Sand everywhere at
Te Paki Dunes

If you’ve grown up near the coast or spent summer holidays at the sea as a child, there’s a good chance you spent some time rolling down sand dunes – we certainly did. At some point, we grew out of the habit and started behaving like ‘proper’ adults. That was until we visited the giant Te Paki sand dunes near Cape Reinga.

Said to be some of the largest sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere, at around 100 metres, almost 330 feet, these dunes are high, and don’t let the photo above fool you, they are steep. It’s a bit of a climb to the top but the view is worth it and the short trip back down is exhilarating. Here’s a short video clip to give you an idea of what you can expect.

As you can see we had a really fun time sliding down Te Paki sand dunes. I think we went down about three times. After that, the thought of climbing back up again lost its appeal so we called it a day. We really can’t recommend this activity enough and if you’re going to go to the effort of travelling all this way north, why not give it a go.

Even if sandboarding is a little too adventurous for you, we can still recommend visiting Te Paki and simply climbing to the top of the dunes. Chances are that in your travels, you won’t get too many other opportunities to climb 100 metre high sand dunes.

Located close to the very top of New Zealand’s North Island, the Te Paki sand dunes and nearby Cape Reinga are pretty much as far north as you can get from Auckland. That means unless you’re already based somewhere in the upper half of the Northland region, a visit to Te Paki is not exactly a day trip.

Here are approximate travel times and distances to Te Paki from some of the main centres to help you plan your visit.

  • Auckland to Te Paki: 410 km / 255 miles – 5 hours 30 minutes
  • Whangarei to Te Paki: 350 km / 217 miles – 3 hours 30 minutes
  • Paihia (Bay of Islands) to Te Paki (via SH1): 200 km / 124 miles – 3 hours
  • Ahipara to Te Paki: 110 km / 68 miles – 1 hour 40 minutes
  • Kaitaia to Te Paki: 100 km / 62 miles – 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Pukenui to Te Paki: 60 km / 37 miles – 50 minutes

Travel times can vary significantly, particularly in popular areas during peak visitor months (December – February). For current travel times and updates on delays, roadworks and road closures, use the NZ Transport Agency journey planner before travelling. It’s always a good idea to allow extra time for photo stops and, when travelling longer distances, rest stops.

Te Paki tours

If you’ve just arrived in Auckland and don’t relish the thought of driving yourself all the way up north just to go sandboarding at Cape Reinga, one option is to consider a coach tour from Gray Line coach tours. They offer a number of activity based tour options including a 3 day Best of the Northland tour which includes a stop at the giant Te Paki dunes.

Alternatively, if you’ve already made your own way up to Paihia and the Bay of Islands, you could consider one of Fullers GreatSights popular adventure day trips which include driving on 90 Mile Beach (tide dependent), and Cape Reinga sandboarding.

  • Earlier in the morning and later in the afternoon are the best times to visit as it’s not as busy and not as hot during summer (December – February). Outside of summer, it’s generally a lot less busy.
  • Speaking of hot, the sand can get hot, really hot, but walking up the dune in shoes can be a bit of a pain. Plus shoes get in the way when sliding down, especially when using your feet as brakes. One option is to wear just socks which are easy to take off and shove in a pocket if you find you don’t need them. Plus there’s the fact that you need to cross the small Te Paki Stream to get to the dunes – a lot easier barefoot.
  • Wear sunglasses, partly for the glare or just to try and keep the sand out of your eyes.
  • Avoid wearing loose jewellery or anything valuable that could come off easily if you wipe out. Chances are you won’t find it again in the sand. Note to self: take metal detector on next trip to Te Paki 😉
  • When sliding down the dune, keep your arms tucked in and lift yourself up on your elbows. The ride can be a bit bumpy sometimes, especially near the bottom, and this will protect your ribs a little.
  • Driving up on Highway 1, there is a petrol station and shop/cafe at Waitiki, approximately 80 km north of Awanui. This is the last petrol station before Cape Reinga and also a good place to stock up on refreshments before you get to the dunes. The turnoff to the dunes along Te Paki Stream Road is another 5 km north of Waitiki.
  • There is a gravel parking area and parking is free (as at December 2019).
  • There are toilet/changing facilities near the parking.

Te Paki sand board hire

As you drive along the road towards Te Paki dunes, you’ll see signs advertising boards for hire. While you can hire boards along the way, you can in fact hire them at the dunes as well. That’s probably a bit more convenient as you can simply drop them off there once you’re done.

We hired on site when we last visited and it cost $15 per board for as long as you like. Just bear in mind that you will need to leave your drivers license or passport as security. Board hire at the dunes is available from around 9.30am to 6.00pm in summer and 10.30am to 4.00pm in winter depending on how busy it is.

Te Paki sand dunes map

If you haven’t already, clicking on the blue map at the top of the page will take you to Google Maps where you can do the usual Google Map things. You might also find the Te Paki dunes topographical map below of some use, particularly if you’re planning on exploring the dunes a little further. In fact you can walk all the way to the coast for views of 90 Mile Beach and the Tasman Sea.

Te Paki weather

It was a little overcast on the day we visited which was most probably a good thing as it meant it wasn’t unbearably hot. We imagine that sandboarding here would be fun no matter what the weather, apart from torrential rain. That said, if there’s a strong wind blowing, as it often does here at the top of the north, it probably won’t be too much fun either.

The nearest New Zealand MetService forecast is for Kaitai which is some distance away from Cape Reinga. To check more detailed local weather conditions and forecasts including wind, rain, temperature and cloud cover we use, and highly recommend, Windy.com.