Going on a Ninety Mile Beach bus trip

By: Jill Malcolm


"Oh, we've done the Far North," says Thelma, as if it were done, dusted and ticked off the list. Our philosophy is different. We visit the places many times, each time adding, layer by layer, new experiences and different angles.

90milebeach

I had, for instance, horse ridden up part of Ninety Mile Beach, driven half of it in a Land Rover, surfed down a sand dune and walked the length of Te Paki Stream, but until last week had never taken a bus trip up its length.

The Sand Safaris bus picked us up from the Ahipara Camp and because the tide was low, it took us straight onto the endless stretch of sea-smoothed sand. It was a bit like heading off to find the end of the world.

To our left was the Tasman, row up row of speeding waves hurling themselves towards land like the charge of the Light Brigade. It was horsemen riding the length of the beach who first calculated it was 90-miles-long. Maybe it felt like it. In fact, it is only 58.

To our right, dunes loomed up obscuring the view inland. For much of the drive the hinterland is covered by the exotic Aurpouri Forest, grown on Maori land but owned by Japanese. If you are lucky (we weren't), one of the herds of wild horses that live in the forest could come galloping down the beach. Each year they are rounded up and their health is checked before they are set free again.

But it was the sea that was mesmerising. We heard stories of how the waves snatch unwary animals, fishing lines, Kontikis, cars, trucks, a bus or two, and the odd human, who has perhaps ignored the sudden 'sweeps' that slither over the sand like monstrous tongues and suck everything their path into the sea. High tides spew whales onto the beach or dolphins, seals, penguins, the body parts of boats, farm instruments and tuatua by the thousands. The sea itself yields spat that seed the mussel farms of the Milford Sound.

The beach drive ends at Te Paki Stream and then it's back to the road to Cape Reinga before the homeward journey with stops at points of interest along the way. Home for us in Ahipara was at the one camping gound.

This delightful place, a ten-minute walk from the beach would make a trip to the town worthwhile even without a bus ride. It is landscaped with bamboo, palm trees and dense, semi-tropical foliage, a relaxed and cheerful place with adequate facilities and a congenial central lounge. In the balmy evening air I could almost imagine myself in Fiji.

Jill Malcolm is a former editor of Motorhomes Caravans & Destinations and author of the Great Kiwi Motorhome Guide.

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