Top 5 surf spots

The Bay of Plenty boasts one of the most user-friendly and accessible surf destinations in New Zealand! 125-kilometres of soft white sandy beaches means there is literally a break or bank for every surf level. Whether you’re just starting out and looking for a lesson or you’re a seasoned pro, the Bay of Plenty has great waves on offer for you.

Our region’s best swell season is from December to May. We enjoy the benefits of what could be described as a tumultuous cyclone season for the tropics. The big spinning lows which develop near Vanuatu and Fiji over the hot summer months often drop down to the Northeast of the North Island and produce great quality waves headed in our direction. An extra bonus is that when these swell conditions arise, the water temperature is at its warmest here in the Bay: 20-23°C. Hey, we aren’t the tropics! A seasonal wetsuit is recommended, a short arm springy or wettie top normally does the trick.

The Bay of Plenty is a popular destination for Kiwi’s and international travellers alike with a rich history in surf culture. There are plenty of surf shops, local shapers, surf schools and anything else a traveller may need. Remember to respect the surf etiquette and check the surf conditions before you go out. 

Read on for a breakdown of our fav surf spots in our region.

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WAIHĪ BEACH

Waihī Beach is a shoaling white sand beach which may suit beginners a bit better than the more experienced. The waves break softly, and the lack of crowd really lends itself as a great place to learn to control your board without fear of running someone over! At the north end of the beach, there is a fickle left-hand point break, which can be really fun in the right swell direction but does get a bit more crowded. The southern end of Waihī Beach towards Bowentown has heaps of banks due to the Tauranga Harbour pushing tonnes of sand around with every tide.This means stronger currents down this way, so please be aware. There is also a short “walk” to the top of Bowentown Hill that provides a fantastic overview of the entire beach. Pick your bank and paddle out!

Café pick: Set back in the town of Waihī Beach, Rabbit Moon is a hidden gem serving delicious coffee. Vintage vinyl is always playing and if you ask nicely, you can even pick the album. If you are starving after a big session, Surf Shack Eatery is where you want to be. If you aren’t quite finished casting your eyes over the beautiful horizon, Flatwhite definitely has the best view.

Local surf school: Waihī Beach Surf School

Crowd: Pick your bank, surf alone or find some friends, Waihī Beach is very uncrowded.

Practical info: Water bottle filling station and bathroom/showers are located at the Waihī Beach Surf Lifesaving Club parking lot.

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MOUNT MAIN BEACH

Mount Maunganui’s Main Beach is the hub of the beach culture here in the Bay of Plenty and would be the equivalent to Oahu’s Waikiki, California’s Huntington Beach, Bali’s Kuta, or Sydney’s Bondi. There are waterfront cafés, food trucks, families, travellers with selfie sticks and also… WAVES! Parking right at the shore means easy access but also that in the high season (from December to February), the Main Beach is packed.

The waves can be pretty packed too, but also very fun! Warmer water temperatures, white sand and a peaky beach break makes paddling out worth it, even in a crowd. If you are lucky, there is a right-hand sandbank at the southern end of the beach next to Moturiki (Leisure Island), which the locals call the “Blowhole”. Depending on the size, it can be a great wave for both long and shortboards.

There is also a constant rip which runs along Moturiki (Leisure Island) and locals hop in it for a free ride out the back. Depending on your skill level, you may want to avoid it or you might end up out the back in conditions that you’re unprepared for. Always remember to surf to your ability.

When a swell is running, the northern end of the beach towards Mauao (Mount Maunganui) and the surf club tends to catch a bit more swell and therefore the waves are often a bit steeper, bigger and more challenging. The Mount’s Main Beach stays sheltered from a southeast wind and works best on a mid to low tide, at high tide the bay fills up like a swimming pool.

Café pick: The Wave is a giant silver wave shaped food truck parked beach-side. Great smoothies and toasted sandwiches and you don’t even need to leave the beach!

Local surf school: Hibiscus Surf School, House of Surf, South Pacific Surf School

Crowd: The Blowhole is always crowded so the middle of the beach is your best bet to snag a few fun ones.

Practical info: You can find water bottle filling stations and showers on Marine Parade opposite Commons Avenue and in front of the Surf Lifesaving Club.

