Great diversity of surfing experiences on Otago’s coast

Tuesday 6 March 2018

By Dr Dean Olsen, ORC’s Manager Resource Science and keen surfer

Among surfers, the Otago coastline is renowned for the quality and consistency of its surf breaks.  Whether it is the heavy, sometimes hollow A-frames of beach breaks, the long lines of swell on point breaks, or the heavy waves barrelling over kelp-strewn reef breaks, the Otago coast offers a diversity of surfing experiences that is hard to match.  Add to that the unique experience of sharing a wave with a yellow-eyed penguin, a playful fur seal, or one of the less friendly sea lions, it isn’t hard to see what keeps Otago’s many surfers coming back for more.

The quality of Otago’s surf breaks has been recognised in the Coastal Policy Statement, which identifies four nationally significant surf breaks in Otago – the most for any region in the country. 

The first of these four breaks is The Spit (Aramoana), a beach break close to the mouth of the Otago Harbour that offers heavy, sometimes deep barrels, attracts a convoy of surfboard-laden vehicles whenever there is the chance of a north and east swell and off-shore winds from the south. 

The second break is Karitane.  Located at the mouth of the Waikouaiti River, Karitane offers two breaks: the long, often hollow waves of the bar break and the legendary heavy barrels of The Point.  The Point is one of Dunedin’s premier big wave surfing spots – it offers extremely heavy, barrelling waves that make for some spectacular viewing.  So much so that on a big swell when this break starts working, the locals come to watch from the hill directly above the break, cheering and hooting at the good rides, groaning at the epic wipe-outs.  More than one surfer has come out of the water shaking with adrenaline after surfing The Point.

Whareakeake (still known by some surfers as Murderers) is a nationally renowned point-break.  Surfers walk along the boulder-strewn point before a well-timed jump from the rocks and a short paddle puts them out the back and in position to catch one of the super-long rides that Whareakeake is renowned for.  How long?  A good ride from the outside point to the beach will likely be about 600 m long.  Catch a few waves that long and your legs can start to feel like jelly.

Papatowai is the last of Otago’s nationally significant surf breaks.  It is a serious big-wave surfing spot, with internationally renowned bigwave surfers coming to surf it.  It has been likened by some to the world-famous waves of Mavericks in North California.  Near Skeleton Point in the Catlins, it is not a place for novices or the timid.

These are just four of the myriad of breaks around the Otago coastline.  The range and diversity of breaks here provide a huge amount of choice for novice or experienced surfers alike.  This combined with the unique environments and wildlife of the Otago coast, offers an experience unlike anywhere else.


Photo above:  Whareakeake

The Point, Karitane

Photo above:  The Point at Karitane