The magic of Muriwai on Northland’s western coast is full of fun and will leave you fortified with its cliff tops, rolling black sands and gannet colony. This is classic New Zealand and a place you want to visit.
Muriwai means ‘water’s end’ or ‘backwater’ in Maori and used to be known as Motutara, translating as ‘island of seabirds’. Motutara is perhaps a more suitable name for the black Northland beach, because its most prestigious and impressive feature is Gannet Rock; a rock identified as an important bird area by BirdLife International.
Your first and most memorable experience of Gannet Rock will be its smell. Be prepared for a pungent stench of rotting fish scouring the air. The wind is also a powerful proponent of Gannet Rock and this is precisely why it is home to these feathered acrobats. Each year, from August to March about 1,200 pairs of gannets gather to nest and prepare their chicks for the flight across the Tasman Sea to Australia.
A viewing platform right above the main colony area provides the perfect place for you to be hypnotized by the gannets’ comings and goings. Deftly they navigate the onshore updrafts, gracefully gliding back into their nests which are just a few centimeters apart. If they misjudge their landing, they will receive a sharp poke from a not-so-friendly-neighbour.
Gannet parents lay one egg, taking it in turns to look after the nest. The chicks hatch naked but a fluffy down appears within a week. As they develop, Gannet Rock is their playground and training center. They need to strengthen their wings in preparation for that daunting ‘do or die’ moment when they must take the leap and jump off the cliff.
Muriwai beach is impressive. A wide, wild, raw open space that will make you want to run, arms wide embracing the dancing elements. With its distinctive silty black sands, it expands 60 kilometres to the north unmarked by human hand; a thick line of black sand marks the passage between the rolling sandhills and the striking surf.
Energised by its rugged beauty I walked northwards for two hours, the wind at my back encouraging me on. But turning round was hard work, I had underestimated the strength of the wind until I was walking into it and even though it was a warm day, the air had a bite of chill reminding you of the fierce nature of this western coast.
Muriwai’s black sand is caused by the iron content drawn from the ancient volcanoes that once populated the area. The rocks here are spectacular with older volcanic material rippling in layers and concretions written like ancient messages in the cliff walls. Adding to the sculptural symphony is a blowhole that frequently exhales and a grotto that at low tide reveals all sorts of sea creatures.
Walking south will take you up and over Gannet Rock into Maori Bay, also called Maukatia. This was the beach I was drawn to. It is a lovely spot, protected from the winds; a sunny haven to sunbathe, and less popular than Muriwai Beach it is calmer and quieter. Here it is possible to hang glide and paraglide.
The Regional Park that sits behind Muriwai Beach has much to offer including a golf course along Coast Road. The area north of Okiritoto Stream is named after its approximate length and is called ‘Five Mile Strip’ or ‘Five Mile’. This provides trails for both horse riders and walkers. There is also a horse park south of Okiritoto Stream and you can find a 4WD access onto the beach here.
Since Muriwai Beach is only one hour’s drive from Auckland, on warm days it can be busy. Kitesurfing and surfing are popular here and Muriwai Surf School (muriwaisurfschool.co.nz.) are well known for their fun and informative lessons.
Camping at Muriwai
One of my favorite aspects of Muriwai Beach was the campground. It is family run and the team is warm and friendly. The facilities are good and always clean with hot showers and a kitchen that had a kindly, communal atmosphere. It became a home away from home and I stayed there three times over two months. It is right next to the beach with giant Pohutukawa and fir trees presiding over the land. We nested our tent under a Pohutukawa tree closest to the beach and it was a wonderful spot providing shade from the hot mid-day sun.
One morning I stumbled across a yoga class only a ten minute walk from the campground. It started to pour with rain so I took refuge underneath The Surf Club. This is where Kama Brown gives her yoga classes, in the Sacred Yoga Space. Kama imbues her classes with an in-depth knowledge of Iyengar yoga which was refreshing and provided an array of new yoga postures to challenge and enrich my yoga practice. Email her for more information and to find out the class schedule at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The best part of camping so close to Muriwai Beach is the sunsets. They are spectacular. You are engulfed by sunset splendour; Venus a bright, bold beacon blazing through the colour.
Sun Dunz Beach Cafe is just a ten minute walk from the campground and does delicious milkshakes and meals, takeaway or eat in. It is always a popular place to hang out.
Tanglewood is just outside of Waimauku township and is a place to relax, contemplate, and create. Family run, it is all smiles and lots of fun with environmental sustainability at its heart. With fantastic yoga classes, music nights, and much more, it is definitely worth popping in.
Muriwai beach is action packed, so take your pick and get stuck in…
- Yoga with Kama Brown at The Surf Club, Muriwai
- Surfing is the main source of entertainment at Maukatia (Maori Bay) and Muriwai Beach
- Paragliding and hang gliding are also popular pastimes at Maukatia especially when there is a prevailing southwesterly wind
- Fishing, although popular, can be dangerous in certain places
- The ‘Hilary Trail’ traverses through Muriwai and boardwalks encourage bushwalking
- Going south you can also drive the beach and there even signs regulating speed
- Muriwai Surf School hire surfboards and give surfing tuition. Sand yachts are also available
- Mountain bike trails go up into the pines and the road is mainly downhill
- Horse ride along the extensive tracks behind the sand dunes