Gated Beaches of Northland

Tapuaetahi BeachBeach 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.

Gate on road to Tapuaetahi Beach

Gate on road to Tapuaetahi Beach

Tapuaetahi Beach access sign

Tapuaetahi Beach access sign

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.

Road towards Taronui Beach

Road towards Taronui Beach

Taronui Bay access signage

Taronui Bay access signage

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.

Taronui Bay with Tapuaetahi Beach beyond

Taronui Bay with Tapuaetahi Beach beyond

Taronui Bay

Taronui Bay with Tapuaetahi beyond

Taronui Bay signage

Taronui Bay – where the signage is facing the beach because that is where you arrive from

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.

Picnic at Tapuaetahi Beach

Picnic at Tapuaetahi 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.

Tapuaetahi Beach

Tapuaetahi Beach with the Taronui Beach lagoon above Wyn’s head

Tapuaetahi estuary

Tapuaetahi estuary at low tide

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.

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31 Responses to Gated Beaches of Northland

  1. Jan says:

    That was an interesting read. I can’t help thinking that the closed off beach was where once Dad and Bernice stayed, they had rented a holiday house there with a view to buying it. It was a gated community then ( although not such a flash gate ) Mike and I went up for the weekend and joined them. we thought it was a beautiful location.

    • Ross says:

      Wow it is a small world methinks. Or a small country? Somehow Pauanui seemed like them and I can’t quite imagine them at Tapuaetahi. Beautiful location all right.

  2. gay dornbusch says:

    What a beautiful beach and so different from our black sand down here. I sort of thought the beaches belong to nobody tho i wonder if the iwi did get to have the foreshore. Seems very elitist to hog all that gorgeous beach and not share it 😞

    • Ross says:

      I think the beaches are still everybody’s, at least from the high tide point. It seems to be mainly the beach access which is the issue. If access is over non-public roads then there is an opportunity to limit access. I do wonder about the legal status of the road to this beach though, as to whether it was always private.

  3. Alaine Lloyd says:

    I remember frequently going there in the 60’s and 70’s, it was a private access road back then too but the gate was seldom locked. There was an honestly box that we put a few coins in from time to time but mostly people just came and went as they pleased. How times change 🙁

    • Ross says:

      Thanks Alaine, you’ve explained a lot. I gather it has a good break for the surfers too. I’m sure the owners are within their rights to lock the road permanently but it is a shame; there don’t seem to be a lot of ocean beaches along there. And I’m sure the beach itself is public. I wonder what our tolerance would be for paying to cross private land to get to a public beach?

  4. Mieke says:

    Just came upon your blog, thought I would add the recent historic perspective.
    The road access and fore shore land at this lovely beach is in the ownership of local Maori.
    For the last 40 years or so the local tribe has leased the land at Tapuaetahi Beach to those who can afford to own a Bach at this beach.With the increase in lease fees, now only the very wealthy can afford to own a house here.
    The land is managed on behalf of local Maori through a corporation.
    It now provides some $ 700,000.00 to the land owners.
    Access to the beach used to be open to the public, and it was a favourite beach for Kerikeri and visitors. However, in response to increased burglaries and break ins, the Bach owners, most of whom were absent most of the year, asked for the access to be privatised.
    After a long meeting at the marae, and despite massive local opposition,this request was granted, and the result is even less access to the beach in the Bay of Islands.
    The walking track you describe was the response by local council, but the walk is too long for anyone with littlies and a picnic basket, looking for a safe beach.
    I agree it is very sad that this situation is allowed to exist.
    In defence of local Maori, when this beach was open to the public, they asked council years ago to provide some services, roads maintenance, and a public toilet.
    Council declined, as this was Maori land. A great opportunity lost!
    Pity one can’ turn back the clock!

    • Ross says:

      Thanks for the interesting information Murray. It adds a lot.

