Beach access is an issue all around New Zealand (and everywhere else I suppose). We do seem to feel that access to our sea shores is a right. We like to go to the beach and we don’t like being told we are not allowed. Access is blocked off up and down the country and the instances are growing and Northland does seem to be a particular case. Northland has some stunning beaches and getting to some is getting more difficult. The Bay of Islands is a lovely bay but is more like a harbour for many of it’s beaches. The ocean beaches to the north are some where access is being limited or stopped. A NZ Herald article from 2011 gives some of the picture which doesn’t seem to have changed much since.
We’d heard a bit about the scenic delights of Tapuaetahi Beach in particular and it was one of our initial reasons for going north. While we were in Kerikeri we set off to see if we could visit.
The short answer was “No”. The signs made that very clear. There was a phone number which we rang to explain our hopes to see the bay and that we were prepared to walk. The answer remained short and “No”. While I was photographing the signage a nice man came along to have a discussion and we explained the reasons we wanted to visit and that we were happy to walk and he explained that we couldn’t. It was all very polite and respectful and ultimately sad.
Because it really was one of our reasons for being in the area we did have some good maps and we realised that we could get to the beach via access to the next beach to the north – Taronui. Access to this one was also limited but there was a DoC sign and foot access was permitted. There was a good road towards this one and an unlocked gate but the signage made it very clear that access was only on foot.
Because the road was marked on our road atlas I hadn’t realised that the walking started almost as soon as we left the main road. We hadn’t left a lot of the day for our expedition and it wasn’t the brightest of days any more by the time we set off. But we were fairly determined to find our destination. Most of the walk was on a good road before the last part descended through some scrubby bush to Taronui Bay.
When the tide is out a rocky reef makes Taronui Bay into a complete lagoon. On a nice day it must be an extraordinary sight and experience. We did know about the tides and that we needed a low tide to cross the estuary to Tapuaetahi and we had timed it right so it was a shallow paddle across to the beach.
With the road to the beach being blocked, we were not sure whether we were allowed or welcome beyond the beach when we got there. So we had our picnic on the shore before retracing our steps along the beach and across the estuary and around the next beach and up through the bush and along the track and then along the road back to our car.
We were pleased to have seen the beach we came to see. And we didn’t mind the exercise to get there and back. But it was all a bit of a strange sort of outing. The gated beach and community is an interesting concept as is 7kms of walking to get there and back. I do wonder about the road status as it is marked on maps as if it was a public road and yet they are locked. There may have been a question as to the willingness of the local council to fund road maintenance. And there is the question of who would be responsible for providing facilities like toilets. And it might concern some residents to have to deal with so many people wanting to access and share their beach. And some beach users are hopeless, taking dogs on beaches where dogs are prohibited to protect endangered dotterels. And there’s the rubbish …..
But if the only way to solve all these issues is to lock up the community and the beach then it might be that we have lost the plot. Gated communities in cities are bad enough. But gated beaches seems like a step too far.