How to Create the Ultimate SUP Adventure in New Zealand
Have you ever thought of a place and immediately the alchemist living in your bones transports you from the dull familiarity to one filled with mystique and wonder?
It’s in those times that your heart becomes lighter and the whisper of your soul blossoms into a jubilant cry.
You have it then, that sense of awe. That old feeling of what it was like to be a child. Where the world looked vibrant and your body clashed with the winds of adventure.
You didn’t understand what it was in the past at a younger age.
But you do now.
It’s that feeling you get when you want to reconnect with the mystery of the universe. To venture into the unknown. To find yourself. And live.
One such place to inhabit the minds of many thrill-seekers is New Zealand.
The sandy beaches, rolling mountains, craggy cliff-lined shores, abundant wildlife, and friendly citizens make the recipe for a perfect adventure cocktail.
At this particular place of great change in our society, we realize traveling is difficult. And in some cases impossible.
Still, that spirit lives on in us. And in you. It is our wish then, to feed that soul-searching side of your adventurer’s heart and create a roadmap for your wanderlust once the world stabilizes itself and we can greet our friends from across borders once again.
Come along with us on this journey...
On this virtual SUP tour on both islands of New Zealand. And let us show you how you can create your next trip through the use of Perfect Paddles.
We plan to detail where to rent campers, boards, where to eat, sleep, stay, and what SUP outfitters are offering the best service in New Zealand.
Use this tour as a treasure map once travel is safe again to feed that wild side.
-Perfect Paddles Travel Brief-
Island nation in South Pacific - nearest neighbor Australia
40.9006° S, 174.8860° E
Best Time of Year to Visit: December to February.
Additional information: https://www.newzealand.com.au/faqs/best-season-to-visit-new-zealand/
Currency: New Zealand Dollar
It's often possible to get a much better rate if you exchange money upon arrival in New Zealand. Airports and hotels usually offer the worst exchange rates and charge the highest fees. Banks and foreign exchange kiosks are only slightly better. Your best bet is to withdraw money from an ATM. (transferwise.com)
Visa: “You don't need a visa to enter New Zealand as a visitor for up to 6 months, but you will need to get a New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA) before you travel. The New Zealand immigration authorities recommend that applicants allow up to 72 hours for processing.” (https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/new-zealand/entry-requirements)
Inoculations: “Some vaccines are recommended or required for New Zealand. The CDC and WHO recommend the following vaccinations for New Zealand: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, meningitis, polio, measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), chickenpox, shingles, pneumonia and influenza.” (www.passporthealthusa.com)
Flight distances from major cities (estimates):
New York City: 25-30 hrs+
Los Angeles: 40hrs+
RV Rental South Island: Traveler’s Autobarn
Located within an 8-minute ride with Uber or Taxi from the airport
RV Rental North Island: Wicked Campers
Located within a 20-minute ride with Uber or Taxi from ferry terminal
Total miles covered on Southern Road Trip: 410km (255 miles) for 5 days, 4 nights depending on how long you want your trip to be
Total miles covered on Northern Road Trip: 826.7km (514 miles) for 6 days, 5 nights depending on how long you want your trip to be
Ferry from South to North Island: “New Zealand's most famous and beautiful ferry route is between Picton in the South Island and Wellington in the North Island. The journey between the two islands is commonly referred to as 'crossing the Cook Strait'. The sailing time is around 3.5 hours (weather dependent).” (www.newzealand.com)
Flights from South Island to North:
50 minutes to 1 hour in duration
SUP Shops to Visit Along the Route:
1. Groundswell Sports Unlimited (Woolstown)
- Paddle Nelson (Nelson)
- Paddleboard Rotorua (Rotorua)
- SUP Bro Tours NZ (Tutukaka)
Parks to Visit Along the Route:
1. Lake Sumner Forest Park
2. Nelson Lakes Park
3. Tongariro National Park
Top 5 Additional Attractions:
1. Rossendale Winery (Christchurch): A perfect, local winery to supplement your stay in Christchurch
- Tepapa National Museum (Wellington): Familiarize yourself with the rich history of New Zealand’s islands
3. Marlborough Region: Famous for its Sauvignon Blanc, delicious fresh seafood and diverse landscapes, from valleys of vines to sheltered waterways
- Milford Sound: New Zealand’s wild-side. And we mean nature. Located hours away from any town or city, Milford Sound is the perfect place to connect to the natural wonders of the New Zealand
- Bay of Islands: Located on the northernmost tip of the North Island, Bay of Islands is a water-lovers dream. It is a subtropical micro-region known for its stunning beauty & history.
