One of the longest stretches of beach in New Zealand, 90 Mile Beach may not be exactly 90 miles long – but it’s not short on natural beauty or exciting things to do.
The beach stretches from just west of Kaitaia all the way to Cape Reinga, a long ribbon of sand along the Aupouri Peninsula. The starting point is the headland of Reef Point and at the other end you will find Scott Point, five kilometres south of Cape Maria van Diemen.
It’s known for spectacular sunsets and for having one of the best left-hand surf breaks in the world. The beach is officially a highway, but it’s only suitable for four wheel drive vehicles and when the tide is high it’s impossible to drive on.
The long and narrow beach is lined with high sand dunes and bordered by the dense, green Aupouri Forest. Gentle waves crash against the sand and the dune grasses gently sway. It’s easy to see why visiting this beautiful beach is a must on your Bay of Islands itinerary.
How Long Is 90 Mile Beach?
This is a trick question right? 90 Mile Beach must be 90 miles long? After all, it’s in the name?
Well, names can be deceiving. The truth is that the beach is only 54 miles (88 km) long.
So, where did the misnomer come from? The origins are unclear, but the accepted local legend is that the name comes from the days of riding horseback. The average horse could cover 30 miles in one day and the journey along the beach took three days, so early explorers assumed it was 90 miles long. (However, they didn’t account for the fact that horses travel much slower on sand!)
However, although it’s not as long as you might think – the name “90 Mile Beach” has such a nice ring to it that it doesn’t really matter.
How to Get to 90 Mile Beach from Auckland
From Auckland it is a five hour drive to the settlement of Ahipara, which is the northernmost access point for 90 Mile Beach. It is a scenic drive that will take you through lovely little towns including Wellsford, Warkworth, Te Hana and Kaiwaka.
Many visitors stop at Whangarei Falls to stretch their legs, get some fresh air and admire the waterfall (one of the many beautiful waterfalls the region has to offer). The last main town to stop in for supplies is Kaitaia, as it has supermarkets, chain stores and restaurants.
After the long drive, you may want to stay at one of the many accommodation options in Kaitaia before heading off on your 90 Mile Beach adventure the next day.
How to Get to 90 Mile Beach from Paihia
It’s only a 2.5 hour drive from Paihia to 90 Mile Beach, along State Highway 10, State Highway 1 and State Highway 1F. It’s a pleasant and scenic drive, which is why many visitors choose to stop in Paihia while exploring 90 Mile Beach and the surrounding area.
If you don’t feel like driving, there are plenty of day tours (like this, this and this) that will take you from Paihia to 90 Mile Beach. They will usually drive one-way down 90 Mile Beach and then return to Paihia by road.
So, about driving on 90 Mile Beach
At low tide, 90 Mile Beach becomes a legitimate highway – an alternative to State Highway 1 (and often a scenic route for tour buses). However, driving on this beach isn’t as easy as you might think. Read the following before you attempt to drive the beach on your own.
Is it safe to drive on the beach?
There are some dangers to be aware of before driving on this beach. It’s important to plan your visit for low tide (check magicseaweed.com for tide tables), or your vehicle can get stuck in the sand. Be sure to check the timetable and travel the beach three hours after the peak of high tide.
As long as you drive slowly and follow the tracks created by the buses (and don’t drive at night), driving the beach is relatively safe. Make sure that your vehicle has enough petrol for the entire trip and plan ahead in case of emergency – carry water, food and warm clothes with you on board.
Also, drive down the packed sand in the middle of the beach and avoid the wet sand near the water and the dry sand by the dunes – as that is where many people get stuck.
What if it is raining?
It is highly recommended that you do not attempt to drive on the beach during wet weather. The rain will cause the beach conditions to deteriorate and can result in your vehicle getting stuck.
If your car does get stuck, you can call the emergency services for help. The number to call in New Zealand is 111 and this will work even if your phone is out of credit. However, the rescue facilities are quite far away – so it might be a while until help arrives.
What type of vehicle do I need?
If you are driving a rental car, make sure you check your contract. Many rental companies state that you are not covered by their insurance if you choose to drive on the beach. (In that case, drive along the Ninety Mile Beach Coast Road which runs parallel to the beach and still offers amazing views!)
Otherwise, your vehicle should have four wheel drive in order to safely drive on the sand. Even if you do have a four wheel drive vehicle, it’s still a good idea to carry tow-ropes and a shovel – just in case.
What is the speed limit?
The speed limit is officially 100km/h. However, remember to adjust your speed limit to the conditions – you may need to slow down for safety. Also, while 100km/h is a fine speed on the open stretches of the beach, you should slow down to about half that speed when you are passing an access point to the beach.
Video courtesy of Olivia Milles
Fishing at 90 Mile Beach
This region offers some of the best and most diverse fishing in the district and there are large snapper and big shark often found just a short distance from the shore. The species that you could catch here include tailor, salmon, snapper, whiting, gummy shark, elephant shark, yellowtail kingfish, flathead and many more.
Some of the smaller and more secluded beaches, such as McGaurans Beach and Pettmans Beach are excellent for fishing and you may not see another person during your entire visit.
