The Beach & Sea 

Do I need a permit to light a bonfire on the beach?

This depends on where you want to light your bonfire.

If you wish to light an open fire on public conservation land (or, in some cases, within one kilometre of public conservation land) you will need to obtain a fire permit from the Department of Conservation (DOC). Contact your local DOC office to check whether you can light an open fire at your particular location or to apply for a fire permit.

If the area is not public conservation land, you can check with your local council or rural fire service. You can also visit the National Rural Fire Authority website to check the fire ban/permit status of any rural area in the country, as well as the appropriate authority which can issue you with a permit.

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can help you find out about fire bans and fire permits in your area.

I want to try fishing. What are the rules regarding what I can take from the sea?

There are limits regarding the size and number of fish you can take when fishing recreationally. These limits vary from region to region, and are managed by the Ministry for Primary Industries. To find the limits for the various fish species in your region, see the Ministry Primary Industries website.

You can also get the fishing rules for your area by:

  • installing and using a free smartphone app “NZ fishing rules” (to download, text the word “app” to 9889) or
  • sending a text with the name of the species (e.g. blue cod, snapper, paua) to 9889 – this is free – to receive the size and limit number.

You can't fish in a Department of Conservation (DOC) marine reserves. To find out where the marine reserves are located, see the DOC website.

Back to top

I’ve seen someone taking more paua than they are allowed. What can I do?

Poaching can destroy populations of fish, paua or other sea life, and is a serious threat to the environment. You should call 0800 4 POACHER (0800 476 224) or complete an online form on the MPI website website if you see someone: 

  • taking more than they should, 
  • taking undersized fish, or 
  • acting suspiciously (for example selling cheap crayfish, for cash, from a motor vehicle)

Try to include information about the location, date and time of the offence, the species taken, the fishing method use, how many people were involved (and a physical description of them), and what the suspicious activity was.

A Fishery Officer may investigate immediately, or keep the information you’ve given for current or future investigations.

The rules around sizes and limits are on the Ministry Primary Industries website.

Am I allowed to drink alcohol on the beach?

Your local council may have liquor bans in place on beaches or other public areas. If there is a liquor ban in place, there may be signs posted to say this – but the best way to be sure is by checking with your local council.   

Am I allowed to be naked on the beach?

There is no specific law against nudity in New Zealand, however there is a law against obscene or indecent exposure, and offensive and disorderly behaviour. Therefore it’s probably best not to take your clothes off in a public place if there’s a chance people may take offence (more about this is on the Free Beaches website).

There are several beaches in New Zealand where nudity is generally accepted. The Free Beaches website has a list of nudist beaches in New Zealand, while the Nude Beaches New Zealand website has guidelines for going naked without causing offence. Your local naturist society may also be able to tell you about beaches where nudity is accepted. For more information about the status of local beaches, call your local council.

Back to top

Can I walk my dog on the beach?

Dogs love the beach, but there may be restrictions depending on the beach and the time of year. Dogs might be:

  • banned during busy summer times (e.g. they might be allowed only before 9am and after 7 pm)
  • prohibited from entry all year around
  • allowed on the beach only if they are on a leash or 
  • allowed only at a specified end of the beach (this is called an exercise area)

The beach rules should be clearly signposted at public beaches, but to be sure, you should call your local council (or, for rules about walking your dog on public conservation land, your local Department of Conservation office). The Doogle website has a list of areas where you are allowed to take your dog with or without a leash.

I never learned to swim. Where can I go for adult beginner swimming classes?

Adult swimming lessons are offered at many public pools. The tuition fees will vary depending on the provider, as will the availability of one-on-one or group lessons.
To find out more contact your local public pool. You can find their details on your local council's website or in the yellow pages. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can also help you find a swimming class to suit you.

Back to top

How can I find out which beaches are safe for families to swim at?

The locals often know about any safety hazards on their beaches, but if you’re a visitor you probably won’t be aware of which parts of the beach are safe. So it’s always wise to play at a patrolled beach.

A patrolled beach is one where surf lifeguards are on the lookout for people in trouble, and where the lifeguards have decided is the safest spot to swim in (these are marked by flags). If you swim between the flags you’ll be a lot safer than if you swim elsewhere on the beach.
You can find a patrolled beach, or find out about a particular beach (e.g. whether it’s patrolled, what facilities are available) by searching on the “find a beach” website. This website is kept up to date by Surf Lifesaving New Zealand.

You’ll still need to take some responsibility for keeping safe though, by:

  • being able to swim
  • supervising your children 
  • not mixing alcohol with swimming
  • knowing your limits
  • Knowing what to do if you get into trouble while in the water (raise your hand in the air to get a lifeguard’s attention)
  • applying and re-applying sunscreen
  • avoiding the most UV-intense part of the day (between 10.30 and 3.30).

You’ll also find water safety tips on the Water Safety New Zealand website.