Buddy Deals Reminder:
As a member of Perfect Paddles you will receive a discount at participating shops on our list. Because you know how to paddle, have skills, and want to spread the stoke of SUP, you deserve a break! Our Featured Buddy Deal Location in New Zealand also happens to be one of the greatest SUP pro’s in our database: SUP Bro Tours New Zealand! To receive your discount, be sure to sign up at Perfect Paddles. And if you are a member, take advantage of this excellent opportunity to paddle with some of the best people in the SUP community!
Your first action is of course to head to Perfect Paddles on our home computer (Predictable? Yes. But practical? You betcha!) to get a feel of where to go, what to do, and where to stop. This can be done on our locations page. But in addition to just where to go, be aware you can also look for specific activities you love to do on your SUP!
For example, we typed in New Zealand from December to March. Which is the Southern Hemisphere summer.
And from there, contact the business and get started on your planning!
You see, what we do best here at Perfect Paddles is connecting SUP lovers from around the world to a local professional who can guide you through your trip with their specialized local knowledge. Due to their experience, they will know the best places to paddle, the best practices to stay in line with the locals, and other exciting adventures waiting for you around every corner!
And to maintain that connection even while in the country, we suggest you download the Perfect Paddles app which is free to members to give you the ability to plan in real time, on the move. As, naturally, we SUP fanatics are continual movers and seekers.
After a quick search there will appear options for you to take depending on what you want to do during your stay.
And with an advanced search you can find great places to SUP surf, paddle white water, great tours, SUP yoga, and immersive experiences into the wild world of New Zealand.
With a basic idea set in your minds and the ability to alter it in real time with the Perfect Paddles app, we decided on starting our Virtual SUP Tour in Christchurch, New Zealand on the south island.
Stop #1: Christchurch
Welcome to the south island’s largest city with a population of 400,000. This sprawling metropolis is famous for street art and innovative design and displays. If you were to stay in the city center, you would not be bored.
But we aren’t the stationary kind. We like to be on the move.
Once exiting the airport the best place to head is Traveler’s Autobarn to pick up a sweet ride for the duration of our trip.
At Traveler’s you have a choice between four options of vans. This includes a regular van all the way up to a full-sized camper.
As experienced van lifers, we believe the best choice is the Hitop Campervan option. It’s big enough to house you and a friend as well as your gear while remaining easy to park and maneuver in the city streets and beyond.
Once secured, it’s time to grab a bite to eat!
As you can imagine, the best places remain in city central. We recommend a choice between Twenty Seven Steps, which is a high-end dining experience with choices like beef, lamb, and venison, Inati, another sit-down restaurant with phenomenal fish choices, or The Kiwi Viking for a takeout experience of burgers and sandwiches.
Each choice offers its own unique setting and flavor. And each is fantastic in its own way.
With a full belly, it’s time for a bit of rest before the journey begins.
Taking refuge in the Hitop Campervan it’s best to head to a Freedom Camping spot near Canterbury or Christchurch. These are specific locations around the city that allows travelers to park their self-contained campers in designated areas to enjoy a night sleeping under the stars. Enjoy beautiful views of Christchurch and the surrounding landscape. To read more about Freedom Camping in the area, head here.
A full night’s rest has been had, the day is young, and now it’s time to begin the SUP adventure portion of the trip.
Once breakfast is over, it’s time to take in the view one last time and search on Perfect Paddles for the place to SUP in Christchurch. We are off to Woolstown to find an excellent SUP, Kiteboard, and Windsurf outfitter called Groundswell Sports Limited.
