Monday, 29 April 2019

Giant Dunes- Te Paki

Catch-up

From our base at the Tapotupotu Bay DOC camp ,we drove 15kms back down the main highway to visit one of the top tourist attractions in the Far North; the giant Te Paki Sand Dunes. A small inconspicuous sign post points the way down a short gravel side road to the dunes. Ahead of us, multiple clouds of dust indicate we're not the only ones visiting the dunes today and it doesn't take long for mounds of gleaming white sand to appear through the trees in front of us.


The dune carpark is busy and we're lucky to find a space, I've heard that on some days cars are parked haphazardly back along the road edge for a couple kilometres. 


The dunes are huge and from the carpark we can see a several groups of people, looking like tiny ants slowly making their way up the sides of the nearby dunes.


The Te Paki Sand Dunes are a coastal strip of ever changing sand 10km long, 1km wide and 150 metres high. The Te Paki Stream flows past in front of the carpark and heads for the coast through the middle of the dunes.


This entrepreneurial young guy from the local iwi (tribe) has the best job in the world he tells me, he says he travels the world from the back of his truck, meeting many different nationalities as he hires out sand boards to tourists that arrive to surf the dunes. He also has the gift of the gab and is well suited to his job.


I decide that it looks too much of an effort to climb to the top of the dunes and I also don't want to end up with sand in every nook & cranny so today I'll just sit and watch everyone else enjoy themselves. It's also very hot and the white sand is blinding, you definitely need sunglasses to cut out the glare.


Once people have crossed the stream (some leaving their shoes behind, they'll struggle walking over the hot sand), the climb begins easy enough but as they start climbing the steeper ridges it becomes a tough slog through the deep loose sand and I watch as feet and sometimes legs up to the knees are swallowed up by the sand with each laboured step. 

Some people decide it's just as much fun sliding down the slopes on the other side of the stream.


We have lunch at one of the picnic tables and watch as the keen ones make it to the top of the tallest dune. 



Once again I'm pleased I have my zoom lens (click on the photos to enlarge)-


Many wipe out soon after leaving the top, then it's a slow haul back up to the top.


It's recommended to take a scarf to wrap around you head; covering your ears, nose & mouth to stop the fine sand from getting in if you have a major wipe out. 


The Te Paki Stream cuts around the base of the nearby dunes as it heads to the sea. This wide braided stream bed is actually the 3km access track to the famous Ninety Mile Beach. If you've driven or taken a tour up the beach from Ahipara or any of the earlier access points, Te Paki Stream is also the last exit from the beach before Cape Reinga.


I'm disappointed when I see signs saying the track is temporarily closed due to a washout, I really want to drive through to the beach but David's not keen to take the ute anywhere there is salt water. While we're having a little discussion a Subaru shoots past us and off down the track.


I walk over and have a chat with my friendly entrepreneurial guy and he looks around furtively and then just to be sure he's not heard, he whispers from behind his hand that the track is fine for 4WDs. They (that's the royal they) have left the signs up to deter inexperienced overseas drivers in rental vehicles from driving through. He also mentions that he's been charging people a couple of hundred dollars to tow their vehicles out of the sand when they've ignored the signs & his warnings. 

I manage to convince David to at least see what's around the corner...


We follow other vehicles tracks, the sand is mostly firm and smooth although we can see where vehicles have taken a different track and become a little bogged. We meet a small tour van coming towards us, one of the occupants is standing atop a sand bank taking photos as they come through the water. The people from the Subaru that we'd seen heading down the track earlier, were now attacking the tallest dune from a different angle, clambering up the spine to the very top.

Rather than a washout, there's been a large sand slide over one section of the track at some stage. It's been packed down by passing vehicles but we still slip and slide through it before lurching out onto a very wide section of the stream bed. It's easy to follow the wrong tracks but we try to keep to the firmer wet sand until finally...


...we pop out onto Ninety Mile Beach.


Ninety Mile Beach is actually only 55 miles (88 kms) long. It is thought that European settlers named it because they knew their horses could travel up to 30 miles a day. Unfortunately they didn't account for the slower pace of travelling on sand.

Looking north to Scott Point and the top of 90 Mile Beach...


... and south along miles and miles of deserted coastline. Travel on the beach is recommended 3 hours after high tide. Most rental companies do not allow or insure their vehicles on the beach. There have been many instances of vehicles coming to grief along the beach in soft sand or being caught out by the tide which comes in a quite a pace.


David stops the ute where the fresh stream water dissipates into the sand, he's won't be going any closer to the salt water, so we walk down to the water's edge and check out a flock of seabirds resting along the wave line. You never know when you might spot an odd man out in amongst a regular flock of seabirds but today it's just a group of gulls and terns.


Another vehicle has come out from the stream bed and is quick to head south along the beach. I zoom in on it and in the background I can see clearly the tunnel in Matapia Island, a tiny island just offshore and the only one along the beach's length.


It's time for us to head back up the stream bed and once again it's difficult to follow the tracks and also remember which braiding we came through on the way down. One set of tracks cut through some soft sand and we're certain we didn't come this way earlier but we push on through and safely get to the other side. The Subaru has now gone from the base of the dunes and all they've left behind are dozens of footprints weaving their way up the dune. 


We stop alongside our mate at the truck to let him know he'll not be getting $200 from us today, wave cherrio and head on back to camp.





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