Find a long stretch of sandy beach and beautiful coastline anywhere in the world and you’ll almost always find an endless row of resorts, towering hotels and swimming pools. I say “almost always” because that is not the case New Zealand’s Ninety Mile Beach. Here, you will find absolutely nothing but sand, waves, dunes, grass and the occasional seal. It is an untouched and absolutely breath-taking stretch of coastline that seems to have defied human progress and the push for commercialism. On the Ninety Mile Beach, you will simply find nature at its finest; pristine, windswept and magnificent.
About the Beach
The Ninety Mile Beach actually only runs for 88 kilometres. It stretches on along west coast of the Aupouri Peninsula on the very northern tip of the North Island. On one side of the beach you’ll find the roaring waves of the Tasman Sea. On the other side, you’ll see the pretty Aupouri Forest, and if you’re lucky, you may also spot its population of wild horses.
The beach is owned by local Maori tribes who view the area as sacred and have eschewed development in the region. One day that may change, but for now, a visit to the Ninety Mile Beach is like stepping into a different world. A beautiful, untouched paradise of a world.
How to See the Beach
Since there are no hotels on, by, or anywhere near the beach, the best way to explore the region is to stay in the small town of Kaitaia. Kaitaia is the most northerly town in New Zealand. It’s very small, not lovely, and there really isn’t much to do or see here, but that doesn’t matter. It’s the gateway to one of the loveliest places on Earth. The best way to explore the beach is with a guide who can take you to all the highlights. You can book a big coach tour from Kaitaia or from Paihia in the Bay of Islands, but the better tours are with local “man with van” tours. Ask at your hotel front desk in Kaitaia and they’ll be happy to set you up with one of the many local operators.
Tour vans and buses will actually drive you right onto the Ninety Mile Beach. This is not a good thing to try on your own. More than one car has ended up stuck forever on the beach, as you’ll see when your local man with van drives you around an upside down stranded Volkswagen. It’s such a problem that rental companies will warn you not to try it.
If you do head to the beach on your own, park before you get to the beach, and bring a picnic lunch, because there are no amenities at all.
What the beach does have is an abundance of pretty little streams and monstrous sand dunes where you can hike to the top and run down. You can swim, you can fish and you can surf. Whatever you do, take your camera as you will never see anything like this anywhere else in the world.
The Top of New Zealand
Part of your local man with van tour will take you up to Cape Reinga, which is the very northern tip of New Zealand’s Northland. Take one more step, and you’re swimming. This is a sacred spot for the Maori, who believed that when you die, your soul travels up the Ninety Mile Beach, to Cape Reinga, which was the place where spirits leapt to enter the underworld.
Just off shore, you’ll see a white circle in the water. This is called “The Meeting of the Waters” where the waters of the Tasman Sea meet the waters of the Pacific Ocean. The white circle of waves is almost always there due to different water flows and tides. It does give the place an otherworldly feel.
There’s also a large lighthouse and sign at Cape Reinga which can also make you feel far away. When I looked up and saw “London 19 271 km” and “Vancouver 11 434 km” and I knew that between where I was standing and Vancouver was more than 11,000 kilometres of nothing but water and the occasional Hawaiian Island, I felt very, very far from home. It was a wonderful feeling, and it remains one of my most cherished holiday memories.
What would you like to see on a beach? Can you imagine what Miami Beach, the Costa del Sol or Brighton might have looked like without any human development?