Best Places to Swim in New Zealand

  • Author AAT Kings
  • Date 23 Nov 2021
  • Countries New Zealand
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    • Explore

THERE is an old saying about New Zealand sightseeing.

Visit during winter and you will return, but visit during summer and you will never want to leave.

Summer in New Zealand is hot without being humid, busy without being boisterous, sunny without being scorching.

Sitting on lower lines of latitude means the Land of the Long White Cloud appreciates an agreeable warm season, with temperatures hovering around the high 20s and a perfect blue dome stretching above the pristine places that have made this destination a magnet for those that appreciate the great outdoors.

When the curtain comes down on spring the wildflowers are still in bloom and the alpine pastures a lush carpet of green not yet dried by the southern sun while the melting snow makes streams gurgle, rivers race over rapids and waterfalls rumble.

The famously laid-back locals descend into a happy haze, fuelled by long hours of daylight and lazy summer vacations, and while beaches are popular it’s never hard to find a quiet stretch of sand to sit and simply savour the warm-season serenity.

Mother Nature tends to be in charge of summer activities and all travel time should include space for swimming with the land on the eastern side of the Tasman Sea home to captivating corners to cool down on a warm day with a soak, float, dip, dive, paddle or plunge.

We take a look at the best places to swim in New Zealand and, with so many beautiful beaches and magnificent mountain lakes, you really are spoiled for choice.


Securing a summer soak in Auckland isn’t a challenge, with New Zealand’s big smoke home to everything from pretty waterfall ponds and scenically situated public swimming pools to sheltered beaches and quiet island bays.

When it comes to freshwater floating you can’t beat Lake Wainamu, an easy hour hiking through black dunes from Bethell’s Beach, or the pond below Hunua Falls fed by the stream cascading across the steep wall of volcanic rock.

Venture across the Harbour Bridge to wade into the blue at a North Auckland neighbourhood with Takapuna Beach, Cheltenham Beach and Long Bay Beach always recommended by the locals and more sheltered than the weather-beaten stretches of black sand on the west coast.

Waiheke Island – the holiday haven in Hauraki Gulf, a 40-minute cruise by ferry from downtown Auckland – is a firm favourite on warm weekends with Oneroa, Palm Beach and Onetangi pleasing places to paddle and picnic.

AAT Kings’ Essence of New Zealand is an 18-day excursion that departs Christchurch and visits legendary locations across the North and South islands before finishing in Auckland, making it tempting to tack on a post-tour stay and explore the best places to swim around the country’s most substantial metropolis.


New Zealand’s volcanic geothermal water has long been described as “gifts from the earth” and valued since the earliest days of settlement, with Rotorua the setting to soak in wild pools and landscaped ponds fed by the abundant underground hot springs.

Polynesia Spa has long been a favourite with the famous address – regularly recognised as one of the world’s leading spas by the respected Conde Nast Traveller magazine – home to 28 thermal pools scattered through four precincts and positioned to enjoy views across Lake Rotorua.

If that’s not enough healing water then Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park is the space to sample New Zealand’s only mud spa complex while Hot Water Beach at Te Rata Bay is home to steaming rivulets that snake across the sand.

Inspiring New Zealand is a 10-day journey offered by Inspiring Journeys that starts in Auckland and includes a two-night stop in Rotorua, with free time to explore the therapeutic swimming spots, before continuing to Wellington and Queenstown.

Fraser Clements

Fraser Clements


Lofty alpine peaks and rivers fed by melting winter snow don’t typically combine to produce the most perfect places to swim, but it’s worth braving the cool water in Queenstown mountain lakes to become submerged in some of New Zealand’s loftiest landscapes.

Queenstown Bay, on the edge of Lake Wakatipu a short stroll from the heart of this tourist town, is the most obvious place to head for a high-summer soak in the shadows of Cecil and Walter peaks with a pontoon anchored close to the sand and kayaks available for hire during the warmer months.

