Ninety Mile Beach
One of the more misleadingly-named areas in New Zealand (it’s actually only 55 miles from end to end), Ninety Mile Beach stretches from just outside Kaitia to almost the very northern tip of the country. Gazetted as a national highway (although rental car companies typically don’t allow their vehicles to be driven on it), the long flat beach was even used as a runway in the 1930′s for the planes providing an early airmail service between Australia and New Zealand!
These days the ‘road’ is used mainly by tourists and tour buses heading north to the famous sand dunes at the end of the beach, as the real highway has been sealed for the entire distance to Cape Reinga and is much faster – as well as much less damaging to the vehicles using it. Still, there’s nothing quite like being on four wheels driving down a beach at speeds up to 100km/h!
As you near the northern end of the beach, large sand dunes emerge unexpectedly from the coastal landscape as if you’ve suddenly been transported into the Saharan desert. Using sheets of plastic as makeshift toboggans provides a fantastic adrenaline rush, and most tour operators will provide them as part of the package. Given the high speeds that are reached, however, just bear in mind that the nearest hospital is quite some distance away!
Most visitors to Ninety Mile Beach also include a trip to Cape Reinga, the traditional northernmost point of New Zealand. Although the actual northern edge of the country is actually 30km east, the Maori people believe that Cape Reinga (Te Rerenga Wairua) is the point at which the spirits of the dead enter the underworld and as such it is sacred ground.
A lighthouse warns approaching ships of the presence of rocks and land, in a photo opportunity instantly recognisable to most New Zealanders. Also worth taking a picture of is the turbulent meeting point of the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea, just offshore from the mainland here.
Surfing on sand dunes, driving on a beach and seeing two vast bodies of water violently meeting. All in a day’s work in New Zealand.
Distances: To the start of Ninety Mile Beach: 100km from Paihia, 310km from Auckland. Add 110km each way for Cape Reinga.
Best time to visit: Any time of year is good to visit Ninety Mile Beach and Cape Reinga.
How long to spend there: Given the lack of infrastructure north of Kaitaia, a day trip is the best option.
Things to know: If you do decide to take your vehicle on the beach, be careful – it is littered with the rusting hulks of cars that got stuck in the soft sand and couldn’t be rescued before the tide came in. Ask around about the best time of day and vehicle to use before you attempt it!