Top 10 Beaches in New Zealand for epic photos

With 15,000 kilometres of coastline around New Zealand, you can bet that there are some amazing landscape photography opportunities to enjoy. Whether it's azure blue water contrasting with golden sand, unique coastal rock formations or lighthouses standing proud on the edge of cliffs, we have it all. In my travels around New Zealand, I've visited some amazing spots and I hope that this post will inspire you to put a few more on your bucket list.

10 of the best beaches in NZ for Landscape Photography

1. Cathedral Cove

Even though Cathedral Cove in the Coromandel is one of NZ's most popular tourist destinations, if you're willing to put the effort in and go for sunrise you'll be rewarded with one of the best sunrise views in all of New Zealand and a lot less people. You do need to be prepared for a 35-45 minute hike up and over the bays from Hahei Beach in the dark though, so it does make for an early start especially in summer. I've been here about 6 times for sunrise and every time has left me speechless, I've had everything from brilliantly clear skies with streaky high cloud through to incredible light rays heralding the sun rising like a ball of fire from the ocean and I love how many different compositions there are to shoot. You can capture the view through the cave which perfectly frames Te Hoho Rock, or you can shoot looking back towards the cave (my favourite view). You do need to time your visit with low tide if possible if you want to walk through to the other bay though, at high tide the water comes right into the cave. If you can't get through the cave, you can always go back and shoot in Mares Leg Cove which is where the track to the beach ends. No matter where you shoot here, you're guaranteed a lovely scene.

cathedral cove fiery sunrise
cathedral cove dawn
cathedral cove te hoho rock
cathedral cove mares leg

If you're in the Coromandel area for a few days, you should also check out New Chums Beach and other must-visit Coromandel locations.

2. Wharariki Beach

Remote, windswept and epic. These are the 3 words I hear used over and over when people talk about Wharariki Beach. It's situated on the far-flung west coast of New Zealand near Farewell Spit, almost as far west and north as you can get in the South Island. It is also one of the windiest places in the whole country, and a landscape photography shoot here often comes with a side helping of sand in your teeth for good measure. On my last visit to Wharariki Beach, I hosted a group of 5 landscape photographers on a weekend workshop and we were blessed with such calm conditions both for sunset and sunrise that I couldn't believe it, so you can get lucky at times. The walk across farmland to the beach is very scenic and helps pass the 20 minutes quickly and before you know it you're in amongst the incredible dunes with the Archway Islands taking centre stage.

wharariki beach reflection
wharariki beach sunset light
wharariki beach sand sunset

The beach is massive, much bigger than you give it credit for - and it would take a good 20-30 minutes to walk from one end to the other. Down the northern end of the beach there are often seals playing in the shallows, the last time I visited there were at least a dozen, and we had a friendly shag pose for us on shore as well. I love the whole Golden Bay area of New Zealand, and there's more to see here than just Wharariki Beach, you definitely need to plan a few days in the area to do it justice.

3. Matai Bay

I've never seen water quite like the colour of the water in Matai Bay - it's pretty wow! It is so aqua and so clear and the curve of the bay here is just so lovely, it might just be NZ's most perfectly shaped beach. Again, it's a wee hidden gem, tucked away far up north on the Karikari penninsula, a slight detour from the main road up to Cape Reinga if you're heading to the very top of New Zealand, so it's not somewhere you'll just happen to swing by, you really have to want to go here. The beauty of this part of NZ is that the water stays warm for so long that you can swim here even late in autumn, we were here around late April and my kids were still happy enough swimming at sunset and sunrise. This is a place that you can appreciate even better from the air if you have a drone, and it's well worth camping the night here in the DOC campground that's right on the beach, there's something very soothing about listening to the sound of the waves from your motorhome or tent.

matai bay northland aerial
matai bay northland view

4. Tongaporutu

Tongaporutu is also known as The Three Sisters and is one of the fastest eroding coastlines in the world. You can visit here over and over and it looks completely different each time. Back in 2016, the famous Elephant Rock crumbled leaving only a u-shaped rock in its place. Another of the Sisters disappeared a couple of years later. Every few months, pieces of the cliff break away to form new 'sisters' so it's fascinating to visit here and see what has changed from one visit to the next. Sometimes the beach is sandy with lovely reflections and at other times it's rocky and filled with tidal pools - either way it's an absolutely gorgeous spot. If you time it with a fine day, you can often see Mount Taranaki in the distance down the coastline and incorporate this into your shots too. Again, this spot is only accessible an hour or two either side of low tide otherwise you'll be cut off by the tidal river that flows to the beach, I have heard of people wading in waist deep water to get here - not my cup of tea with expensive camera gear!

elephant rock tongarporutu
tongaporutu three sisters sunset
three sisters mood sunset taranaki
tongarporutu rock reflections

