The South Island of New Zealand is the 12th largest island on the planet and has over 3,600 miles of coastline. Given the length of shoreline it should come as no surprise that there are a a large amount of beautiful beaches, only a few of which are listed here. The scenery on the South Island’s most beautiful beaches ranges from hidden, isolated coves to long, windswept stretches of coastline. Though it could take someone a decade to visit every single beach on the island, here, in order from north to south, are a handful of some of the most beautiful South Island beaches.
Set all the way out at the “far end of the road”, not very many travelers make it to this northwestern outpost. Located 30 minutes past the beachside communities of Golden Bay and just below the sands of Farewell Spit, Wharariki Beach is set back on a dirt road where few tours or private citizens venture. Combined with stunning geological formations such as coastal archways and deep sea caves, it’s this sense of emptiness amongst such a vast expanse that give Wharariki its timeless beauty.
Abel Tasman National Park
Trying to choose exactly which beach in Abel Tasman National Park is the most beautiful is like trying to choose a favorite flavor of ice cream, so it’s better just to try them all. There are no roads leading into the national park, and beaches such as Tonga Bay and Mosquito Bay are accessible only by sea kayak, water taxi, or a multi-day hiking trail. Along the journey into the park you pass coves of golden sand which are flanked by lush forest, turquoise waters,and absolutely zero development.
Robin Hood Bay
While the Marlborough region gets all of its fame for its wine, few are aware that the entire Marlborough Sounds area is pockmarked with beautiful beaches. Set pretty far off of the traditional tourist track, Robin Hood Bay requires driving a curving, narrow road that hugs the mountainous coastline before dropping down to the protected cove. There is a small campground next to the beach, although outside of swimming, surfing, or reading a good book, there really isn’t a whole lot to do (which is exactly why you come here).
Also known as “Pancake Rocks”, Punakaiki is an area of coastline on the wild and wet west coast of the island just north of the industrial town of Greymouth. What makes Punakaiki unique from other beaches on the Tasman coastline, however, is the intriguing limestone formations where the rocks literally look like rolls of frozen pancake batter. Combined with a thundering blowhole and a stretch of undeveloped, sandy shoreline that’s good for surfing and strolling, Punakaiki is one of the west coast’s most popular and beautiful beaches.
The beach itself in Kaikoura isn’t by any means the nicest beach in New Zealand, but this is a list of the most beautiful beaches on the South Island of New Zealand, not the nicest. So despite the fact that the beach has more rock pebbles than sand, the view of the snowcapped Kaikoura mountain range over the deep blue Pacific is an image than lines postcard shops from Nelson to Queenstown. The town of Kaikoura (which translates to “Meal of Crayfish” in Maori) is also one of the best places in New Zealand for seafood, and as should be expected the fishing from this beach is excellent. For a Kaikoura beach with a bit more sand (and surf), head down to Kahutara Beach just a few miles south of town.
The southernmost beach on the west coast that most travelers will visit, Haast Beach is beautiful in the same way that the coastline of Oregon is beautiful. Sure there are stretches of the beach where there is nothing more than sand dunes, clapboard fishing shacks and horizon for as far as you can see, but it’s the stormy solitude that gives this beach a type of beauty distinct from its more photogenic counterparts. Although a warm water current flows through here, the rip currents and waves can be deadly along this stretch of shoreline and it’s best to spend your visit just taking a morning walk with a cup of coffee or watching a storm blow in over a cup of seafood chowder.
Finally, all the way down in the deep south of the country in an area known as “The Catlins”, Purakaunui Bay is a large, sandy cove where towering sea cliffs drop directly into the ocean. Crowds are rare when you venture this far south, and there is a small campsite perfect for waking up early and taking a solo sunrise stroll on one of the South Island’s most beautiful beaches.