A Surfer's Guide to Shipwreck Bay

Shipwreck Bay on a calm day
Shipwreck Bay on a calm day | © Sids1 / Flickr
Joe Coates

In the west of Northland – a region of the North Island of New Zealand – lies one of the best surf breaks in the whole country. Shipwreck Bay is one of those spots known by NZ surfers, even if they’ve never ridden there before. If you’re going to NZ for a surf it should definitely be on your list. Read our guide to find out more.

Getting there

For all those visiting the shores of New Zealand, finding out how to actually get to these cracking breaks can sometimes be a bit tricky. Shipwreck Bay is located at the township of Ahipara, which lies at the southern most point of Ninety Mile Beach. Ahipara is approximately two and a half hours’ journey by car from Whangarei, or about four to five hours from Auckland. Finding Ahipara is no sweat thanks to the maps we all now carry around on our phones. However, getting to the surf spots themselves can sometimes find our map apps coming up short. Happily, we can help.

From Kaitaia, head southwest on Redan Street, out of town, then continue straight ahead on Pukepoto Road. When you get to Ahipara, continue straight on Foreshore Road, over the Wairoa River. The road will change to gravel. Continue west along the shoreline to the western end of the bay and turn right onto Wreck Bay Road. Drive to the end of the road and find a park.
Nearest Town: Ahipara
Nearest City: Kaitaia
Travel Time from City: 15 mins
Road in: Sealed and gravel
Walk in: No
Parking at beach: Yes

The break at Shipwreck Bay

Optimal Swell Direction: SW
Optimal Wind Direction: S
Tide: Low
Wave Type: Left point
Wave Size Min: 1.5 ft
Wave Shape: Wally, barrels, long
Beach Type: Sand and rock
Skill Level: Advanced

What you can expect

Ask any knowledgeable Kiwi surfer who has chased waves around the country what their top 10 breaks are and there is no doubt that on every list Shipwreck Bay will be mentioned. It is indubitably one of the best surf breaks in the country and was even captured by Hollywood in that classic summer surf flick, The Endless Summer. You are almost guaranteed waves when you visit and when it’s going off you could be in for three-minute rides! The bay picks up any Southwest swell and wraps it down the headland, producing separate sections for all abilities of surfer.

Shipwreck Bay with the tide turning

The waves

The bay is sandy with a few rocks around the point. Shipwreck Bay has two waves, with ‘Shipwreck Bay’ or ‘Wreck Bay’ being the left-hand point break coming through onto the beach, and ‘Peaks’ further out and round to the west – also a left-hand point break. The ‘Wreck’ is a softer, cruisy wave with a nice long ride. On a good day, ‘Peaks’ has a gnarly take off with an awesome barrel section that continues into a nice wally wave that will treat you to a really long ride. Once (hopefully) you’ve completed this blissful ride it makes more sense to walk back round the beach to join the line-up. ‘Peaks’ is a long walk to get to so if you’re fortunate enough to have a 4WD you can just drive that down the beach.

Making the most of it

The best way to help your chances at catching a dream set out these ways is to stay for as long as possible. There are at least two camping grounds at Ahipara, with one being right in front of the Bay. Note though, it only has tent sites. There are no caravans or cabins. There are also a number of small B&Bs and budget lodges. If you are planning to go at any time close to a public holiday, it is recommended that you book accommodations in advance.

Washy surf at Shippies

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