Lessons Learned on 90 Mile Beach
While traveling (especially in a campervan) each day is an adventure, and each adventure is jam packed with new experiences. The days no longer blend together and each is a collection of distinct memories. Some memories are more noteworthy than others but the very best (or maybe unforgettable) ones combine excitement, novelty, hospitality, and of course, a little (or a lot) of stupidity!
On this particular day that we will likely never forget, Chris and I were making our way down the west coast after spending a beautiful morning in Cape Reinga (the northern tip of the country). We wanted to cover a good amount of land on this particular day so we passed up the chance at sand dune sledding early on in the adventure and put the pedal to the metal southbound.
One attraction that we had heard about many times was 90 Mile Beach. Whether it be in an itinerary suggested from friends or the insurance agreement that we went over at the Escape office, we had heard the name a time or two before.
Now, I know what you are thinking… Why is it called 90 Mile Beach if New Zealand uses the metric system?
(Don’t worry- i know you weren’t actually thinking that since Americans never think about the metric system unless they are wondering how many miles are in a 5k… even though its a much more sensible option of measurement)
The answer is that we have no idea, but we do know that it’s not 90 miles, but 90 kilometers in length. We will do more research when we have time. (But probably not)
That being said, IT IS 90 KILOMETERS… 56.25 MILES (you’re welcome) of vast, open beach. You can look as far north and south on the coast and the beach is never ending. What is most remarkable about the area is that there is not a Tommy Bahama umbrella stuck in the sand- or chair for that matter. Only in New Zealand will you find over 50 miles of beautiful beach with not one single building or infrastructure in sight. There are also only a few access points to the beach from the highway and they are well off the beaten path (we’ll get to more of that later). The beach is practically deserted at all times.
Driving a van on it!
The sand is compact and the space between where the sand dunes end and ocean begins are so far apart that driving on 90 Mile Beach is no problem. It had been suggested that we even drive down the coast along the beach as long as our vehicle could handle it.
So when we saw signs for 90 Mile Beach, we jumped at the chance to pay it a visit. The first unforeseen obstacle of the journey was about 15 km of gravel road. It may seem trivial, but it was made very clear that our insurance did not cover issues that occur on gravel road and let me tell you, the gravel road in New Zealand is no joke. Of course it was my day to drive and I held my breath the entire 15 km as we moved at about a 10km per hour pace. There were at least 5 different occasions when we seriously considered turning around since it appeared that we were on a gravel road leading to no where but we kept marching forward (at a snails pace).
After about an hour, we finally made it to the beach! As described before, it was a remarkable scene and such a relief to have survived the Gravel Road of Doom. We took some pictures and drove around the sand taking advantage of this once in a lifetime chance to drive around a beautiful and vacant beach.
Once the novelty wore off and we reminded ourselves of the distance that needed to be covered that day, we were faced with a complex dilemma…
Do we go back out the way we came and risk the 15 km Gravel Road of Doom (which also took about an hour)? OR do we drive 25 km down the beach on the ocean coast line to the next road access point like badasses?
Well, I assume you can guess which option we picked. Neither gravel or beach was covered by insurance so we had set ourselves up for success either way.
And so the decision was made, and we started the 25 km drive down the west coast… on the actual coastline… how cool?
To our left sand and to our right the Tasman Sea. It was my day to drive and I would like to be able to say that I cruised down the coast as “cool as the other side of the pillow” but this was far from the case. The only thing that got us to the other end without me spazzing and driving into the water or sand dunes (both of which would have been devastating) was Chris coaching me through it and keeping me calm. He handles these situations much better than myself.
But alas, after about 45 minutes of coastline cruising, we made it to the only other access point from the road to the beach. As we pulled up, we could see a couple of four wheelers driving along the beach as well as a car being towed out of the sand by a heavy duty four wheel drive vehicle.
The entry point at the south end of the beach was made up of loose sand rather than the hard compact sand we had been driving on. Of course there was no one there to tell us this when we started the drive! It was pretty obvious that our van was not going to be able to make it out to the road but we were going to try anyway. Chris switched to the driver seat and we made our attempt out of the sand. Within three feet, we were stuck. Really stuck. The sand was so deep the wheels were covered and the wheels could only spin in place when pressure was added to the gas.
Adrenaline at its peak, I ran over to the vehicle that had just helped the small car to freedom. It was a local Kiwi with his family going four wheeling. I almost didn’t even have to ask for help. As I approached, he handed me a rope and told me he would be right over.
What are the chances that at the exact moment we are in a bind on a deserted beach, there is a man with a front powered tow to get us out of this pickle?!
Within 15 minutes, we were out of the sand and on stable ground. We tried to give the man and his family money but his only concern was that we have a good time in his country. This was one of many times that we were in awe of the Kiwi culture. Their only concern is that you love and appreciate their country as much as they do. Even in one of our lowest moments of stupidity (not the lowest though, we will get to that incident later) we were treated with overwhelming kindness. The hospitality of a Kiwi is like no other.
Apparently many tourists fall into the same trap on 90 Mile Beach which is probably why it is specifically forbidden from riding on in our van agreement. In our defense, we did not read about this detail until after the incident. All in all, we learned a lot of lessons that day and the most important ones had nothing to do with staying off of “forbidden” roads.
Here’s a cool panorama of 90 Mile Beach: