Monday, March 5, 2012

New Zealand's Top Surf Breaks

Surf and travel go hand in hand. Whether it’s a weekend spent exploring down the coast or a month-long holiday in the tropics during our winter, surfers love the idea and the reality of searching for waves. And there are literally thousands worth searching for, both along New Zealand’s varied coastline and throughout the South Pacific. I'm often asked what my favourite breaks are, so thought I'd make a list.

New Zealand Top 10
I’ve made this list from well-known surf spots in Aotearoa. It would be a completely different list if I included my favourite secret spots, but I’m not going to tell.

Starting near the bottom of the country and working north:

Porpoise Bay, Catlins
A quaint half-moon bay with a cool motor camp nearby, this sandy-bottomed beach often has well-formed A-frame waves. Not surprisingly given its name, often your only surfing companions are dolphins. There are also some other little-known points and reefs nearby, and in fact the whole Catlins coastline is a surfer’s dream tour.

Aramoana or ‘The Spit’, Dunedin
A visiting French surfer once told me the pitching waves at Aramoana are better than any of the world famous surf spots in his country. Whenever a north swell, or a large south swell, hits town, expect a crowd at Dunedin’s best beach break. But the endless choice of peaks usually means everyone gets their share. ‘The Spit’ is also famous for frequent shark encounters, which can clear the line-up rather quickly.

Murdering Beach, Dunedin
This is Dunedin’s signature wave: a right-hand point break forgiving enough to entice most surfers out there and long enough to turn your legs to jelly by the end of each ride. While arguably it’s not as good as some of the other points nearby, nevertheless it draws the most attention. ‘Murderers’ is one of the most sought-after waves in the South Island.

Kahutara, Kaikoura
This right-hand point is not for the faint-hearted. A powerful wave with fast, hollow sections means it should only be ridden by competent surfers. Better when bigger, there is plenty of opportunity for getting locked in to long barrelling waves. I’ve had some of the best waves of my life here, but also some of the biggest hold-downs.

Mangamaunu, Kaikoura
Another right-hand point, and just up the road from Kahutara, ‘Mangas’ is considered the ‘friendlier cousin’. Giving rides about three times longer, it’s pretty popular too. If there is any type of wave forming at ‘Mangas’ usually someone is surfing it. Visiting surfers often plan their whole trip around trying to score the point working. And even just one wave on an epic day here is enough to leave a smile on your face for weeks afterwards.

Stent Road, Taranaki
The local council has finally wised up and replaced the constantly- missing road sign with a huge immovable rock. This is how famous Stent Road has become. And for good reason, as the right-hand point is probably Taranaki’s premier wave. Fast and powerful, it handles plenty of size, offering up barrelling sections and walls for cutbacks. A word of warning though: this place can get crowded so be patient and respect the locals.

Kumara Patch, Taranaki
This is probably my favourite wave in the ‘Naki’. A 20 minute walk along the coastline takes you to a mechanically-winding left-hand point with never-ending walls of Indonesian proportion. There are certainly other more intense waves nearby, but ‘The Patch’ gets my vote for its mix of bowling and speed sections. A fantastic wave, but again be patient if there is a crowd.

Wainui Beach, Gisborne
Gisborne has more quality waves than seems fair. And while there are a number of lesser known breaks of a higher quality around, you can’t beat Wainui for its long sandy beach and clean fun waves. This isn’t to say that the intensity doesn’t jump up with the swell size. Depending on sand conditions, Wainui produces hollow, intense rides. Another plus is that the locals are usually mellow and friendly to visiting surfers.

Raglan, Waikato
Most Kiwis – surfers or non-surfers – have heard of Raglan. This is New Zealand’s iconic wave, and ranks as one of the best left-hand points in the world. Actually it’s three points, which helps to spread the crowd. This is a good thing, because it certainly attracts surfers from all over the world. But, if anything, this seems to have mellowed the line-up. Everyone – or at least on my previous few surfs there – is careful not to drop in. The nearby township has grown to cater for all the visitors, and boasts a number of quality cafes and accommodation options.

Shipwreck Bay, Northland
‘Shippies’ in the Far North is a series of left-hand point breaks at the bottom of Ninety Mile Beach. And on its day, for my money, it produces better quality waves than Raglan. As you venture further around the headland, each successive break gets bigger and heavier. And, during huge swells, they often link up to provide mammoth, epic rides up to 500 metres long.

There are dozens of other waves around the country that could just have easily made this list. New Zealand is becoming increasingly recognised as a world-class surfing destination, regardless of whether surfers are looking for perfectly-shaped beach breaks or huge, intimidating offshore reefs. Our coastline and geographical aspect mean we are exposed to swells pulsing in from the Pacific and the Tasman. While the water temperature can be challenging at times, we have waves rivalling the rest of the world.

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