Watch some heart-pumping action from the sandy sidelines or get the heart pumping on the steep coastal dunes yourself! Sandboarding at Te Paki Stream Sand Dunes, at 90 Mile Beach just south of Cape Reinga, is sure to be a highlight on your Northland travels.
What is sandboarding?
Sandboarding, sometimes called sandsurfing, is essentially just how it sounds really – riding a board across sand. And when you add in some extreme dune slopes and special-made boards for speed, it’s an extreme sport that gives you the potential to produce a heck of lot of adrenaline – and some great memories!
The official sport of sandboarding involves competitors standing on a board, usually with both feet strapped in, and looks a bit like surfing or snowboarding – on sand. But most tourists who are just giving it a go for the rush will just sit down or lie on their belly like a bodyboarder.
Whether you’re an adventure seeker happy to lie on your belly on an old board or on a toboggan, or want to try the growing sport of sandboarding (standing up), consider a stop at the very top of the North Island.
Sandboarding at Te Paki Stream Sand Dunes, Cape Reinga
Just a short drive off the main road heading north to Cape Rēinga, is a small detour that delivers a great visual reward.
Te Paki is a 10km long by 1km wide coastal strip of jaw-dropping sand dunes. Incredibly it was once its own island disconnected from the mainland, but over millions of years, sand built up from volcanic activity elsewhere in New Zealand, which formed the large dunes.
Te Paki Stream is home to many native birds, lizards and fish life along with loads of native trees.
The dunes reach 150m high – the highest in the southern hemisphere – but don’t let that put you off walking up if you’re not a sandboarder. The view from the top is just incredible. And the descent down is, well, adrenaline pumping – if you’re up for it!
Watch a video about what to expect from blogger, ‘Stoked for Sunday’:
What do you wear for sandboarding?
Dress for sandboarding like you’re heading to the beach. Bring a hat or cap (beware: it may blow off a few times), and some people like thick socks and trainers. The sand gets really hot by the afternoon, so decent shoes can help.
It’s best not to bring your phone and try to Snapchat yourself while riding the dunes. (… Imagine quicksand for a moment).
Some beachgoers wear leggings or at least something that covers the upper leg. Sand burn is a real thing.
What gear will you need to sandboard?
If you want to try the standing-up, serious sport of sandboarding, ideally you will have a specially shaped board, protective gloves, goggles, a helmet, knee and elbow pads. The pros will also apply wax to increase grip.
Using templates and technology from snowboarding-makers, a modern sandboard is a bit longer and wider, with a Formica bottom. Boards range from 4-to-6 feet and look like this:
But if you’re heading to the slopes just for a quick thrill like most people, grab anything hard and flat – most people use a boogie board which is available to hire at the car park.
Punters have also been known to use sleds, surfboards, a skateboard deck, snowboards or even a big old real estate sign or a panel of a car. Be imaginative, but be safe as well!
We would also recommend sunglasses to keep the sand out of your eyes, and of course sunscreen. In summer, ‘burn time’ in New Zealand can be as short as seven minutes. And don’t forget water.
There are heaps of hire options as you drive to the area. You can’t miss the makeshift signs.
Note that the only boards available to hire are boogie boards, not the official sandboarding boards like you would see in the actual sport (pictured above).
Day trip to Cape Reinga, from the Bay of Islands
If you’re based in Paihia like many travellers, you can make a jam-packed day out of visiting the Cape and the famous Te Paki Stream Sand Dunes.
There are plenty of group tour options, but if you have a vehicle we’d recommend you stop on the way for a short stroll through the Puketi Kauri Forest and take a pic next to a 2,000 year old native Kauri tree (more on Kauri and wildlife here).
Grab a quick, refreshing swim and picnic lunch at the stunning Taipa Beach, then head north to the iconic lighthouse at the very tip of NZ – Cape Reinga.
Go sandboarding at Te Paki, and on your way home drive along 90 Mile Beach – a registered highway actually on the beach (depending on your vehicle capabilities of course).
Check out our blog on what you can do at 90 Mile Beach.
Then we recommend you end the day overlooking the harbour at Mangonui, with some award-winning fresh ‘fish‘n chips’ from the famous takeaway shop – you can’t miss it.
Stay and explore Te Paki
Te Paki is one of the most intact and diverse ecosystems in the country and there’s a lot to take in – once you’ve had your sandboarding fix of course.
The area features a diverse area of hill country, steep coastal cliffs, dunelands and expansive wetlands, with many animals and unique vegetation.
For more about camping in the area and to book a site in advance, search for Te Paki on the Department of Conservation website.
The official sport of sandboarding
As mentioned, the term ‘sandboarding’ describes an actual sport, but is also used to talk about sliding down sand dunes while sitting on something flat, as in Cape Reinga’s awesome dune activities.
If you want to try the ‘actual’ sport where you stand up on a specially made board – you will need to access and bring along your own stand-up board.
But… is it a ‘real’ sport though? Really?
Absolutely! Although the classification of sports can be contentious – this is undeniably a specialised sport and it is growing in popularity. There’s even a world championships event each year, and some big events are held in Europe and the US that attract competitors and large, enthusiastic crowds.
So although right now at Te Paki you will see mostly boogie boards cutting their way down the dunes, in the future you may see more and more stand up boarders – arguably the “real sandboarders” delivering some epic moves.
How to sandboard like a pro
Here are some tips for those who want to try the stand-up sport, once you’ve accessed a proper sandboard and protective gear;
- Perform a short ‘drop’ only to begin with on a gentle slope, and learn how to stop with your back foot
- Still on a gentle slant, descend the dune on your heels to train your balance. Add some toe work, and see how it alters your speed and control.
- Once you’re feeling confident, try a steeper slant
- When you feel ready, try a few 360s and small jumps!
But, like most of us, if you’re after some basic fun – the best approach is to take a run up and land gently on a flat bodyboard on your belly.
If this is your tool down the dunes, lift your board up at the front as you descend for speed and control. Much like bodyboarding, turning sideways will help you stop.
If you’re on a group tour, your guide should offer some tips.
Where else in the world can I sandboard?
If you’re an avid traveller, why not try riding one or more of the highest sand dunes in the world listed here;
- Cerro Blanco (Peru)
- Cerro Medanoso (Chile)
- Badain Jaran and Mingsha Shan (China)
- Rig-e Yalan Dune (Iran)
- Rig-e Yalan Dune (Iran)
- Issaouane-n-Tifernine Sand Sea (Algeria)
- Big Daddy and Dune 7 (Namibia)
- Mount Tempest (Australia)
- Star Dune (Colorado, USA)
- The Great Dune of Pilat (France).
Like any outdoor pursuit or extreme sport, it’s really important to keep your safety in mind, and the safety of others.
People have been badly injured while sandboarding, so be careful of your speed, and watch for other beachgoers. We suggest some smaller trial runs on lighter slants before heading too high on the dune and letting loose.
Keep safe, and no doubt you’ll have a blast.