, there are pretty awesome breaks on both of the country’s main islands. Raglan is probably the best known surf spot - Manu Bay has one of the longest breaks in the world and you can cruise on it for up to 2km! It’s not easy for a beginner though. Other great places to surf in New Zealand include Piha (near Auckland) - which is suitable for all abilities and easily accessible, while Shipwreck Bay at the south end of Ninety Mile Beach can be combined with sand boarding on the huge dunes.
Stepping away from board sports now, sea kayaking is another awesome way to get acquainted with the picturesque scenery and crystal-clear waters off the coast of New Zealand. One of the best things about kayaking is that if you’ve got the equipment, you can always moor your kayak and head back in with a snorkel or scuba diving kit. Abel Tasman National Park, the Marlborough Sounds, and the Bay of Islands are some of the best kayak spots in NZ. If you want to get acquainted with kayaking on easier waters, start off on Lake Taupo or one of the crater lakes in Rotorua.
If you only have a short stay in New Zealand and are based in Auckland, you can even go sea kayaking there too, and you can kayak to a volcano!
As we already alluded to above, you can enjoy scuba diving and snorkelling off the coast of New Zealand. And while it might not initially seem like a water sport, it takes a lot of discipline and practice to do it right! Whether you want to explore sub-tropical reefs, shipwrecks, or even diving after dark from a kayak - it’s all possible in NZ. Poor Knights Island Marine Reserve on the Tutukaka Coast was even mooted as one of the best five diving destinations in the world by the iconic Jacques Cousteau. As well as tropical fish, you’ll be able to swim alongside dolphins and perhaps even whales.
For the ultimate adrenaline fuelled experience, why not also consider great white shark cave diving. You’ll be able to get up close and personal with the most feared creature in the sea from the safety of a metal cage. It’ll have your heart beating just as quickly as any of the other activities on this list!
While you can do jet boating in other parts of the world, you can't miss it off your itinerary in the place it was invented. In the 1950s, A New Zealander thought it would be a good idea to attach a jet engine to a boat and the rest is history. It's most popular in rivers, but you can also do it from Queenstown's main harbour, and from Auckland's Waitemata Harbour. From there, you'll be able to take in the stunning Auckland style from the water… unless you find your coordination is thrown off by the 360 spins you'll be making in the boat! Some of the best rivers for jet boating include the Wilderness Jet in Mt Aspiring National Park - you might recognise it from Lord of the Rings, the Whanganui River, and the Rapids Jet just outside of Taupo.
You might want to skip this one if you're afraid of heights… Parasailing consists of a parachute attached to the back of a speedboat. You'll be high up in the air looking down on the sounds and inlets below. Amazingly, you won't even have to get wet doing parasailing (though some tour operators might give you a quick dip on the way back down). Unsurprisingly, Queenstown is another awesome place to do it, while Taupo's crater lake looks incredible from above. It's the Bay of Islands you need to head for if you want to take part in the highest parasail in NZ though - taking you an eye-watering 1,800 feet into the air!
Last but not least is sailing. This one is a little more expensive so multi-day trips might be out of the reach of many. However, there are plenty of options when it comes to sunset sailing cruises or day tours - and the chance to relax might be just what you need after taking part in all the adrenaline fuelled adventures mentioned above! There are some very affordable sailing trips available in Auckland in Paihia, and you'll probably see some dolphins too!
Final Thoughts on the best water sports in New Zealand
With a range of water sports to suit any level of experience and adrenaline level, we're sure that you can't wait to book your trip to New Zealand. All that's left now is finding somewhere to stay. To leave more room in your budget for water sports, check out Base Backpacker Hostels. There are five in New Zealand - so be sure to book if you're heading for Auckland, Wanaka, Queenstown, Rotorua, or Taupo.
Author: Daniel Hall is a writer from Gili Sports. A traveller and an English teacher. When not working, he enjoys adventure sports, football, cooking, and reading.