90-Mile Beach is at once both the most nondescript and the most amazing beach on the island - a quintessential Far North adventure! The beach's myth is legendary...cars swallowed by rising tides, quicksand, sweeper waves, etc.., etc., but the reality is less dramatic. The entire 66-mile beach is almost featureless. Therin lies its greatness though, because no features means no blockages means a 2WD car can drive the whole length. At half-tide or lower (a 6-hour window) this beach becomes the best highway on the island. Where else do you get to drive straight for 60 miles around here? Ignore the scare-the-tourists myths...90-Mile needs to be respected, not feared. 2WD cars go up and down it everyday. Tour buses race up it every day. It's fast, it's fun, and it's hypnotic...endless dunes on one side, breakers and horizon on the other...definately the best route from Cape Reinga down to Ahipara!
There are, of course, a few need-to-knows. First, wetsand is your friend - the middle of the beach is where you want to drive. Second, it's joy-riding hoons and vareless picnickers who get stuck in the drysand when they do U-turns or attempt to stop high up on the beach. If you get bogged down. DON'T SPIN YOUR WHEELS and dig yourself deeper. If you haven't brought a plank or shovel to help you dig, then just wait...fishermen will come by and they are generally well-prepared and friendly (give them beer). If it's your first time, definately go on a receding tide and give yourself plenty of time if you decide to turn back.
About the route: If you've never driven sand before, then Waipapakauri is where you start because the ramp is easiest - it goes down onto wetsand. Waipapakauri is signed about 8km north of Awanui. From there, driving south towards Ahipara is good practice beach (plenty of people to help). The 'offs' at Ahipara are often soft, but 2WD can make it if you charge hard (timidity leads to shovelling..go ahead, gun it!!).
Heading north from Waipapakauri you want to plan on going the whole way to Te Paki Stream. There are 'offs' at Hukatere Hill and 'The Bluff' but these are mostly 4WD soft sand - and they're hard to find. Thus Waipapakuri to Te Paki or vice-versa should be the plan...it's about 70km, a one-hour(ish) drive. Read Te Paki Stream entry for details about the northern end point.
Some other tidbits:
- Slow down at the many stream crossings and hit them at an angle.
- Bring a plank or two of wood to help dig out the lesser-skilled.
- The 'pinch' at The Bluff is the crucial point to get around because on its northern side some rocks extend down to the mid-tide line. It'll be sketchy getting past this point at mid-tide or higher.
- At low tide it's possible to drive from Ahipara to Shipwreck Bay via a fun slalom course through the rocks.
- The Ancient Kauri Kingdom, north of Awanui, has a $$ carwash that'll de-sand and de-salt. Good idea.