Northland’s Te Paki Coastal Track: What you need to know - Bay Of Islands
Scenery, Walking & Hiking, sand dunes, cape reinga

Northland’s Te Paki Coastal Track: What you need to know

Cape Reinga is one of the most beautiful coastal areas of the North Island, making the Te Paki Coastal Track a must-see for hikers looking for a multi-day trip amid gorgeous native bush, sand dunes, and ocean views.

Walking the Te Paki Coastal Track: An overview

Where is the Te Paki Coastal Track?

This coastal walk is made up of a number of sections (which we’ll get into in more detail as we continue), all found on the Aupouri Peninsula – famous for its northernmost point, Cape Reinga, and the eponymous lighthouse.

The road to Te Paki’s starting point can be found at Waitaki Landing, 401 km (249 miles) from central Auckland, 192 km (119 miles) from Paihia, or 91 km (56) from Kaitaia.

How long is the Te Paki Coastal Track?

If you were to do the entire track start to finish, it would take three to four days, lasting 48km (29 miles). That said, it is possible to join the walk from different trailheads on its many sections. These individual sections can be as quick as a 45-minute stroll, to several hours in duration.

Should I plan three or four days?

Te Paki’s terrain varies greatly, with some hilly parts and some sandy parts – both of which can slow a walker down. In addition, changing tides and rain may hinder your ability to progress quickly. It is recommended you allow for four days, or as Blister for the Soul’s Michele Simpson puts it:

“We did this hike over four days – if you were fit, you could squash it into three but why rush?”

How long is each section of the Te Paki track?

  1. Kapowairua (Spirits Bay) – Pandora: 9 km (5.5 miles), or three hours.
  2. Pandora – Tapotupotu Bay: 9 km (5.5 miles), or five and a half hours.
  3. Tapotupotu Bay – Cape Reinga: 5 km (3 miles), or three hours.
  4. Cape Reinga – Te Werahi Beach: 2 km (1 mile), or 45 minutes.
  5. Te Werahi Beach – Twilight Beach: 7.25 km (4.5 miles), or three hours.
  6. Twilight Beach – Te Paki Stream: 11 km (7 miles), or four and a half hours.

How difficult is the Te Paki Coastal Track?

The Department of Conservation (DoC) has defined Te Paki as an Easy Walking track. That means it’s suitable for “people with low to moderate fitness and abilities”.

“The track is well marked and easy going,” says Two Go Tiki Touring’s Shellie Evans, “but a moderate level of fitness is required as there are several steep uphill sections and numerous stairways.”

“Also, the path you should follow is not always clearly visible,” says Felix from Travel Food Friends. “Sometimes you have to guess where you’re going and you find the next flag that marks the way much later. Nonetheless I think that is a part of the experience!”

When to visit Cape Reinga and the Te Paki walk

Cape Reinga has a subtropical climate that is relatively warm all year. As a result, the Te Paki Coastal Track is generally open all year round, although certain weather conditions (rain, for example) can make it much more difficult to walk – extreme weather forecasts or DoC pest control measures may also close the track at certain times, so you should check first.

  • Seasons: As a Southern Hemisphere nation, New Zealand’s summer starts in December, with winter starting in June.
  • Temperatures: Temperatures can often soar in summer, but the average sits around the mid 20s (Celcius). Winter is also quite warm, around 15 or so degrees C, but lows can drop to 10 degrees C overnight during those colder months.
  • Weather: Cape Reinga has an average annual rainfall of just over 1000 mm, but Nov-Jan can be quite dry. Its wettest months are in the middle of the year, June-Aug.
  • Sunlight: In summer expect 12-14 hour days, with sunrise after 6am and sunset after 8:30pm. In winter this will drop to around 9-10 hours of daylight, 7:30am to 5:30pm.

“Autumn is a great time of the year for the winterless north and this hike,” says Simpson. “Friends who have done this hike in summer say it’s too hot because most of this track isn’t in the bush and there’s not a lot of shelter.”

 

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How to access the Te Paki Coastal Track

Where do I start the Te Paki Coastal Track?

You can begin your four-day journey with the Kapowairua (Spirits Bay) to Pandora section. There is a road turning right at Waitiki Landing that will take you to the Spirits Bay DoC campsite, which begins the trail.

From here you can either traverse the sand dunes of Te Horo Beach or take the more firm walking trail behind the dunes, which is easier going.

Starting at Tapotupotu Bay

There is vehicle access to the Tapotupotu Bay campsite, which begins the third section of the Te Paki Coastal Track. As you drive north from Waitiki Landing, after about 19km (12 miles) there will be a right-hand turn for Tapotupotu Road, which leads to the campsite. It is signposted so you can’t miss it.

Starting at Cape Reinga

If you’re looking for just a short walk around Cape Reinga, this is a great trail to try. About halfway between the car park and the lighthouse is a signpost for the Te Paki Coastal Track, which takes you onto the Te Werahi Beach section of this amazing trail.

This car park can be found by following State Highway 1 all the way north from Waitiki Landing, about 20.5km (13 miles).

Starting at Te Werahi Beach

If you start at Te Werahi Beach, you’re already close to completing the track! A trailhead can be found about 16km (10 miles) north of Waitiki Landing for this beach, following signs for the Te Werahi – Twilight Beach Campsite.

Starting at Te Paki Stream (90 Mile Beach)

Te Paki Stream marks the end point of the Te Paki Coastal Track, where travellers typically hop back into a vehicle and drive back to Waitiki Landing. This is also a highly popular spot for tourists and buses, with vehicle access via Te Paki Stream Road.