Groundswell is Christchurch’s original SUP spot on the coast. They offer visitors excellent SUP beginner lessons with their highly-qualified staff. And keep an eye out on their social events for fun times on the water meeting new friends. If you’re lucky enough they’ll be caravaning out to locations such as Waikuku, Woodend, Kaikoura, Brighton, or Sumner for exciting SUP surf sessions!
On our virtual SUP tour, we have decided to join the group on a trip over to Woodend for an early morning surf session in the salty ocean.
As we drive out of the city we trail the team at Groundswell on Highway Route 1. The coast is clear in the early morning sunshine and the mid-December air is warm.
We can feel the excitement bubbling in our stomachs as we pull into the parking lot at Woodend Beach, unload our gear, and with a paddle in one hand and board in the other, plunge into the chilly water.
As the morning progresses, so does the magic. The waves are manageable, the beach wide-open and friendly, and the warm salt air kisses our hair as we catch wave after wave. A perfect first day.
But as all days must do, it ends. We pack up our gear, say thank you to our gracious guide and owner of Groundswell, Allan Taylor, and head back to camp for the night.
To the North
The next morning, we leave Christchurch behind and head north towards the coastal city of Nelson.
Highway State 7 winds through mountain passes and thick pine trees. The air is crisp in the morning sun up here. And it’s beautiful.
There are two options for nature stops along the way. If you can hit both, do it. If not, then the choice becomes a little more difficult.
The first is Lake Sumner Forest Park. Located conveniently off of the highway, there are a few access points to enter the park and spend an afternoon hiking or settle in for a picnic underneath the trees.
For any nature lover, it is a must-see. Why? Take a look:
After you spend the mid-morning here, it’s time to hop back on the highway and either make your way to the final destination or stop at the second nature-lovers spot of Nelson Lakes Park.
This park is placed just as conveniently as Lake Sumner, a short trip right off the highway.
And it has the serene, open-air feeling of freedom that is unique to New Zealand’s islands.
Find the perfect camping spot here for an extra night exploring the inland lakes of the South Island. Information on camping can be found here.
As you can clearly see, a stop along the way to either of these parks is a must. But to get a real feel of the magic that is New Zealand, we recommend a stop at both.
It’s the only correct way to go on a road trip.
Now we are back on the road and the highway begins to descend towards the coast. The mountains appear smaller, and the ocean comes into a full, crisp view.
We are making our way into Nelson and our next SUP spot at Paddle Nelson.
Stop #2 Nelson
Nelson is a small city with a population reaching about 50,000 residents. It is the oldest city on the South Island and the second oldest in all of New Zealand.
Well known for its thriving local arts scene, Nelson hosts events every year such as the Nelson Arts Festival, and the annual Wearable Art Awards. The awards showcase artists' work alongside a collection of classic cars. It’s a great event for families.
And while we definitely suggest checking out more about Nelson here, or contacting a local paddling pro in the area on Perfect Paddles to gain more information, where we’re interested in going is to the coastal suburb of Tahunanui where our next SUP spot calls home.
Paddle Nelson provides visitors with a few options to paddle the calm waters outside of Tahunanui. These include rentals, lessons, a giant board Big Tahuna rental, a Wahine Paddle for women, a SUP Squad paddle just for kids, and what caught our eye on this virtual adventure of New Zealand, a Maitai River Paddle Tour.
Unlike the salty waves we found near Christchurch, Paddle Nelson takes us along the calm waters of the Maitai River.
We make our way underneath bridges, around slow turns, and waving to onlookers who try to make out what exactly it is we are standing on.
At the suggestion of our escort, who is only there to make sure we are safe as we are given free-reign to explore at our own pace, we stop along the river to grab a coffee and snack at the River Kitchen Cafe.
Their wonderful food and fresh coffee are a nice refuge on our paddle and enough to recharge our bodies as we make our way back onto the water.
We paddle back to the starting point on the Maitai River and sit on the beach as we take in the sights one last time. This has been a perfect yin to the ocean’s yang on our SUP journey across the islands of New Zealand and we are eager to grab food and a place to rest.
