Water activities

Water is a great place to be physically active.

A grandmother playing with their granddaughter at the pool. Water activities can be:

  • exciting and active
  • diverse and wide-ranging
  • fun for the whole family
  • enjoyed on, as well as in the water.

If activities are done in the water they:

  • take the load off your body
  • are soothing and therapeutic
  • are low impact – your joints and muscles are under less stress when in water
  • use nearly all your body’s muscle groups (when using full swimming techniques)
  • are excellent during pregnancy – as the water supports the weight of the baby
  • are great for older people and people with health conditions, such as osteoarthritis and obesity, as the water supports your weight and keeps you cool.

Always supervise children near water!

Supervision of children in, on or near water is vital for their safety. Proper supervision in and around water requires a responsible adult keeping young children in their care within sight and within reach at all times.

A dragonboating team at the Lagoon in Wellington Harbour. Rivers, lakes and seas

Rivers, lakes and seas are an integral part of New Zealand culture, and have particular cultural significance for Māori who have a special connection to the water. Water is essential to life and identity for Māori and represents vitality. It is an area of play and amusement, a place to bathe and wash, a source of spiritual sustenance, healing, and nutrition.

Rivers, lakes and seas are a fantastic place for recreational activities, such as swimming, rafting, waka ama, hoe waka, kayaking, fishing and diving.

Physically active

Water activities can help a person to achieve the physical activity recommendations for New Zealanders. Water activities can include some or all of the four types of activity important for wellbeing and overall quality of life – aerobic, balance, flexibility and strength. It is important to choose activities that cover some or all of the activity types, particularly as we get older.

An older woman doing the backstroke. Swimming

Swimming is the most popular recreational activity for males and females aged 16 to 24 years old. Swimming is in the top three activities for all other adult age categories across all ethnicities. Approximately 1.14 million (34.8%) New Zealand adults swim at least once per year (SPARC 2008).

Water Safety New Zealand has a learn to swim strategy that aims to prevent injury and drowning through the Sealord Swim for Life initiative. The aim of Sealord Swim for Life is that all children should be able to swim 200 m by the age of 12. This is an essential skill for all New Zealanders.

When you begin, start slowly and speed up as your body warms up. Aim to start with one length of the pool (or equivalent in the sea), using any stroke or strokes.

Aqua fitness

An aqua fitness class is similar to a land fitness class, except you do it in water. The class should consist of warm-up, aerobic, cool-down and stretching exercises. Some classes include swimming; others just a ‘work out’ to music – try a combination of both to see which you prefer. Match the level of the classes to your fitness and confidence levels.

Aqua jogging

Aqua jogging is like running on land except you are suspended in water, using a flotation vest or belt.

Aqua jogging offers many of the benefits of running on land. More kilojoules are burned on water than on land, but without the excess fatigue. Aqua jogging also burns slightly more kilojoules than swimming.A man sailing a small boat.

Water sports

Many people think of water activities being confined to in the water, eg, swimming and aqua jogging, but there are a whole range of water activities that can be enjoyed on the surface of the water too.

Being an island nation, many New Zealanders have great access to the water. Water sports can range from high-adrenaline activities, such as windsurfing, kite surfing, waka ama and white water kayaking, to more leisurely activities such as sailing, sea kayaking and fishing – and everything in between.

Water safety

Whether you’re planning on being in, on or under water, we want you to be safe. With any outdoor pursuit, conditions can change fast. AdventureSmart has some great resources to help you stay safe.

Visit the AdventureSmart website, which provides the New Zealand public and tourists with advice and resources on how to enjoy water activities safely. AdventureSmart resources include the Water Safety Code and the Boating Safety Code.

A kayaker kayaking by a rocky coast. The Water Safety Code includes four key safety messages:

  1. Be prepared.
  2. Watch out for yourself and others.
  3. Be aware of dangers.
  4. Know your limits.

The Boating Safety Code has five key boating safety messages:

  1. Lifejackets – take and wear lifejackets at all times when out on the water.
  2. Skipper responsibility – the skipper is responsible for the safety of everyone on board and for the safe operation of the boat.
  3. Communications – take two separate waterproof means of communication.
  4. Marine weather – check the forecast before going out and be prepared for changes.
  5. Avoid alcohol – alcohol affects your judgement and awareness, which are critical for safe boating.

Related websites

Maritime New Zealand
Information on the rules and equipment that help keep you safe on the water, and what your responsibilities are as a recreational boater.

AdventureSmart
Tips, links and advice to help you plan and prepare your outdoors adventure.

Water Safety New Zealand
Advice on staying safe in and on the water, whether you’re at the pool, the beach or the river.

Coastguard New Zealand
Advice on safe boating, and information on volunteering with Coastguard.

Boating Education
Find boating courses in New Zealand.

Surf Life Saving New Zealand
Find out about lifeguarding, learn how to stay safe at the beach and how to get involved with surf sport in New Zealand.

PADI – Scuba diving in New Zealand
Find out about scuba diving and dive sites in New Zealand.

Whitewater NZ
Check out the guide to rivers, find canoe and kayak clubs, and learn about river safety and conservation.

Waka Ama NZ
Find out about waka ama (outrigger canoeing) clubs and events in your area.

Windsurfing New Zealand
Learn about windsurfing, find a windsurfing school or club, and find out about events in your area.

Yachting New Zealand
Find out about about racing and recreational yachting, events in your area and where to learn to sail.


For the te reo Māori version of this page, go to He ngohe wai.

This page was produced together with:

ACC – Prevention. Care. Recovery. Te Kaporeihana Āwhina Hunga Whara. Nō te rere moana Aotearoa – Maritime New Zealand. Sport New Zealand Toi Tangata. Water Safety New Zealand.

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