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Matapouri Headland Track, Otito Scenic Reserve

Image of the August 2020 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
August 2020 Issue

Beach to beach on the Tutukaka Coast

The pohutukawa trees spill down onto a crescent-shaped beach that is only accessible on foot. It’s Whale Bay, deservedly recognised as one of the best beaches in the country.

While the walk to Whale Bay takes just 15 minutes, it can be included on  a larger loop track that features stunning coastal views and visits another almost equally idyllic Northland beach.

The Matapouri Headland Track takes about 90-minutes and can be walked from either the Whale Bay car park on Matapouri Road or from Matapouri township itself. Either way, in summer you should take your togs.

From the Whale Bay car park, the track follows a ridgeline through coastal bush on a well-graded gravel track before reaching a side-track that descends to the bay. Winding down the hill, the track provides incredible views of the forest-fringed bay with white sand and turquoise water. The beach is excellent for swimming and is worth a day trip in its own right and there are now public toilets at the far end of the beach.

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The cosy inlet of Pebbly Beach on the Matapouri Headland Track. Photo: George Driver

From the beach, retrace steps to the headland at the top of the ridge, where the track continues with bush on one side and farmland on the other, before emerging at a lookout over the wild rocky headland. The Poor Knights Islands are visible in the distance.

The track runs high above the coastline before descending to the tiny inlet of Pebbly Beach. Then, a sandy dip in  the heads is crossed to reach Matapouri Bay, an idyllic kilometre-long arch of golden sand.

A sidetrack from here once led to the famous Mermaid Pools, but this was closed in 2019 after local iwi placed a rahui on the area due to concern that over-tourism was degrading the environment.

The track goes along the beach and then Morrison Road and Ringer Avenue through Matapouri township, past some classic 1960s Kiwi baches. A track at the end of Ringer Avenue leads through Morrison Reserve and through a nice patch of subtropical bush before regaining the ridge and reaching the Whale Bay car park.