If you’d like to skip straight to this section and witness the truly marvellous 90 Mile Beach sand dunes, turn left off SH1 when you see signs for Giant Te Paki Sand Dunes (about 5km/3 miles from Waitiki Landing).

Where to park your car

There are numerous car parks throughout the Te Paki Coastal Track, at various campsites, tourist hotspots, and Cape Reinga itself. Of course, if you want to walk the full thing you must start at Spirits Bay, and so you may need to get a ride to the first campsite to begin your journey.

You can book a shuttle to the start of the track from Waitiki Landing Holiday Park, who can also look after your vehicle while you are on your adventure.

Key sights along the Te Paki Coastal Track

Wildlife

You’re going to be fairly off the beaten path along this fantastic Cape Reinga trail which means you’ll be totally immersed in nature.

For bird lovers, keep an eye out for fernbirds and grey warblers as you walk to Tapotupotu Bay, and if you visit in spring, keep your other eye out for pink and white manuka trees – they are truly gorgeous.

Pink manuka can be found blossoming in the spring around Cape Reinga.
Pink manuka can be found blossoming in the spring around Cape Reinga.

Beaches galore

This walk is a beach lover’s paradise. From Spirits Bay to Tapotupotu Bay, Te Wairahi Bay to 90 Mile Beach, you’ll have plenty of access to the water while walking this track.

“It’s a unique backcountry track because you have the beautiful white sand beaches, plenty of solitude and it comes with the soundtrack of the sea that follows you from beginning to end,” says Simpson.

“Plus at the end of each day you get to cool off in the sea with the beach pretty much to yourself.”

“What stood out the most to us was the awesome view of the sea and the landscape while almost being totally alone,” Felix also added. “We just passed a couple of others while walking on the track. Other than that we felt like we were discovering the area by ourselves!”

Cape Reinga lighthouse

Arguably the most famous lighthouse in New Zealand, Cape Reinga is a popular tourist spot visited by thousands each year – and for good reason. Not only is it the northernmost point in the country, it’s absolutely stunning, with unparalleled views of the South Pacific, Tasman Sea and Three Kings Islands.

But Cape Reinga is more significant than just a place for a pretty social media update. In fact, it’s one of the most important cultural locations in the country for local Maori people. When Maori pass away, it is believed that their spirits travel up the country to this headland – known in Te Reo as Te Rerenga Wairua – before departing for their homeland of Hawaiki.

The lighthouse itself was first used in 1941, replacing its predecessor that was located on Motuopao Island.

Cape Maria Van Diemen

If you have a spare one and a half hours while walking the Te Werahi Beach to Twilight Beach section of the Te Paki Coastal Track, turn off the main path enroute for Cape Maria Van Diemen.

This is the westernmost part of the North Island and has views out to Motuopao Island, the site of the original lighthouse.

Giant sand dunes

For almost everyone, the giant sand dunes at Te Paki are the grand finale to this already grand walk.

These dunes can be as high as 150m, and are popular not just for climbing and snapping pictures, but sand boarding! You’ll likely see a raft of tourists and locals alike taking their boogie boards to the top of the dunes and sliding back down at high speeds, hoping they don’t bail and get a mouthful of sand.

You’ll likely want to take your shoes off to enjoy the cool waters of both the Tasman Sea and Te Paki Stream, but be careful – the sand can get hot!

The Te Paki sand dunes near Cape Reinga tower 150m into the air. Photo credit: Michal Klajban / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)
The Te Paki sand dunes near Cape Reinga tower 150m into the air. Photo credit: Michal Klajban / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

What to pack for the Te Paki Coastal Track

All the hiking essentials are must-haves for this walk. That means good shoes, water, food, your camera, and wet weather gear without. In addition, for this walk particularly, we recommend bringing:

  • Good camping supplies: Camping in the Cape Reinga area is for those who can be self-sufficient. You’ll be carrying your tent and bedrolls with you, as well as cooking equipment.
  • Lots of water: “This track doesn’t have the luxury of many South Island hikes where you have running streams if you need water, and plenty of places to refill your bottle,” warns Simpson. “It’s just the campgrounds on this track, and at Cape Reinga.”
  • Tide charts: High tide can sometimes block certain parts of this trail, so it pays to be prepared with tide charts to plan out when to attack certain sections.

Final tips for walking Te Paki

  • Prepare for the sun: New Zealand is a country of high UV rays and there are lots of open, unsheltered areas along the many beaches of the Te Paki Coastal Track. That means you’ll need to slip, slop, slap and wrap – slip on a shirt with long sleeves, slop on some sunscreen, slap on a hat, and wrap your eyes in a good pair of sunglasses.
  • Make sure you’ve got good shoes: Certain parts of the track can be steep and slippery, so you’ll need good grip. Don’t forget, if you’re walking along beaches your feet might get wet – so this could make your soles slippery even if the path isn’t.
  • No open fires: Open fires are not permitted anywhere in the Cape Reinga area. Gas cookers are allowed, however, so you can still cook your dinner.
  • No dogs: The only dogs allowed on the track are those with a DoC permit.
  • Clean your shoes: New Zealand’s native kauri forests are being severely damaged by kauri dieback disease, which is spread through the soil – hikers’ shoes are a notorious carrier of the disease. Scrub soil off your shoes and gear before you go on the walk, and use any DoC hygiene station you see before and after walking any trail section. And stay on the track in all bush areas, in case you spread the disease by going off-path.
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