As we search for dinner, we realize Tahuanani holds a choice of foods from other continents. You can grab Indian food at Taj, some spicy Thai food at a place called Thai Tahuna, or a more local flair at Smuggler’s Pub.
And for sleeping, we chose the Nelson City Top 10 Holiday Park for a convenient place to rest at an affordable price.
Once there, it’s time for another search on Perfect Paddles to create a plan onward to the North Island.
The Adventure Continues
This is where the adventure becomes an adventure.
If for some reason you wish to stay only on the South Island, we would understand. It’s often lauded as the island to see if you had to choose. And then the next time around hit the north.
But maybe you’re like us. And one island isn’t enough.
Well, we got you covered there too.
As you may or may not know, most (if not all) rental car companies do not allow you to take your rented vehicle from one island to the other. Which, we believe to be a fair proposition.
But that means you would have to take your RV from Traveller’s Autobarn back to Christchurch and fly from Christchurch to Wellington or Auckland (or whichever city you choose to head to next) where you can proceed to rent another vehicle for the rest of your trip.
You can come along with us as we return our camper back to Christchurch, hop on a bus north to Picton for a duration of 6 hrs along the peaks and valleys of the landscape and take the ferry over to the city of Wellington.
In a crossing called the Cook Strait, we sit atop the ferry and watch the view of the North Island come steadily into focus.
The ferry is a pleasant refuge on the water, with green mountains jutting out of the coast, and a soft wind running up our faces.
The trip is relaxing and worth the effort. It only adds to the feeling of adventure we are already on as well as gives the traveler a true sense of what makes each island of New Zealand unique, and ultimately whole as a country.
Once docked and unloaded we taxi to Wellington where we pick up where we left off.
We rent another van, this time from a different, more radical company.
Wicked Campers, located in the heart of Wellington is a company with an attitude. They offer much of the same choices as Traveller’s Autobarn in regards to size, but with an added touch of flair to the paint jobs.
Rent a van that looks like Scooby Do’s ride, or possibly one with Walter White’s name from Breaking Bad fame on the side. Whichever you choose, you’re guaranteed to have a wild ride for your trip across the North Island.
For this tour, we are in the Mystery Machine.
And we are headed to Rotorua for our next SUP adventure.
On the Road
Even on a separate island, the beauty of New Zealand pervades every look, every turn, every slight drop down the mountain, and every height climbed.
It is inescapable.
A great way to enhance the experience is to stop on the way to Rotorua at Tongariro National Park.
Tongariro is New Zealand’s oldest national park and is home to active volcanic peaks that make for perfect photo ops.
If you want to take the day, then we suggest hiking the Tongariro Crossing which can take six to eight hours to complete.
But fear not! With views like these, it’s totally worth it.
Visitors can camp right inside the park with reservations. And with your Wicked Van, you’re all set. For more information on camping head here.
Back on the road, we kept heading north past Lake Taupo, until we hit our destination where we found an excellent place to paddle on the Perfect Paddles app in Rotorua.
Stop #3 Rotorua
The third city on our virtual tour is a well-traveled place full of interesting activities. It is, of course, Rotorua.
Their biggest industry is the tourism industry which means travelers are treated to hospitable care, excellent food, and comfy accommodations, if you don’t have a camper van.
Besides the activity of SUP, Rotorua also offers visitors a chance to visit Te Puia a national museum, Wai-O-Tapu, a geothermal geyser full of colors, and if you are looking for a recovery and relaxation day, spend it at the Polynesian Spa, New Zealand’s original geothermal bathing experience and spa.
All fantastic choices to get you into the Rotorua spirit.
Rotorua’s dining experience involves some of the best restaurants on the island. Your choices include the Atticus Finch restaurant, for a friendly laid-back atmosphere, Sabroso for some Latin American food, and for the vegan travelers out there, Rotorua is home to one of the most highly rated restaurants on the island, Tea and Happiness.
But we’re not here just for the food. It’s time to head out to Paddleboard Rotorua.
We arrive at Paddleboard Rotorua in the evening. The sky is clear, the stars are bright, and we are excited about our trip into another galaxy.