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MOUNT MAUNGANUI COAST

The coast, as locals call it, is just 5 minutes down the road from the Main Beach but bends a bit to the east so different conditions can be found. The beach profile of the coast is a lot flatter than that of the Main Beach, so it is fun at every tide. It is also more exposed to swell, so often bigger than the Main and tweaks a slightly more southeastern direction, so handles a northwest wind much better than the Main. The coast can have really fun banks all along the beach from Sutherland Avenue to Tweed Street and surf checking for these banks is highly accessible as the road hugs the coast. Great waves are on offer for every level of surfing.

The prevailing wind direction is southwest, however, during the summer months the onshore coastal breeze picks up daily, so you will want to be out there early.

Café pick: Situated on the corner of Tay Street and Marine Parade, Tay Street Beach Café is perfect if you are hungry, Tay Street Store if you are feeling more like a coffee and a smoothie. George Café, a little further down the line near Omanu Surf Life Saving Club, is a great choice too.

Crowd: Tay Street and Hart Street banks are both normally the busiest along this stretch. There is plenty of room to spread out and pick your own bank with just a short paddle.

Local surf school: South Pacific Surf School, House of Surf, Mount Surf Academy, Hibiscus Surf School 

Practical info: There are drinking fountains at the bathroom block at Tay Street and also at Omanu Surf Life Saving Club. Bathrooms, showers and changing rooms can be found at Tay Street and Omanu Surf Life Saving Club. There is also a standalone shower at Hart Street.

Surfing at Papamoa Beach

PAPAMOA

Papamoa is located 8-kilometres southeast of Mount Maunganui. The white sand beach runs over 20-kilometres all the way to Maketū, but the most popular surf spots are in front of the Papamoa Beach Domain and Papamoa Surf Life Saving Club. Beach access at the Domain is excellent as there is a large car park right next to the sand to make unloading boards and/or family “easy as”. Papamoa is normally a foot or two smaller than Mount Maunganui because it sits in the shadow of Motiti Island, which can block some easterly swell. Papamoa is also less crowded and less competitive than Mount Maunganui and is great for beginners. If you are looking for chill waves and a chill crowd, Papamoa Beach Domain is for you.

Café pick: If you don’t feel like leaving the beach, grab a coffee or smoothie at Sandbank Café, a purpose built 1986 Bedford coffee and smoothie van that is parked at the Domain year round. If you do feel like a break from the sun, Gather is across the road and has delicious cabinet food and coffee.

Crowd: It can be a little busier right at the Domain, but a quick paddle 25-metres either way will find you plenty of space.

Local surf school: Hakanini Surf School

Practical info: You can find a water bottle filling station next to the Papamoa Surf Life Saving Club at the Domain. There are bathrooms and changing rooms at the Domain and bathrooms and showers under the Papamoa Surf Life Saving Club.

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ŌHOPE WEST END

Take State Highway 2 south towards Whakatāne and Ōhope. You will pass empty coastline and beachies (beach breaks) along the Matatā straights. If the surf is massive, Matatā can get good, but be warned as it has a very steep beach profile and heavy under-tow so only best for the most experienced surfers.

As you crest the top of the hill behind Whakatāne, Ōhope will come into view and most likely take your breath away. Ōhope remains largely untouched by the masses. It is a beautiful little beach community with perfect long left-hand peelers in front of the West End Reserve in the right conditions. The beach profile of the West End stays quite shallow for a long time, making soft and playful waves perfect for longboarding and is definitely the pick of the beach.

An annual surf competition called the West End Wiggle happens here every year. Ōhope’s West End is in the shadow of the East Cape and therefore misses out on southeasterly swells. It is best in an east/northeast swell direction. If time and surf conditions allow, make sure to check out the Ōtarawairere Point Lookout walk. The view from the top is breathtaking.

Ōhope is a beautiful and quiet destination for a weekend getaway or family vacation, go enjoy and explore.

Café pick: Moxi Café has great food and a cool beachie vibe, just what you want.

Crowd: Uncrowded and friendly  

Local surf school: Salt Spray Surf School

Practical info: Water bottle filling station, bathrooms and showers can be found in the parking lot at the West End Reserve.