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8 magical beaches and ocean activities in Tutukaka: where to go and what to find

Whangaumu Bay, Tutukaka @Rob Plim


Northland with its mild winter climate offers locals and overseas visitors alike a beach culture vibe defined by casual clothing, swimming gear and a water bottle or two. There are very few apartments or highrises as well as a lack of the slick merchandising characteristic of the Australian gold coast. If visitors are looking for a nearby shopping mall they would need to drive to Whangarei about ½ by road. Tutukaka is a great day trip from Whangarei. Tutukaka is definitely a detour into the classic beach experience complete with a dinghy and fish and chips on the sand.

Best time to visit

Year round although it does rain in Northland hence the green landscape. For summer devotees the most reliable month for warm consistent temperature is mid-January to February.


Tutukaka, NZ – Current Weather

Ngunguru Harbour river estuary at low tide

Tutukaka Coast beaches are quiet beauties of New Zealand. There is a glut of choice for visitors, each with their own personality. The white sandy beaches include Matapouri Bay, Woolley’s Bay, Whale Bay and Whangaumu Bay. The inner harbour pebble beaches are Pacific Bay, Kowharewa Bay and Church Bay (accessible via Tutukaka Block Road). There is also the iconic surf beach, Sandy Bay. Roads and pathways tempt visitors to wander and explore headlands and coves leading to the next beach on the horizon. Local haunts are only accessible via the coast by climbing around the rocks at low tide. Sheer magic

Tutukaka Lighthouse walkway or Tawapou Coastal Natives sub-tropical plant nursery is worth a stop along the way if you are interested in New Zealand fauna or a drink in their garden over summer.

  1. Matapouri Beach & Mermaid Pools

Matapouri is the first bay you reach after Tutukaka. You can swim in the estuary or take one of the roads on the right to get to parking by the main beach. Matapouri Bay is great for strolling on the white sand or having a dip. With a year round residential community there are local convenience stores, cafes and facilities for beach goers.

At low tide you can walk to the Mermaid Pools (Northern end of the beach). Please note that this path is only suitable for people who are fit and capable of climbing up very steep hills. The path is not maintained and if the sea is rough we strongly recommend against swimming in the Mermaid Pools.


Mermaid Pools is the star of numerous instagram moments. Remember to take care as a strong wave can sweep over the pools with very little notice. The beach has toilets and changing facilities. NOTE The mermaid pools could be closed due to poor behaviour by visitors. Check beforehand to avoid disappointment. Matapouri Beach has toilets, car parks however there are no lifeguards.

Matapouri Estuary Reserve, New Zealand @freeandaddicted
Matapouri Estuary Reserve @freeandaddicted

2. Matapouri Estuary Reserve

Behind Matapouri Bay, at Matapouri River mouth, a small estuary flanked by mangroves runs quietly inland, ignored by the scores of visitors who crowd the clean sand of the main bay. Yet towards high tide (when it is easy to float about), there is much for the patient snorkeller to enjoy amid the mangroves. The estuary of the Matapouri River is rich in marine life. The reserve does not get many visitors. The best time to visit is the incoming tide with birdlife feasting on flushed out marine life. A great snorkelling location.

Two factors combine to make water clarity much better in this estuary than in most. The small estuary discharges little sediment and the sandy bottom acts as a watery mirror. The tidal water is clear of muddy sediment minising murky tidal water.

Matapouri Estuary, New Zealand @New Zealand Geographic
Matapouri Estuary @New Zealand Geographic

3. Ngunguru beaches, sandspit and headlands

Ngunguru sandspit

sand dunes are unmodified dunes, probably due to limited access as it is only accessible by boat. The area has significant cultural, historical and environmental values for the local Maori. No dogs are allowed on the spit. Views of the dunes are excellent on the Ngunguru to Whangaumu Bay walk. This walk is between the two bays where, from the lookout you’ll have uninterrupted views of Ngunguru sand dunes (sandspit), Goat Island, Hora Hora, Pataua, Taiharuru, and Whangarei Heads.

The grass ridge, easy to navigate track leads you down to Red Rock Bay. Stroll along these secluded beaches to Ngunguru; rocky outcrops and sheltered sandy bays. This is a family favourite beachcomber’s walk.


Choose 2 hours each side of low tide for each direction of your walk
Access: Walkway can be accessed from either Whangaumu Bay (south end of the beach) or Ngunguru (Te Maika Road)
Beside the school are public toilets, a local convenience store and a beach. There are trees to park under and drinking water taps (free) to fill water bottles.

@Ngunguru Sandspit Protection Society
@Ngunguru Sandspit Protection Society

4. Whale Bay

There is a coastal walkway to Whale Bay. This track is a loop which takes around 1.5 hours to complete including some time at Whale Bay.

Alternatively you can drive to Whale Bay car park where there is a short walkway through groves of ancient Puriri trees. The secluded beach has white sand and a forest-fringed beach. There are basic pit toilets.

View through the trees walking down to Whale Bay, Northland, New Zealand
View through the trees walking down to Whale Bay

5. Kowharewa Bay

Located along Tutukaka Block Road, this flat pebble beach idea is ideal for launching your kayaking and offers sheltered swimming.

A lovely place to picnic with parking and handy toilets.

Kowharewa Bay, New Zealand @Luke Dixon
Kowharewa Bay @Luke Dixon

6. Woolleys Bay

This popular coastal beach has easy access from the main road and is great for body surfing and picnics on the grassed areas. The rocky headlands are popular for beach surfcasting.  There are no lifeguards. Toilets and changing facilities.

Woolleys bay, New Zealand
Woolleys bay

7. Sandy Bay

One of the east coast’s most popular surfing destinations is suitable for surfers of all abilities. Enjoy horse-trekking or learn to surf (tour operators are based in Tutukaka). There are no lifeguards. Facilities include boat launching, toilets, carpark.

Sandy Bay, New Zealand @david113
Sandy Bay @david113

8. Fishing

An extensive network of tour operators, charters and devotees who return regularly fish for game fish in the Pacific waters. Tutukaka is a hub for a number of festivals celebrating all things fish and fishy. Poor Knights Island is a haven for divers, snorkelling and day trippers on the many charters. While visitors are not permitted to land on the island the extensive marine life attracts visitors from all over the world. Enhancing the dive experience are two wrecks, HMS Tui & HMS Waikato.

Sandy bay, Tutukaka coast, New Zealand @Kate LeBlanc
Sandy bay, Tutukaka coast @Kate LeBlanc

The journey is worth it.


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