New Zealand is full of beautiful lakes, rivers, and kilometer after kilometer of shoreline making it an ideal destination to explore by paddleboard. We’ve put together a list of the best SUP locations in New Zealand, and the best thing is, they are all free!
During our stay in New Zealand, we’ve pumped up our inflatable paddleboards at every chance we got. While we do enjoy a leisurely paddle in a calm bay, we get most excited when we can use our SUPs as a means of transport to beautiful sights or for a chance to encounter wildlife. Below is a list of our favorite SUP spots.
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Dolphins in Curio Bay
Ever wanted to swim or paddle with wild dolphins? Here is your chance! Curio Bay and Porpoise Bay in the Catlins are a playground for the rare Hector Dolphins. These dolphins are only found in the coastal waters of New Zealand and they are very curious. On most mornings you can see about a dozen of them from the shore, playing and jumping in the waves. Put on your wetsuit (we’re not gonna lie, the water is COLD) and paddle into the bay for an unforgettable experience. Wait for the dolphins to come to you. They are almost always keen to play and will be dancing around you in no time.
Maori Carvings at Lake Taupo
Lake Taupo is massive and has quite a few spots worth seeing, but our favorite is the Maori Carvings. You might have heard of them and the boat tours that take you there, but what if we told you that you can paddle to them yourself, without spending a cent?
It’s just a short walk & paddle from the carpark, and there are some amazing cliff diving opportunities on the way. Plus on your paddleboard, you can get closer than you will ever get on a boat!
If you’ve taken the ferry between the North and the South Island you probably know that the Marlborough Sounds are stunning, and any bay here makes for a nice paddle. We were particularly impressed with Elaine Bay, on the way to French Pass. There is a small campsite at the bay with a jetty from where you can get your SUP into the calm and crystal clear blue water. The enclosed Elaine Bay feels almost like a lake due to the sounds surrounding it, and it is one of our absolute favorite spots for a paddle on a nice summer day. To make it even better, there are often stingrays gracefully swimming around the jetty and under your paddleboard. Paddling (and swimming) in the bay when the stingrays are around is safe, just make sure not to harass these magnificent creatures.
Glow worms in Rotorua
You probably heard about Waitomo and its underground world full of glow worms, but very few people know about a small glow worm cave near Rotorua. This cave is only accessible by water and is perfect for an evening paddleboarding adventure. We’ll tell you how to find it, so you can have your own twilight glow worm experience.
Drive to Lake Rotoiti, just outside of Rotorua, and find the Te Weta Bay. If you want to drive all the way to the shore of Te Weta Bay you have to cross private land. Always ask permission from the landowner to do so. Alternatively, park close to Te Weta Bay and paddle around. Once you’re in the bay, you can find the glow worms in a shallow cave on the eastern side of the bay’s northern arm. Make sure to bring a head torch for the paddle back in the dark.
Just off the coast of Whangamata lies an old dormant volcano the Maori call Whenuakura but is more commonly known as Donut Island due to its shape. Ages ago there was a cave in, leaving the island with an open roof and a flooded center. Through a cave, the center of the island can be accessed from the sea, and what better way to do that than by SUP?! Inside you’ll find a peaceful little lagoon where all you hear is the chirping of birds and the soft rippling of the water. Sounds perfect right? Read our Donut Island post to find out more about this hidden paradise and to download our guide on how to get there!
Dolphins and Orcas in Akaroa
The Akaroa Marine Reserve at the entrance of the Akaroa Harbour is becoming more and more popular for day trips, and with reason. There aren’t many places in New Zealand where you can find such a variety of marine life in one place. Get your SUP out and you’re almost guaranteed to see seals and dolphins. Akaroa is also home to NZ’s largest little blue penguin colony, on a good day you might see an Albatross flying around or even spot some small whale species swimming in the harbour. To spot whales, and even Humpback whales, your best bet is during the winter months. We suggest however that you go here in summer as it is not only warmer, but there is a good chance that Hector dolphins will swim and play around you, and you might even see an Orca family swim by!
Icebergs in Hooker Lake
There are many glaciers in New Zealand and a lot of these glaciers have accessible glacial lakes at their bottom. How cool (pun intended) would it be to paddleboard on one of them!
Hooker Lake at the end of the Hooker Valley Track is one of these glacial lakes. We only recommend going here if you have an inflatable SUP that is easy to pack up and carry around because it involves walking 5km there and back, but the walk alone is already worth it. On top of that, you get to paddle on a glacial lake in between floating icebergs and with the impressive Mount Cook in the back. Bucket list; check! Just don’t fall in ;-).
These are our favorite SUP locations, but we’re sure that there are many other awesome spots to be found in New Zealand (like the lake in the cover photo that you’re not actually allowed to go on… oops). We’d love to read about your SUP experiences in the comments and let us know if we missed a location that we should absolutely add to this list. See you on the water!