When you’re craving a dose of vitamin sea, look no further than the Karikari Peninsula, home to some of New Zealand’s most beautiful white-sand beaches.
Sailing past the area in 1769 on his ship the Endeavour, Captain Cook noted in his diary that it was ‘doubtless a bay’ and you can’t argue with that logic! Not the most exciting way for a bay to get its name though, not when compared to other, more thought provoking monikers such as Shipwreck Bay or Cannibal Bay, but I guess everyone has an off day ☺
One thing that’s not in doubt though – with beaches stretching from Hihi in the south to Knuckle Point at the northern end – Doubtless Bay is seriously stunning.
At the top end of Doubtless Bay lies the equally stunning Karikari Peninsula, which curves around from the tip Doubtless Bay into Rangaunu Bay on the far side. Ringed by a series of exquisite beaches, some made of dazzling pure silica sand, the peninsula is home to some of the most beautiful beaches, bays and coves in New Zealand.
Maitai Bay & Waikato Bay
Arguably the jewel in the crown of the whole area, Maitai Bay sits near the top of the peninsula and forms a breathtaking double crescent with its twin, Waikato Bay. Separated by a Pohutakawa clad headland, these two bays often feature in the top 10 beaches of NZ and it’s not hard to see why.
We have spent many days here swimming and snorkelling in the crystal clear waters, and many nights at the DoC campground that sits adjacent to Maitai Bay.
Spread over two levels, with the upper level best for sea views, it’s one of DoCs most popular camps and gets really busy over the summer school holidays. Outside of the silly season though, it’s much quieter and a really beautiful and peaceful spot to relax.
It’s well worth a walk out to the far end of Waikato Bay, where there’s heaps of large boulders strewn across the beach and into the sea, just as if they were thrown there long ago by a giant from the hills behind.
To really appreciate the beauty of these bays though, you need to get up above them. The best way to do this is to trek out along the Headland track, which starts from the upper camp, winding its way through stands of Manuka and Kanuka until it reaches the end of the headland, with stunning views back across the bays. It’s about 1.5 hours return and well worth the effort.
On the opposite shores from Maitai Bay, and only a few minutes’ drive away, are the blindingly white sands of Karikari Bay. The silica sands squeak as you walk on them and are so white that you really do need to wear shades on a sunny day or you’ll be literally blinded.
The beach here stretches for miles to the south, where it stops at Mt. Puheke – one of only a few volcanoes in the Far North – before continuing on until it finally ends at the headland at Motutara Bay. If you head north from the carpark at Karikari Bay, the beach ends in a series of small rocky outcrops surrounded by turquoise waters and it’s a great spot for a swim.
Heading back down the peninsula from Maitai and Karikari Bays you pass through the small settlement of Whatuwhiwhi where it’s not uncommon to see the locals riding around the streets on horseback. There’s a general store here which is a good place to pick up supplies as well as a fish and chip shop. If you’re looking for a good paid campground then the Top 10 here is a great place to stay and it’s just across the road from Parekerake Beach.
There are so many spectacular beaches up this way that we often overlook Tokerau Beach as it’s not quite as stunning as the others, but it’s a great safe beach for kids and is really popular for families. It’s a huge beach, stretching from Whatuwhiwhi all the way round to the base of the peninsula. The NZMCA now have a park here for their members and there’s a great freedom camping spot at the southern end of the beach at Ramp Road, as well as a commercial campground in the beach settlement.
Just behind the Ramp Road freedom camp and hidden in the dunes is Lake Rotopokaka – also known as Coca Cola Lake due to the water having been dyed brown by tannins. The dark waters get nice and warm in summer so it’s a great spot for a swim.
Rangiputa – one of our most favourite places in NZ, we’ve definitely saved the best until last. I probably should keep this one quiet as it’s still not that well known and is often nice and peaceful, but it’s hard not to want to share such an awesome place too.
It’s about a 10 minute drive from the main peninsula road, turn off just past Lake Waiporohita onto Rangiputa Road and keep going until you hit the beach! There’s a boat ramp here where you can launch into the harbour, and a beautiful tree lined street which separates the beach from the houses and baches behind.
If you carry on to the end of the street and then onto the track at the end it will lead you around the headland to a little piece of paradise. Freedom camping is allowed here although you won’t find it on any app and it has to be one of the most beautiful, breathtaking spots you could ever stay in. The sea is every kind of turquoise and the beach is made of pure white sand. Facing east, it’s the perfect place to sit with a drink and watch the sun set over the ocean.
There’s plenty of beach to walk on here, and at low tide it’s possible to get around the rocks and discover some hidden bays. We went snorkelling around one rocky outcrop and found an incredible octopus’s garden, full of the 8 legged sea creatures wandering around or hiding under rocks waiting for prey. There were fish everywhere too as well as a few passing stingray – what a really magical place.