Once at the location, we are taken in vehicles catered by the crew to a location about 15 minutes outside of the city.
The lake is open and calm. We unload the boards and travel down to the shore. The instructor goes over a few minor lessons and tells us what to expect.
The paddle out is calm and easy. The lake is illuminated by the last light of the sun as it sets behind the mountains and then we spot it. The caves. Our destination.
They tell us to watch our heads as we start to paddle in and then we see them. The hundreds of glowing worms lining the cave. It’s a new world inside the cramped space. Full of tiny blue and green lights stuck to the ceiling.
This was the magical side of New Zealand we had longed for. A place underneath the mountains where the open sky full of stars and the inner life of the caves shined brilliantly. This place was alive. And it burst our hearts open with the fire for the miracles of life.
The Glow Worm Tour held by the staff at Paddleboard Rotorua was a must-see on our list. And it must be on your list too.
As we make our way back to shore, we revel in the beauty we have witnessed in the natural world.
When we make it to our campervan, still buzzing from the experience, we get lucky and see there is a free overnight parking lot for campers nearby. We head there for the night in anticipation of our trek north. And our final stop on the virtual tour.
On the Road to Tutukaka
In the morning we hit the street once again to make our way north into the city of Tutukaka. The total time traveled is around five hours and thirty minutes. But we highly recommend a stop in Auckland on the way.
Auckland is New Zealand’s largest and most diverse city. It has a ton of tourist spots to check out, excellent food, and unique views.
Plus it’s the perfect halfway point between Rotorua and Tutukaka and a great place to grab a quick treat and be on the road in no time.
For food, we recommend the award-winning Sid at the French Cafe. Or for a lighter, quicker bite, One Tree Grill is highly rated (and has a memorable name), or try Ortolana for European based meals on a budget. But really, one quick search will give you plenty of fantastic restaurants within your general vicinity.
And if you do plan on staying the night or the afternoon, check out the Sky Tower for the best views of the city!
But we’re not here just for Auckland, we’re on our way to Tutukaka so let’s get back on the road.
Stop #4 Tutukaka
Tutukaka is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in New Zealand. Its pristine sandy beaches and jagged ocean coastline elegantly curve around downtown filling the eyes with brilliant blues and greens. It’s a delight just to walk around and take in the views.
In case you are hungry from the trip be sure to check out the Tahi Cafe for some of the best food in the area!
And sitting on the coast of Tutukaka is an excellent outfitter we found on Perfect Paddles called SUP Bro Tours NZ.
They sit conveniently on the coast making it easy for visitors to rent a board and quickly get on the water.
But that is not our plan.
SUP Bro Tours lives up to their name offering visitors some of the best tours in New Zealand.
Take trips to to Matapouri Estuary, Whale Bay, Ngunguru River, Tutukaka Harbour, and Whangaumu Bay.
On our virtual tour we decided to hit the Ngunguru River for an extended trip on the water. Once reaching the shore, we unload our inflatable boards and walk down to the water. It’s clear and calm. The water is a brilliant aquamarine and with the surrounding green shining in the sun we take a deep breath and feel at ease.
This is truly a magical spot. It’s perfect for the beginners as the river is flat but fun for experienced paddlers as there are plenty of areas to explore.
It’s the perfect way to end our tour of New Zealand, and we’re happy to say we did it with SUP Bro Tours.
On this gentle paddle, we think back on the adventures we encountered here in New Zealand and recount the miles traveled.
This small city, sitting so close to the pristine water is the perfect place to wave goodbye to this wonderful country.
And the team at SUP Bro Tours sends us off with warm smiles and cheerful goodbyes.
The virtual tour of New Zealand has come to an end.
We spent time on the South Island where we found fantastic SUP outfitters and beautiful landscapes scattered across two national parks.
And in the North, we rented a tricked out van and drove from one wondrous Glow Worm Tour up to the relaxing shores in Tutukaka.
As the world begins to open back up, we hope this will guide you in your adventures through New Zealand.
And like us, leave you thinking...where should we go next?