      • margaret keightley says:

        my dad managed the farm for the hewets duringthe war and how we loved living so close to the sea at taronui bay so many happy memories.the road was opened in those days so we had lots of visitors.as we are all in our 80,s now and would love to see the place but the walking would be too much for us all but the walk around to the lagoon would be fine. is there a contact number that would get in touch to explain this . thanks

        • Ross says:

          It must be strange Margaret to not be able to visit somewhere that is an important part of your life. Wyn is in the same situation – she started her life living at the town at Lake Alice hospital and that’s all private land now too. She can’t go back there or show me where she used to live and play. it is a sad thing.
          If you have a look at the second photo on the blog post you commented on, there is a phone number and an email address and a postal address as well. Those should give you a way of getting in touch with the owners. Hopefully they might be willing to help you.

  5. francis lee nee driver says:

    As a family we had a bach there for 30 years starting back in the late 60’s and it is such a shame that our grandchildren will probably never be able to go and have a look at the place that holds such great memories and stories for us.

    • Ross says:

      Yes, I can understand that. I wonder if the owners would be sympathetic to an approach? Have a look at my answer to the comment above, with the pointer to contact details. There’s no harm in asking and you never know.

  6. mikel f van buskirk says:

    I know the sign says ‘walking track only’ but I also see no sign showing a bicycle being banned from that track. May I ask if bicycles are allowed on that track?

    thanks a ton…..cheers, Mikel

    • Ross says:

      Sorry Mikel that I lost sight of your comment. I don’t know if bikes are allowed on the track and you’d need to ask the Department of Conservation if you are still wanting to know.

  7. Pennie Nelson says:

    There are no toilets or utilities rubbish bins, at the beach so it cannot accomodate mass public visits. It also as previously stated costs an absloute fortune to have a house there… and people pay for the privacy seclusion. It truely is a magicaly gorgeous placevwith crystal clear calm waters and reefs. A real gem of a spot.

    • Ross says:

      Thanks for your comments Pennie. I would say that there are lots of beaches that have public access that don’t have toilets or rubbish bins e.g. Cathedral Cove on the Coromandel.

  8. John says:

    My father was County Clerk in Taupo from 1959 – 1981, and not blocking beach access was one of the major things he worked on during that time. There was a “Compass” documentary on TV explaining the dangers of allowing any shore-front landowner to fence or otherwise block the beach to the public. Fortunately, then Prime Minister Muldoon’s government agreed with it after many, many wearisome and often aggressive meetings , and it became law. Most people today don’t know what went on, or was going to happen, but landowners’ exclusive rights to public beaches was almost a done deal until the County Council proposed this legislation. Sad to see it’s happening in other parts of NZ.

  9. Greg Parman says:

    My daughter and I planned to visit that beautiful town and had no idea that the road was gated. Such a disappointment, however, I was the Road Maintenance Director in Elfin Forest(San Diego County) which is unincorporated so I understand. I tried to get our road gated but multiple pending lawsuits squashed my quest. We have a fully self-contained camper van and would love to experience the beauty and culture. My preference would be to stay with a Maori family. I’d much rather contribute to your community instead of campgrounds. All we’d need is a driveway. It’s our first trip since Paetyn’s mother passed away and out of all the places in New Zealand Paety chose your little slice of paradise. Please consider, any help gaining access would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    • Ross says:

      Hi Greg,
      Sorry for my belated reply. Maybe you’re already in New Zealand by now? I couldn’t have been of any use in getting access to this particular slice of paradise in any case. Good luck with your travels.

