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November 2023 Issue
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Walking along the coast at Whatipū Scientific Reserve, Auckland. Photo: Shaun Barnett/Black Robin Photography

Four magnificent and accessible wild coastal walks, each within reach of a significant city.

When trampers think of wild coastlines, what usually comes first to mind are those on our most famous tracks: the nīkau-studded coast of the Heaphy Track, the great sweeping beaches of Martins and Big Bays at the end of the Hollyford Track, the famous granite pillars and golden sands of the Abel Tasman Coast Track, and of course the wild and remote beaches and headlands of Rakiura / Stewart Island. 

Want a spring trip to a wild coastline that’s a little closer to home? Here are four magnificent and accessible wild coastal walks, each within reach of a significant city.

Whatipū–Pararaha, Auckland

Unfortunately, storms, kauri dieback disease and access issues have all curtailed tramping along the entire Hillary Trail for the moment. But how about this shorter alternative, which has the advantage of being a round trip and could be either an overnight tramp or a longer day trip. Begin from Whatipū and tramp the great sandy expanses past Cutter Rock, then arc northward and tramp the coast as far as Pararaha Bay, where you can stay at established campsites either at Tunnel Point or in the Pararaha Valley. The following day, return on the Muir and Gibbons tracks, through lush coastal forest with regular viewpoints overlooking the coast.

Tongapōrutu, New Plymouth

This is one of the most magnificent coastlines in Te Ika-a-Māui / the North Island. It’s a place of steep papa cliffs, bold headlands, pillars of rock rising from black sand expanses and – on the right day – views of Taranaki Maunga beyond. All are accessible after a 30–40-minute walk from the tiny Taranaki township of Tongapōrutu, about an hour’s drive north of New Plymouth.

From the carpark, follow the trail along the riverbank to reach the coast, where there are many fascinating formations to explore. Be sure of the tide, though. This is a dangerous coast in wild conditions, and an incoming tide can trap the unwary. It’s best to visit only two hours either side of low tide.

Pariwhero / Red Rocks Track, Wellington

Wellington’s wild south coast endures the worst southerly storms, so it’s no surprise that it has been the scene of some of our worst shipping disasters. These include the infamous Wahine disaster of 1968 and many others, dating back to the wreck of the SS Penguin in 1909, in which 75 people perished.

However, you can’t beat Wellington on a good day, and a tramp to Red Rocks is a must for anyone visiting the capital. From the visitor centre at Ōwhiro Bay (accessible by bus), follow a vehicle track along the coast beneath impressive cliffs. Watch out for the growing number of kekeno / New Zealand fur seals that inhabit this area, and explore the fascinating geology at Pariwhero / Red Rocks. Sundays are best as no vehicles are allowed. Allow half a day.

Allans Beach, Dunedin

The Otago Peninsula has many magnificent beaches, but Allans Beach is special for the number of whakahao / New Zealand sea lions that are inhabiting the area in increasing numbers. From the carpark at the end of Allans Beach Road, walk through dunes for 10 minutes to reach the wide, windswept beach. Then head west for a kilometre or two towards the entrance of Hoopers Inlet. This is a favourite haunt for whakahao, which often resemble large logs until you’re close enough to see them properly. Keep a respectful distance from these wild creatures. Generally they’ll leave you alone if you stay at least 10m away. Walkers could easily spend a half day or more on this wonderful beach, admiring the high cliffs of Sandymount that rise beyond.