FAR NORTH 4X4 BEACH HOP
With summer coming, the Far North offers some stunning opportunities for 4WD-based exploring. Regular NZ4WD contributor Gary Cooper explains.
Our end-of-summer-2018 4WD beach holiday seems like a long time ago now as I sit here listening to the rain on yet another wet and windy Auckland weekend! Regardless, days like this are good for planning your next 4WD trip or reminiscing about past ones, so here is one of ours from last summer that I recommend.
Day 1. Heading North
We blasted the trusty FJ some 330km up State Highway 1 to the Karikari Peninsula for five days of exploring the region with our double kayak on the roof. This peninsula has about 80km of coastline with lots of beaches. All of them are beautiful and basically empty plus some are almost pure white silica sand. We based ourselves in a rustic bach at Rangiputa ( 44km northeast of Kaitaia).
If you drive to the end of Kohanga Bay, in Rangiputa past the free DOC camping area at the end of the short shingle road, at mid or low tide you can drop down onto another small beach. The start is a short boulder hop but once you get past this it’s a basic beach drive to the other end which has some nice trees for shelter and shade creating a great place to relax, swim, enjoy a BBQ and vino or three. Needless to say we spent a few relaxing evenings here.
Day 2. Puheke Surf Beach
Puheke beach looks great due to the curve of the bay, extremely white sand, backed of course by sand dunes and the bonus of no baches. From Rangiputa Road follow the signs to Puheke and continue on the gravel road for about five kms. This takes you to a small carpark behind the sand dunes with the best access to the beach via a soft sandy narrow track on the right. Once we aired down and negotiated the access track we drove to the far end of the beach as this is a very nice place to set up a comfortable day camp; which for us means putting up our Fox wing awning and walls so we have shelter from the sun and any wind to provide a comfortable place to have a BBQ and a few G&Ts ( we make the most of our dual battery system and the 50L Waeco permanently mounted in the back), have a swim/ sleep and continue our never ending 500 card battles.
For one of the best views of white sand beaches on the Karikari Peninsula or even Northland, head towards the extinct volcano known as Puheke Hill, then, just before you reach Puheke Beach turn right and engage 4WD to drive up to the base of the volcano. It’s well worth doing the 30 minute walk to the top.
Day 3. Karikari Beach, Matai and Waikato Bay
This was the day we explored the Peninsula by doing a loop drive. Our first stop was Karikari Beach. Unfortunately you cannot get a vehicle onto the beach but it is worth the walk down to a unspoilt long white sand beach. We also checked out the Karikari estate winery for
a relaxing lunch and tasted some local vino, which I must say was a great drop accompanied by a freshly baked pizza straight from the wood fire pizza oven. The winery has elevated views across the bay and is well worth the stop. Further north is Matai Bay with its very nice DOC campground which has private and sheltered camping spots. The adjoining Waikato Bay is just as nice and has a couple of small walks, the headland walk taking around an hour and a-half and gives offers majestic views. Both beaches have good swimming but again the only 4WDing permitted is for beach launching your boat or kayak.
Day 4. Doubtless Bay and Tokerau Beach
You can drive the entire length of Tokerau Beach but not at high tide. You will have a couple of small creek crossings to negotiate, these also provide the best spots for beach fishing. We dropped onto the beach at the far northern end by Waitamatau Creek and exited at the far bottom end by Aurere Stream after our standard lazy beach day. This area is the most populated and also has the Tokerau motor camp right on the beach.
Day 5. East Beach (or Rangaunu Bay adventure)
We found this fun 20km beach drive in our old SpotX off-roading guidebook. We drove around the Rangaunu Harbour and accessed the southern end of the beach from the carpark off Kaimaumau Road and drove along the soft sandy track. NB. If you start at the bottom this can only be done at low tide as the track gets cut off at high tide. It’s a fun drive with lots of places to stop, picnic, swim and fish, and some inland tracks to explore. At the northern end of East Beach, you need to cross a small estuary to exit onto Haurora Road which basically brings you to Haurora Heads at the front of Houhora Harbour. We enjoyed this side of the bay and beach a lot and kayaked across the harbour a couple of times for a quick swim and sun bake.
Stay on the harder sand between the waterline and the high tide mark. Always use established vehicle access points onto the beach. Drop your tyre pressures to suit the conditions. Avoid making sharp turns at speed. Know the local access rules and tides
Tip A. Driving onto small beach North of Kohanga Bay.
FJ in beach mode.
Another perfect beach stop in the Far North.
Driving along another deserted beach.
View East from Puheke Hill.