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Thursday, April 21, 2016

NZ: 90 Mile Beach Drive - Gutsy DIY

Spray flew off the crashing Tasman Sea waves along
Ninety Mile Beach, Northland New Zealand.
Drive your non-four drive vehicle across New Zealand’s “Ninety Mile Beach” when most visitors are afraid to see it any other way besides a tour bus?!?

Yup!

What could be cooler?








Dunes, Ninety Mile Beach, Northland, New Zealand.
Ninety mile beach is actually an 88 kilometer (55 mile) drivable stretch, nearly the northernmost beach of New Zealand’s North Island.  On a nice fall day, a convoy of six tour busses take the route, leaving Kaitaia at 9 am, returning at 5 pm for $50 NZD/adult.  That’s a whole day for what’s really a two hour drive on a hard-packed sand beach.







Bus passengers don’t get to walk this panoramic Bluff viewpoint on Ninety Mile Beach.
Another cool view off the Bluff trail, Ninety Mile Beach,
Northland, New Zealand.
Yes, there are cars that do get stuck, but that’s because either they weren’t sufficiently prepared, or they just don’t know how to drive the terrain.

If our gas-efficient, but not-that-peppy 2-wheel drive 1996 Toyota wagon with over 250km could make it, we figure most cars can if their drivers know what they’re doing.  I must give credit to Scott Cook, author of the excellent Northland guidebook “New Zealand Frenzy North”* for providing the intel, and Wayne for his typical superb driving.

Patterns across the sand, Bluff, Ninety Mile Beach,
Northland, New Zealand.
“Bring:  tide book, planks and shovel,” he advises; the latter two for the other drivers who don’t know what they’re doing.  Wayne took heed, and adroitly planned our arrival at the Waipapakauri entry point for two hours before low tide. That  gave us a leisurely drive for our exit out Te Paki.  From there, we planned to proceed toward Cape Reinga, then camp nearby afterward. 

Tour bus, one of six that convoyed together on
Northland’s Ninety Mile Beach.  New Zealand.
We delayed our trip a day to take advantage of an awesome fall weather forecast – and luckily – it was even nicer than we expected!

Tourists, sharing Ninety Mile Beach with each other.
Northland, New Zealand.
We weren’t sure when we saw the sign to Ninety Mile Beach if we took the right exit, as the sign was also to a Holiday Park campground.  The beach was a ways off Highway 1, but eventually we got there and it was obvious that was the correct entrance.  We carried on despite the at-your-own-risk warning signs and the “4-wheel drive recommended.”

Then, there was nothing between our car and the waves but the broad, flat stretch of hard-packed sand we drove atop.  Short dunes and beyond them, scrub, framed the other side of our horizon.  There were a few other cars along the drive; less than a dozen the whole journey, including a few fisherman and some surfers. 

Wayne inimitably demonstrates another thing you can’t do
on the Ninety Mile Beach bus tour.
We stopped at a random point to briefly explore the dunes and watch the hypnotically pounding foam-crested waves of the Tasman sea.  There we enjoyed a nice chat with Kit, a cyclist from Auckland who smartly sped along on his fat-tired two-wheeler, but took a few minutes out for us to commemorate his trip with a photo of him.




Te Paki stream seemed relatively benign … initially. 
"New Zealand Frenzy" coached us to slow a bit for the stream crossings, angling across.  We scoffed at the stream crossings… until later.

Lunchtime found us at the Bluff, a short trail leading across its rocky outcrop, providing the perfect vista to watch near metronomic surf-curl waved arcing to the North.

A little later there was no doubt we were crossing a stream, rather than just a wet spot.  Windows closed.  Wipers flew.  Whew!

Near the final Te turnoff, the tour busses lumbered onto the beach, disgorging their passengers.  They ambled out, stretching their legs, taking in the view, and snapping selfies.

Then we got a bit less cocky with our low-slung two-wheel drive
wagon as Te Paki stream continued, broadening and deepening.
We realized we weren’t crossing it as much as we were
driving it.  Yikes!
The last bus emerged from Te Paki stream, showily brushing its tires into the surf, slender rooster tails exiting its tires, like a big dog shaking off after a swim.

We followed its wake up Te Paki stream.  We crossed onto sand,  Then into the stream.  Then on sand.  Then back into the stream, which kept going and going and going.  We flipped though “New Zealand Frenzy,” nervously.  “Is this the right way?” we wondered.  Yup, 3.5 km up the stream said our trusty book, further confirmed by a mom taking pix of her young ‘uns, who were sand-surfing down the slopes in one of the few dry spot.

Not the deepest, but one of the deeper parts of Te Paki stream,
Northland, New Zealand, Ninety Mile Beach entry / exit point.
Then, to our great relief, we got there; Te Paki Dunes, at last leaving the stream behind.  I thanked Wayne for his fabulous driving.  “If I wasn’t wearing jeans,” he admitted, “My sphincter was so tight it might worn a hole in the seat.”

At Te Paki Dunes we watched kids of all ages boarding down the sandy slopes, including a rather rotund guy about our age, cooly sipping his stubby as he zipped his way down.

Whew!  Arrival!  Te Paki Dunes, beautifully framed between pampas grass and cabbage palms.
We regretted not allotting more time for the area.  We’d love to explore the dunes, find a place we could camp and see the moonrise over the massive golden sand hillocks, alternately unblemished and wildly wavy.  With enough time, we’d probably even consider popping the few $ it took to try out a board and give ourselves a slip and slide.  Even the wipe-outs looked gentle.


Alas in our, it’s Tuesday-it-must-be-Belgium pace, we left all too soon.  It was already approaching later afternoon.  Cape Reinga and finding a campsite before dark awaited.

Wayne points to the “Four wheel drive 
recommended” portion of the sign at
Te Paki Stream, one of the two primary
entry points for the Ninety Mile
Beach Drive.
Location LocationWe're back on a pole mooring in Whangarei’s Town Basin Marina (S35.43.412 E174.19.539), just returned from our brief road trip up to Cape Reinga, the Northernmost point of New Zealand's North Island.  Quite likely we'll leave Whangarei by month's end.

Sailing by the NumbersLast year, between December 2014 and November 2015 we sailed from Florida USA to New Zealand, over 10,000 miles. Current plan's to resume cruising this May.  First stop's Fiji, 1170 nm.  We plan to sell our boat in Australia, likely around February and return to work - somewhere. 

*If you or someone you love who loves outdoor adventures is planning a trip to New Zealand, I highly recommend Scott Cook's "New Zealand Frenzy" guide books.  You will still need to use them in conjunction with a good map or you'll miss some of the seriously good stuff he suggests.  We didn't, and we did.  We hope to return....