The 10 Best Places for Watersports in New Zealand

Kaituna River Rafting, Rotorua
Kaituna River Rafting, Rotorua | © eyeintim / Flickr
Photo of Thalita Alves
3 May 2018

New Zealand is surrounded by coastlines, lakes and rivers. For sports lovers, this can only mean one thing: lots of awesome aquatic activities! Whether you’ve an affinity for sailing, you’re itching to go rafting or eager to kayak the vast oceans, here are 10 great locations that will aptly deliver all your watersport needs.


There’s a reason Queenstown is known as New Zealand’s ‘adventure capital’: the bustling resort has just about every kind of extreme sporting activity you could ask for. Those who want to immerse themselves in the local waterways have the choice to jet boat on the Kawarau and Shotover Rivers, go river canyoning and white water rafting on Skippers Canyon, or simply kayak around Queenstown Bay and the stunning Lake Wakatipu.

Shotover Jet boat in Queenstown, New Zealand | © Bernard Spragg / Flickr

Lake Taupo

Here’s an absolute must-visit for adventure seekers exploring the North Island: Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake by surface area. Naturally, there are loads of opportunities to get active on these waters. The Huka Falls and Aratiatia Rapids are the local go-tos for jet boating; you could also venture to the southern end of Lake Taupo near the Tongariro River to embark on an epic white water rafting expedition. Other activities to put on your radar include parasailing, jet skiing, windsurfing, kayaking, fishing and stand-up paddleboarding.

Kayak trip on Lake Taupo, New Zealand | © tara hunt / Flickr


Auckland is affectionately known as the City of Sails. That should give you an indication about what the local pastime is: on a clear day a collection of boats, yachts and sailing vessels of all shapes and sizes surface throughout the city’s picturesque harbours. There’s more to Auckland than sailing, though: head to any of the local beaches to be exposed to a number of great spots for swimming, sea kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and surfing.

Sea kayaking shed on Auckland's Waiheke Island | © Andym5855 / Flickr

The Tutukaka Coast

The Tutukaka Coast is located in the Northland region, approximately two-and a-half-hours’ drive north of Auckland. There’s an abundance of watersports on offer there: the Tutukaka Harbour and Marina have optimal fishing conditions, while an assortment of beautiful beaches (including Sandy Bay, Whale Bay and Matapouri Bay) aptly cater for surfers, kayakers and swimmers exploring these shores. The Poor Knights Island is the ultimate local highlight: the marine reserve is a great place for scuba diving and snorkelling – wildlife encounters are a natural additional bonus.

Diving equipment on a vessel heading to Poor Knights Island, New Zealand | © Steve Shattuck / Flickr


The popular tourist town of Rotorua is composed of various lakes and rivers, each offering a different kind of aquatic endeavour to its visitors. Kaituna River is where you’ll get your rafting fix, Lake Rotorua is great for parasailing and jet boat tours, and Lake Rotoiti is the ideal spot for some fishing or a leisurely kayak trip. Stand-up paddleboarding tours of Blue Lake, Tarawera and the Ohau Channel are another option worth considering.

Kaituna River Rafting, Rotorua | © eyeintim / Flickr

Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park is unique for its contrasting combination of forested hiking terrains and sheltered white sand beaches. In the summer months the national park, which is actually New Zealand’s smallest, becomes a prime spot for sea kayaking, sailing, swimming and fishing. Temperate climates are a constant pretty much year-round, meaning that outdoor activities – water-based or otherwise – are always well within reach.

Kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park | © ItravelNZ / Flickr


The coastal town of Raglan is located in the Waikato region of the North Island, and is arguably one of New Zealand’s most iconic surfing, windsurfing and kite surfing destinations. The long breaks at Manu Bay and Whale Bay tend to attract the keenest of surfers in the summer months. The black-sand Ngarunui Beach is another popular spot for surfing, as well as bodyboarding and swimming.

A surfer in Manu Bay, Raglan | © Jun Kaneko / Flickr

Whanganui River

As New Zealand’s longest navigable river, Whanganui is the ideal spot for canoeing and kayaking – in fact, paddlers have more than 200 kilometres (124.3 miles) of waterways to play with. The river and its tributaries are also great spots for brown trout fishing. A trip to the region’s Whanganui National Park will provide plenty of fresh river canoeing opportunities, as well as exposing you to some awesome walking trails, culturally significant historic sites, abundant forestry and awe-inspiring suspension bridges.

A canoeist in Whanganui National Park | © Department of Conservation / Flickr


Waitomo’s famous glowworm caves come with all kinds of land, underground and water thrills. Black water rafting is the main attraction to look out for: guided tours are centred on the Ruakuri Cave, taking its visitors on an exhilarating journey through a series of underwater waterfalls as they venture into the depths of the cave’s glowworm-lit limestone formations. As a bonus, some tour packages also include activities like zip-lining and abseiling.

Black water rafting in Waitomo | © Ian Armstrong / Flickr


Wanaka and its namesake lake are strong contenders when it comes to all things adrenaline-inducing and aquatic. Kakaying, boating, stand-up paddleboarding and jet boating are some of the activities that will immerse you into Lake Wanaka’s picturesque waters. Deep water canyoning is another local must-do: especially around Matukituki Valley, which is a mere 30-minute drive from the township and home to the Niger Stream, Mill Creek and Leaping Burn canyons. Drive a little further out of town to Lake Hawea and you’ll also have a fishing, windsurfing and paragliding options at your disposal.

Kayakers enjoy Lake Wanaka | © Stephen Colebourne / Flickr

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