Bobby’s Cove is the hidden gem a 20-minute drive from town while Lake Hayes, which can be found by following the road between Arrowtown and Queenstown, is a little smaller than its Central Otago neighbours so slightly warmer than the region’s other alpine ponds.

The Southern Drift is a tempting tour for those looking to discover the delights of Queenstown, with this 12-day itinerary a roundtrip from Christchurch that assigns two full days at leisure to sightseeing the attractive South Island address.


New Zealand’s smallest national park is home to a profusion of places to wade, with some right beside water taxi stops and others at the end of walking tracks that wind around the network of crystal-clear streams creeping towards the coastline.

Cleopatra’s Pool boasts the natural rock waterslides that always ranks this location high on the list of the Abel Tasman National Park’s most popular swimming spots but those looking for something more secluded should leave the path and find Top Rocks on the Takaka River or Salisbury Falls on the Aorere River.

This picture-perfect plot near the northern tip of the South Island is also famous for its scenic stretches of shore with those looking to splash in the salt encouraged to ride the water taxi to Medlands Beach before following the path to Bark Bay.

Southern Spirit, the AAT Kings’ itinerary that takes 14 days to meander from Wellington to Christchurch, pauses for a two-night stay in Nelson with the village a convenient base for day-trip jaunts into the Abel Tasman National Park.


Generations of Kiwis have spent summer holidays at the Bay of Islands – the charming corner of North Island countryside – with the beaches in this part of the country celebrated as some of the very best thanks to kilometres of soft sand, crystal-clear water, calm conditions, and striking scenery.

Golden Paihia Beach is the easiest place for those making a short-but-sweet stop in town, Long Beach boasts a sheltered shoreline that makes it perfect for cooling down in calm conditions, and Urupukapuka Island calls those seeking a secluded beach day away from the mainland.

Matai Bay, Matauri Bay, Te Tii Bay and Rarawa Beach are also pleasing places famous for gentle waves while Oke Bay is home to pods of native dolphins which add to the appeal of a low-tide paddle.

AAT Kings’ Spirit of New Zealand is a 21-day expedition that crosses the North and South islands and includes a full day of free time at the Bay of Islands allowing ample time to snorkel Takou Bay or join a discovery cruise to the famous Hole in the Wall that pauses for a pleasant island picnic.

Bay of Islands

Bay of Islands


Taking the plunge in the crisp water of Milford Sound on a sultry summer’s day means more than just the chance to cool down quickly. It is the opportunity to swim in a national park, a marine reserve, and a World Heritage area.

While New Zealand’s deep south doesn’t seem like a logical location to indulge in a lazy float – even on the hottest January or February day – the still fjord water is inviting after energetic activities like tramping a section of the Milford Sound Track or kayaking in the shadows of the sky-scraping peaks.

Green Lake calls those focused on freshwater floating, while hikers taking on the Routeburn Track – which is listed as one of New Zealand’s top-ten walks – rewarded with a paddle in Lake Mackenzie at the end of the six-hour hike.

The Long White Cloud from Inspiring Journeys spends two days exploring the South Island’s spectacular south-west corner and not only gives travellers time to sample the Milford Track during a half-day hike but the chance to cool off with a memorable fjord paddle.


Christchurch boasts long kilometres of wild Pacific coastline, so there’s no shortage of windblown stretches of sea to explore during a stop in the South Island’s chief community, but those travellers that sample the city’s signature salt-water swim need not endure a chilly dive.

A sunrise soak in the He Puna Taimoana steaming saltwater pools has become a must-do activity for travellers visiting Christchurch, with this beachside New Brighton complex home to five heated ponds set to temperatures between 26C and 40C and designed to each deliver a unique experience.

Southern Spectacular is the AAT Kings’ itinerary to investigate if lingering in Christchurch appeals with this 10-day itinerary a roundtrip from the cute east-coast city that promises a journey on the iconic TranzAlpine train as well as visits South Island stars like Milford Sound and Franz Josef Glacier.