Widely recognized as one of the most beautiful islands in the world, New Zealand’s south island offers landscapes ranging from grassy, pastoral hills to towering fiords, from snow-capped peaks to expansive glaciers—and nearly everything in between. Oh, and there are also a ton of epic setups on both coasts, making this a classic surf/eco-adventure destination.
The Surf: Like its northerly neighbor, New Zealand’s south island has beach breaks, points, and reefs, with a wide variety of nooks and crannies ensuring that there is nearly always somewhere out of the wind. In general, this should be considered an intermediate surf zone.
Five Waves Worth Surfing:
- Kiakoura: A quaint coastal town popular for whale watching, Kiakoura has a number of quality righthand point breaks.
- Tarangua Bay: Located on the north coast, this series of sand-bottom peaks tends to have something breaking even when everywhere else is flat.
- Hickory Bay: The classic New Zealand surf experience, Hickory Bay is a bit of a trek, but is well protected from the wind, making this beach break setup a great option if everywhere else is blown out.
- Stony Beach: With beach break peaks, a wedgy right hander, and a point break during big swells, this private-access-only spot offers the entire gamut of surf options—just ask for permission before making the trek in.
- Blaketown Wedge: Breaking at the mouth of the Grey River, this right and left sand-bottom peak produces hollow, powerful barrels.
The Water: Clean water surrounding a beautiful island with majestic backdrops makes for an incredible surfing experience, but you pay for it with thick rubber. Average surface temps range from 48–61 F (9–16 C).
The Season: For the Pacific coast, summer (November through February) sees warmer water and air temps but inconsistent swell, while winter (June through August) is very consistent but brutally cold, making the bridge season (March through May) the best time to surf. For the Tasman coast, summer is best, with better weather and winds and no shortage of swell, while winter tends to be cold and onshore.
The Vibe: The beaches near Christchurch can get a bit crowded (for New Zealand), but elsewhere you’ll be surfing alone mid-week, and with a mellow crew of locals on the weekends.
Things To Do: Milford Sound has become quite popular with tourists in the past decade, and some feel that this has ruined its ambiance somewhat, but it is still an incredible place to visit. Franz Josef Glacier is another amazing natural attraction, bringing visitors in from all over the world.
Where To Stay: New Zealand is a backpacker hotspot, and has a wide variety of hostels and B&Bs available. It is also possible to do the south island in a caravan, or a car and tent.
What To Bring: A standard shortboard and a backup. Thick rubber, especially if you are coming in winter (a 5/4/3mm fullsuit plus booties, gloves and a hood should suffice). Cold weather gear for your time on land. Good hiking boots/shoes and an affinity for the outdoors. A taste for meat pies and lamb chops.
Getting There: Christchurch and Dunedin International Airports are the main gateways into the south island, although it is also possible to fly into Auckland and then drive down and take the ferry across Cook Strait.
Visas unnecessary as long as you are from a visa waiver country (http://www.immigration.govt.nz/migrant/stream/visit/visitors/). Otherwise, apply for a visa ahead of time. Airport codes: AKL (Auckland), CHC (Christchurch), and DUD (Dunedin).