Beachcombing New Zealand

Beachcombing is one of my favorite pastimes. It has been ever since I was a little kid, when I used to spend hours searching for seashells of every imaginable size, color, and shape on one of the world's best shelling beaches. No matter where I am, as long as I'm on a beach, you can bet that I will be combing it for seashells and other coastal treasures.

Our time here in New Zealand has been no exception. We've visited quite a few beaches on both the North & South Islands and seen a surprisingly wide variety of seashells. Before coming to New Zealand, I couldn't find much information online about what sort of shells to expect here. Which brings me to this post. Maybe, like me, you're a beachcomber or perhaps even a seashell fanatic who's interested in what New Zealand shores have to offer.

North Island - Waiheke Island, Auckland

Waiheke is a bohemian island suburb of Auckland, New Zealand's largest city. Only a 20 minute ferry ride, there are countless gorgeous beaches and coves where a wide variety of marine creatures reside. During our four day stay on Waiheke, we peeked in every rocky tidepool that we found, discovering nudibranchs, anemones, hermit crabs, and more. When the beaches were sandy, they tended to be loaded with turret shells, wheel shells, and flat queen scallops.

 Emmett walking the rocks of Palm Beach on Waiheke.

Emmett walking the rocks of Palm Beach on Waiheke.

Clockwise from left: hermit crabs soon put back in their tidal pool, a purple anemone, the first of many flat Queen Scallops found at Palm Beach, a bright orange nudibranch, an unknown crab's shell, our airbnb host's display of seaglass and potato urchins (sadly we found no urchins).

All in a day's work: the shells we collected on Waiheke's Palm Beach. Click for more detail. From left: shiva shells (turban opercula), small dog cockles, ostrich foot snails, wheel shells, turret shells, queen scallops, circular slipper shells, a black nerita, golden oysters, a pink top shell, a fan scallop, a blue mussel next to some shell pieces, radiata limpets, a small siphon limpet, seaglass, battleaxe shells, an intact fine dosinia, two very worn-down Auckland rock oysters, a nestling cockle, worm shell fragments.

Waiheke's Onetangi Beach, viewed from the roadside above.

Found on Onetangi: more queen scallops and a spotted whelk.

North Island - Paihia, Bay of Islands

Paihia is a city in the Bay of Islands region of the far northern reaches of New Zealand. It's the home of some of the country's first settlers - Maori and Europeans alike. It's also home to plenty of beaches with all sorts of shells to be found.

 Emmett on a typical New Zealand rainy day on Paihia's beach.

Emmett on a typical New Zealand rainy day on Paihia's beach.

Tiny shells on Paihia tidal flats, a very small cushion star on a rock we found (don't worry, he went back in asap!), another starfish that we initially found washed ashore but soon placed in a tidal pool.

 In one of Paihia's book shops, I bought this New Zealand seashell guide. Next to it is a palm-sized worn siphon whelk that Emmett found, also in Paihia.

In one of Paihia's book shops, I bought this New Zealand seashell guide. Next to it is a palm-sized worn siphon whelk that Emmett found, also in Paihia.

North Island - Whitianga, Coromandel

Though I didn't end up keeping many of the shells that we saw on the beach in Whitianga (pronounced fit-ee-on-ga), there were actually many to be found. They were mostly "pipi" shells, a type of edible clam.

 Whitianga shell pile.

Whitianga shell pile.

North Island - Hahei, Coromandel

Like Whitianga, I didn't collect many shells in Hahei. In fact, there weren't many to be found. Except for this ram's horn (spirula spirula) shell.

 Spirula spirula. Actually part of a tiny squid's internal skeleton.

Spirula spirula. Actually part of a tiny squid's internal skeleton.

South Island - Greymouth, West Coast

Greymouth's beaches were all stones for the most part. There were a plethora of shell fragments and small pieces of sun-bleached driftwood.

A triumphant Emmett on the rocky beach of Greymouth.

South Island - St. Kilda Beach, Dunedin, Otago

Dunedin is the South Island's second-largest city, behind Christchurch. The city has so many beaches too - about eight or nine. Since we didn't have a car at the time of our visit, we were limited to a beach that was walkable from the city center. As a result, we ended up at St. Kilda on Dunedin's southern coast. St. Kilda is on the Southern Ocean and is home to New Zealand's most consistent waves, drawing a huge surfing crowd.

Southern waves of St. Kilda, Dunedin.

A nestling cockle and a patch of turret shells.

South Island - Oreti Beach, Southland

Oreti Beach is a twenty-six kilometer stretch of sand on the Foveaux Strait at the tip of the South Island. It's open to people, dogs, and vehicles & is most well-known for being where Burt Munro of The World's Fastest Indian fame practiced riding his motorbike. It's also where I've found some of my most favorite shells so far.

Clockwise from left: the hazy mountains of Fiordland beyond Oreti, my first two paua (abalone) shells & a spotted tiger shell, the first of three big paua shells I found that day, my full paua collection by day's end, Emmett walking, the encrusted back side of the first three paua alongside the spotted tiger shell.

 Overjoyed by the luster and variety of my Oreti paua collection.

Overjoyed by the luster and variety of my Oreti paua collection.


That's my New Zealand beachcombing report thus far. This country is basically all coastline and it seems like we've barely seen any of it... I'm sure there's a potential Beachcombing New Zealand Part 2 post in my future. I also have plenty of fodder for more beachcombing [insert city or country here] posts if anyone's interested in more.


**** Update 21 May 2017: Beachcombing New Zealand Pt. 2 ****

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your guide to finding seashells on new zealand's beaches