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Sandy Bay/Otangawhiti, Northland

A cure for the itch

Accessible from Cape Reinga or Tapotupotu Bay, Sandy Bay is a small, deeply set cove nestled in a valley of bristly native bush.

It’s known for its itchy whale visitors, which are said to scratch themselves on a rock protruding from the bay – adding yet more to the mysticism of the area already seeping spiritual significance.

The most direct approach, and the easiest on the knees, is from the Cape Reinga car park.

Take the lighthouse path, and at the first U-bend, join the path which veers east.

You’ll get your first glimpse of Sandy Bay from the trailhead, but as you descend the ridge all the way to the sand, views just keep getting better.

From the opposite direction, the track ascends from Tapotupotu Bay to the headland at the western end of the beach. Make sure to look over your shoulder for gorgeous views of the beach.

The track flattens momentarily at the summit, before descending steep sets of stairs towards Sandy Bay through fragrant mānuka.

The water is deliciously tropical, but currents are strong, as I discovered when trying to swim in from a snorkel. Stay in your depth, and enjoy the turquoise shallows – the nearest lifeguard patrol is more than 100km away.

Total Ascent
From Cape Reinga or Tapotupotu Bay