  10. Gwenellie says:

    Interesting all these comments about Tapuaetahi / Taronui Beach.
    I live there and I can tell you the land has always been in Maori ownership and has never been a public beach. So not sure why the public feel they have been denied access or have this God given right to access anywhere they like. As for the elite and wealthy living there, you need to get your facts correct. A lot of those who reside here are not rich and wealthy. They have worked hard or are still working and the price of properties do vary but admittedly as in the rest of NZ the prices have increased with demand. The Incorporation is a business and the leases are set in that context. Some residents do rent their homes out over the summer so if you wish to access the bay, you have an opportunity.
    One of the issues the residents have are surfers who feel aggrieved about access. The residents get somewhat peeved when not only do the surfers gain access to the beach but then decide to walk through peoples properties because they are too lazy to paddle out from the beach. At times 30 surfers walked through one property. How would you like them walking through your property at any time it suited them and then have abuse hurled at you, come on people!! This is why surfers especially have been denied access to a lot of private properties. Because, of their arrogance and disrespect. It is they who have a sense of entitlement.
    Whenever there is an influx of public who happen to gain access to the beach, there is rubbish discarded, not only on the beach but thrown out car windows as they leave. The use of the beach/sand dunes as a toilet. Unruly behaviour. The tail-gaters who follow residents in and then think it is open for abuse.
    The farm is a working “farm” and in the recent years there has been huge changes to health and safety regulations. The residents have an easement over the road access to their properties but doesn’t include free range over the farm.
    The comment from the people who had to walk the Taronui track because they could not drive down through the farm, you were gaining access to Taronui Beach / The Lagoon. It doesn’t mean you ford the estuary to gain access to Tapuaetahi Beach. That is not what the track is for.
    So in summary, maybe the public have to stop throwing their toys out of the cot and exerting their “sense of entitlement”. Anyone can purchase a property at Tapuaetahi if one is for sale and then pay the lease. Your choice!!

    • Ross says:

      Thanks for your comments. You are right, we Kiwis do feel a sense of entitlement towards our beaches. Whether that’s right or wrong is obviously a matter of opinion, but our general access to our beaches and waterways is one of the things that makes us different, and lucky. I appreciate your point of view.

      • roger evans says:

        it was public, by the grace of the Te Tii Tapuaetahi Incorporation. I rented a house there in the 1980s, and it was a lovely place, open to all. Then after I left, the lessees of the holiday baches got together and shut everyone else out. I understand that it was the disrespect of some that ended up with it being closed for all, but the solution need not have been so draconian and so selfish. Maori were willing to share, but in the end the lesssees were not, and put the pressure on and got their way
        It was disappointing as a Northland resident to see the changes that took place. In the space of ten years the coast went from being a place where all were welcome,, to a place of locked gates and electronic keypads and Keep Out signs. When the money came in, the public lost out.
        As to “using the track then crossing the estuary to Tapuaetahi” what sort of invisible gate bars entry from one to the other? Only the gate of selfishness, possessiveness and attitude. Maori always welcomed people to use the beach. The lessees control their leased plots, not the whole property. Tapuaetahi has, sadly , gone from being a shared place to a place of hostility and exclusivism. Not the Northland I once knew at all

        • Ross says:

          It does seem like a coastline that is not easy to get access to. I struggle to think of any other part of the NZ coast that is so locked away.

  11. Angela Payton says:

    We have recently moved to Kerikeri (coming from further North) and we are extremely disappointed with the lack of access to beaches around the area. Sad that the council hadn’t secured a site for public use earlier as this would have been an asset for the entire area (poor foresight I say!!)

    • Ross says:

      Thanks for your comments Angela. The lack of public access to beaches in the area is certainly something that struck us when we visited at various times.

  12. roger evans says:

    Read this with interest. I used to live at Tapauetahi, rented a house there before the hoi polloi got shut out.
    Taronui is interesting.The access road to it is actually a Department of Conservation owned roadway, in public ownership and under DoC management.Yet the Department intransigently refuses to open this up for public vehicle access, citing minor deviations from the legal alignment (which could be corrected) and management issues (which could be resolved). Adjoining landowners who use the road for access have been allowed to install an electronic gate: they can use a publicly owned roadway that the rest of us are shut out of. The Taronui access is public land, but the public are virtually shut out of it.
    A local resident has been campaigning for improved access, but without success. Here is the link for those interested
    https://www.change.org/p/department-of-conservation-support-a-campaign-to-gain-better-access-to-our-coastline/u/25844597?cs_tk=AjU4LO1AM_dpONwyZF4AAXicyyvNyQEABF8BvEJ8_7dMDO4joWED0gFUO_Y%3D&utm_campaign=d77ac2cd8b2a464a85590618d505c324&utm_content=initial_v0_3_0&utm_medium=email&utm_source=petition_update&utm_term=cs

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