5. Mount Maunganui

This is often referred to as NZ's favourite beach, and for good reason. It's in the Bay of Plenty (the name says it all right?) and is at the tip of a huge stretch of coastline that's packed with beachgoers over summer. My advice would be not to try and time your landscape photography here over the Christmas and New Year period, my favourite times to shoot here have been in midwinter when there's really only locals around. You're spoilt for choice for locations to shoot, there's Leisure Island (the wee outcrop of rocks that provide a lovely view to the mountain itself (Mauao), or you can shoot on the inlet side which can be calmer. If you're feeling energetic, nothing beats a sunrise or sunset shoot from the very top with panoramic views down and up the coastline. Just leave yourself enough time to get up there, it's a short sharp 35-40 minute climb up a pretty steep incline and there's nothing worse than feeling like you're going to miss the best light because you're still on a mission to get up the hill in time!

mt maunganui sunset long exposure
Mount Maunganui summit sunrise

6. Castlepoint

On the eastern coast of the North Island, a good 2.5 hours from Wellington lies the settlement of Castlepoint. This location is incredible in more ways than one, firstly it's one of NZ's epic lighthouse locations, with the lighthouse tower perched high on a rocky outcrop overlooking the bay, but as an added bonus you also have the opportunity to climb up Castle Rock for a higher and more impressive perspective over the whole area. It's well worth staying a night out here so you can experience it both at sunset and sunrise and because it's pretty far to drive anywhere from here, but you'll be lucky to experience this place when it's NOT blowing a gale, I'm yet to do so!

castlepoint sunrise
castle rock castlepoint view

7. New Chums

If you’re looking for a physical adventure to go along with your beach landscape photography shoot then the view over New Chums beach certainly delivers in spades, and it's a must-see Coromandel location. You won’t need a drone to capture this view, just a bit of mountain goat scrambling up the side of a hill. If you’re anything like me, the climb up is easy enough, it’s staring down an almost vertical decline that freaks me out a bit and slows me down to a slow crawl on the descent.

new chums coromandel sunset

Situated at the end of Whangapoua beach, the track to New Chums is again like all the best spots only accessible at low tide when the estuary stream is wadable - at low tide you’ll only get wet up to your ankles. This beach was rated in Lonely Planet’s Top 20 Most Beautiful Beaches in the world, and I do love the view from here, particularly during golden hour. It’s probably not a descent you’d want to do in the pitch black though!

8. Piha

This is a much loved beach by surfers and swimmers, Piha is within an hour’s drive from Auckland’s city centre, and both sunset and sunrise here deliver some beautiful photography opportunities. You can either shoot from the viewpoint overlooking the beach which gives a lovely view of the waves rolling in, or from the beach itself - I recommend this spot for sunrise as there’s far less people around.

piha beach golden sunset
piha beach sunrise reflection

There’s so many other beautiful beaches to explore up and down this coastline - Muriwai with the gannet colony, Bethel’s Beach, Karekare with the amazing expanse of beach and pyramid rock right in the middle of the view, so if you’re heading out west in Auckland make a weekend of it and explore a few beaches at once.

9. Maungamanu Bay

Maungamanu Bay is a relatively unknown surf beach north of Kaikoura and is an amazing spot for sunrise, with its boulders strewn across the beach, and if you time the tides right you can get some amazing reflections of the snow capped Kaikoura mountain range in the rock pools at sunrise. Combining silky long exposure shots for the waves with the calm tidal reflections is a challenge that’s worth setting yourself to see if you can achieve.

maungamanu bay kaikoura sunrise
kaikoura mountains reflection beach
kaikoura golden sunrise maungamanu

10. Nugget Point

You could argue that this is technically not a beach since you can’t really shoot down at beach level, but that’s a small point to quibble over when you’re staring out at one of NZ’s most epic coastal views overlooking a unique penninsula and lighthouse. Watching the sun come up over the horizon here is a simply breathtaking experience and it feels as if you are on the edge of the world. I captured one of the most intense sunrises I’ve seen in my life from here, on a mid-winter morning just before a storm rolled in and to this day it remains a highlight.

nugget point fiery sunrise
nugget point sunstar horizon

The compositions here are plenty, though to get the high elevation shots with the lighthouse below the horizon you do have to climb a steep hill with signs warning of the danger, so you do this at your own risk and be very, very careful coming down. The view from the path looking up to the lighthouse also makes for a great leading line shot, and you can also capture the nuggets themselves if you stand on the far side of the lighthouse.  This spot is teeming with wildlife and if you go during the day while the light is better with a long zoom lens, you’re sure to spot all kinds of wildlife - seals, shags, spoonbills and maybe even penguins.

So... how many of these amazing beaches have you visited in New Zealand? I hope this post has inspired you to put a few more on your must-visit list, and if you'd like one of these images for your own home or as a gift for a loved one, head on over to my Print Store to purchase.

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