Matapouri Bay / Whale Bay: Exploring the Tutukaka Coast, New Zealand
You might not have heard of the Tutukaka Coast, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a visit. This stretch of coastline north of Whangarei is home to two of New Zealand’s best beaches, Matapouri Bay and Whale Bay, and a scenic coastal track that connects them. Whether you’re spending a few days at the beach or stopping off on your way between Auckland and the Bay of Islands, a trip to the Tutukaka Coast should be a big part of your Northland itinerary.
Matapouri Bay is always close to the top of any “best beaches in New Zealand” list and it definitely lives up to the hype. The clear blue water and white sand are inviting, and there are heaps of little spots to explore. We headed to the left of the car park where there are some rocky areas and ended up climbing up one of the rocks / headland things right by the water. It’s good to get above a beach like this and the whole bay looked amazing from up there. Matapouri Bay is quite large and has that perfect crescent shape — I wouldn’t blame you if you shelved the exploring and just set up your towel for some quality beach time.
The Headland Track to Whale Bay
At the northern end of Matapouri Bay you’ll see a track. I highly recommend following it. You’ll soon be on the headland separating Matapouri Bay with some of the Tutukaka Coast’s other beaches, including Whale Bay (possibly my favourite beach in New Zealand). There are some great views to be had from several points along this track and it only takes around 30 minutes to reach Whale Bay. After visiting Whale Bay you can take the more direct route back to your car, which runs along a ridge above town and then through the town back to the beach.
As far as pristine, scenic, swimmable beaches in New Zealand go, you can’t beat Whale Bay. You get a beautiful view of Whale Bay as you walk down the track towards it, and once you’re at beach level it’ll be hard to resist a swim. For me, that’s very rare. In fact, it might be the only beach in New Zealand that I’ve felt compelled to swim in (I may have been swimming at beaches in New Zealand when I was younger, but I can’t remember it). The water is calm and clear, and the white sand is backed by a tangle of trees. If you only visit one beach in New Zealand, this should probably be it. You don’t have to walk that far either — there’s another car park closer to the beach if you don’t want to hike the headland track (although I highly recommend that track).
The Mermaid Pools
This Instagram-famous spot, a short walk over a steep headland from Matapouri Bay, isn’t quite as pristine as it is made out to be. In fact, it became so filthy that local Maori put the Mermaid Pools under a rāhui (temporary ritual prohibition), which basically means you shouldn’t go in there. It seems that people still ignore this, but I’m not sure why you’d want to swim in a horribly unclean ocean pool. I guess doing crazy things for Instagram is common these days. We just walked about halfway down the hill and saw the Mermaid Pools from above — it wasn’t the most exciting walk (and it was steep and slippery) so I’d recommend giving it a miss.
Sandy Bay is the most popular surf beach in these parts and is a fairly typical stretch of New Zealand sand. It’s nice though and makes for a great spot to eat some fish and chips before you continue to the Bay of Islands.
Matapouri (the town)
This tiny beachside town only has one shop (which luckily sells pretty much everything) and heaps of holiday houses. This place could never be accused of selling its soul for the tourist dollar (not yet anyway, who knows what the future holds). You can freedom camp right by Matapouri Bay (self-contained only) or there are some holiday rentals to stay at. We only passed through (we spent around three hours there in total) and you can easily see everything in that time, but I’d love to spend a night or two next time.
Getting to the Tutukaka Coast
From Auckland head north to Whangarei (two hours) and then along the coast (you’ll see the signs). There are a couple of beaches and viewpoints to see along the way and you should also stop in Whangarei to see the waterfall (it’s right in town). It’ll take two to three hours from Auckland to Matapouri, and if you’re continuing north to Paihia (Bay of Islands) it’ll take another hour.
What is your favourite Beach in New Zealand? Let me know in the comments below!