Locations such as Woodside Beach, Seaspray and Lake Tyers are a little busier, but still by no means crowded. They are small villages with caravan parks and a few basic places to stay, as well as shops for food, tackle and bait.
Every year in late February or early March, the beach hosts a 5 day fishing competition called the Snapper Bonanaza. Hundreds of anglers flock to the soft sands here, hoping to catch a snapper and feast on its delicious white flesh. Find out more here.
Read our guide to fishing in the Bay of Islands for more information.
Sand Boarding on 90 Mile Beach
Just inland from the beach you’ll find massive sand dunes, formed by the wind over many centuries. It’s a surreal landscape – you’ll feel like you have been transported to the middle of the Sahara Desert. These towering hills of sand are the perfect place to practice a unique and thrilling sport: sand boarding.
If you are brave enough, sit or lie on a plastic sled and go zooming down the sandy slopes. It’s an addictive thrill and you will want to slide down again and again, gathering confidence and speed with each run.
Hot Tip: Make sure you come as early in the morning as you can – because the sand will get increasingly hot towards midday. Also, don’t forget to bring lots of water and sunscreen.
Video courtesy of Someday Maybe
Tours of 90 Mile Beach
Since rental companies won’t allow their cars on the sand of the beach (for safety reasons), the easy way to drive along the beach is to catch a coach tour from Kaitaia. These tours use special vehicles that are built for off-road driving and have large panorama windows so that you won’t miss a minute of the view.
You’ll get the thrill of zooming down the beach with the Tasman Sea on one side and the sand dunes on the other – without having to worry about driving. Don’t be shocked when your driver steers the bus straight up Te Paki Stream up into the sand dunes – it’s all part of the off-road thrill.
Why Not Visit Cape Reinga Too?
Cape Reinga, at one end of 90 Mile Beach, is where the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea meet. In Maori culture, it’s where the souls of the departed leave New Zealand to return to their spiritual home. (The name Reinga) means “Underworld” and another Maori name for the location is Te Rerenga Wairua which means the “leaping off place of the spirits.”
It’s easy to see why this location came to have such an important sacred meaning, especially when you are standing on the dramatic point and watching the powerful currents of the two mighty seas swirling together.
Many visitors combine a visit to 90 Mile Beach with a trip to Cape Reinga, as these destinations are close together. For example, the Fullers tour Cape Reinga Via 90 Mile Beach tour includes a drive along 90 Mile Beach and a visit to the Cape as well as a visit to the Puketi Kauri Forest and a lunch of fresh fish and chips in Houhora.
Accommodation Options at 90 Mile Beach
There are several great accommodation options to choose from at 90 Mile Beach, depending on what style of getaway you want to have. For example, there’s Ninety Mile Beach Premier Holiday Park, which offers ensuite units as well as campervan and tent sites. It’s equipped with amenities that make your stay more comfortable, such as a playground for the little ones and a swimming pool.
If you are seeking a more luxurious stay, there are also several lodges and hotels in the area. For example, Endless Summer Lodge is a historic 1870s villa in a stunning beachfront location, with an outdoor BBQ and surf boards and sand boards for hire.
Another option is to rent your own private vacation home. There are many in the area to choose from, such as the elegant Ahipara Tranquility which offers views of the sea from the sunny deck.
Dining in 90 Mile Beach
Long walks in the sand will build up an appetite. Fortunately, there are several dining options to choose from near 90 Mile Beach.
- The Wild Belle: An oasis for hungry visitors, the Wild Belle is a low-key eatery that serves up burgers, fries, fresh fish and other tasty casual dishes. Rebecca, the friendly owner, has created a fun and relaxing atmosphere that makes everyone feel welcome. Find out more.
- Beachcomber Restaurant: If the salty scent of the ocean has you craving seafood, head to this spot to feast on the catch of the day. The fish is excellent quality and beautifully prepared – whether you like it char-grilled with tamarind lime chilli dust, beer battered or pan-fried with lemon white wine sauce. Find out more.
- Gecko Cafe: A friendly spot to get your caffeine fix or satisfy your sweet tooth. They are known for their big hearty breakfasts – the ideal way to fill up before a big day of exploring. Find out more.
If you have time for anything else….
Aside from the activities already listed, there are many other things that you can do during your adventures on 90 Mile Beach.
- Digging for TuaTua in the sand, tasty little bivalve clams that are only found in New Zealand. They are delicious served up with melted butter.
- View the ancient Kauri Trees at Gumdiggers Park and learn about the history of gum digging in New Zealand.
- Take a scenic helicopter ride over the Bay of Islands and Northland to admire the scenery from above.
- Go surfing at Shipwreck Bay, known for its excellent constant swells and long rides.
- Enjoy a bit of golf at the Kaitaia Golf Club, which offers 18 holes of undulating fairways and well-maintained greens.
So, ready to go?
So, whether you are popping in on your way to Cape Reinga, desperate for a spot of sand surfing (and why wouldn’t you be?) or you just really want to drive your car on 90 mile beach like Jeremy Clarkson did on Top Gear, 90 Mile Beach is a Northland destination you don’t want to skip.