Giant Sand Dunes – Te Paki Sand Dunes – A Complete Guide

Nestled on the northernmost tip of New Zealand’s North Island lies a landscape that looks straight out of “Dune.” Rising out of the rugged coastal landscape near Cape Reinga sit the mammoth Te Paki Sand Dunes, with towering mounds of golden sand that reach heights up to 490 feet tall. This place feels more at home in the Sahara, than in New Zealand. This alien, Mars-like terrain feels especially strange because you will find it just a short drive from some of the brightest green landscapes in the world.

Visiting the Te Paki Sand Dunes is an unforgettable experience, whether you’re hiking up the sandy slopes, sandboarding down the steep dunes, or just taking in the scenery. But you’ll need to come well prepared – there are no places to sleep nearby and the closest food store is 2 hours drive away. Still, the huge dunes are worth the trip – they are both spectacular and fun. From the best times to visit to the top activities, this guide covers everything you need to know to plan your own adventure amidst the remarkable Te Paki Sand Dunes, one of the most unique things to do in New Zealand.

Visiting Te Paki Sand Dunes (Giant Sand Dunes)

To reach Te Paki Sand Dunes, you’ll need to embark on a road trip adventure. The dunes are located about 6 hours north of Auckland, situated close to the iconic Cape Reinga on New Zealand’s North Island.

Driving is the only way to access the dunes. You’ll take Highway 1 north, then turn off onto a side road about 3.5km to reach the parking area. Be sure to lock your car and only carry essentials, as it’s easy to lose possessions in the windswept sands.

There are no accommodations next to the Sand Dunes.  Your best bet is to stay in a town south.  We stayed in Carrington Estates, and combined our day exploring the Sand Dunes with the nearby 90 mile beach and Cape Reinga Lighthouse. 

When it comes to what to wear for your dune adventure, think layers and protection. The weather can quickly shift from blazing sun to cooler winds, so having jackets and pants you can add or remove is key. Sunglasses are a must to keep sand out of your eyes. Sturdy shoes work well in the soft sand.

Once you arrive, stop by the small rental operation to pick up boogie boards specially made for gliding down the dunes. Then let the fun begin! Hiking up the sandy peaks is a great workout with rewarding views. Come prepared with plenty of water and snacks to keep your energy up. Gliding down the dunes on a sled at top speeds is a thrill, but do be careful of crashes at the bottom. Kids will love playing in the mountains of soft sand as well.

You will find boogie board rental once you arrive in the parking lot to the Sand Dunes.  

Aim to visit the dunes at the optimal times based on weather patterns in the region.

We visited in February, which was perfect, but other good times to sandboard are March through May (fall) and September through November (Spring). 

Getting to the Sand Dunes 

When you drive to the GPS coordinates for the Giant Sand Dunes, you will see a parking lot (where it says Sand Dunes parking on the map).  Drive right past it onto the gravel path, in about 5 minutes you’ll find a much larger parking lot, where everyone parks for access. I think the first parking lot must be an overflow lot, because it does lead to a nice hiking trail which ends in the second parking lot.  

Things To Do Near the Giant Sand Dunes 

The Te Paki Sand Dunes may be the star attraction, but they are surrounded by other incredible sights on New Zealand’s Far North landscape. Nearby Cape Reinga is a pivotal place in Maori culture, believed to be where the spirits of the dead depart on their journey to the afterlife. Witness the churning seas where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean clash in a beautiful yet treacherous meeting of waters.

The iconic Ninety Mile Beach is also in close proximity – though in reality it spans 55 miles along the coastline. You can marvel at the beaches’ vast expanse, though be cautious as vehicles are permitted on certain stretches so keep an eye out.

For an encounter with ancient natural wonders, visit the Waipoua Forest to walk amongst some of the largest and oldest kauri trees in New Zealand. Tāne Mahuta and Te Matua Ngahere are especially massive trees measuring over 150 feet tall. You’ll be humbled standing alongside these 2,000+ year old natural giants. These are a super easy walk from the parking lot, so a great stop if you want the hiking experience without the… well, hiking.  

Weaving visits to Cape Reinga, Ninety Mile Beach, and the Waipoua Forest with your dune adventure makes for an unforgettable trip to experience the many magical corners of New Zealand’s Far North region. From culture to nature, and sweeping ocean vistas to sandy peaks, this area encapsulates diverse landscapes.

Travel Tips for Visiting the Giant Sand Dunes

When preparing for your dune adventures, keep these practical tips in mind:

  • Bring food!  The closest food store is well over 2 hours away.  We stopped by a takeaway place next to our hotel in the morning and bought a packed lunch.  
  • Rent a four wheeler if possible.  The roads getting here are rough, and you’ll be driving on gravel.  A four wheel drive is more comfortable.  
  • Bring tons of water.  You’ll dehydrate quickly while on the sand.  Water in New Zealand is safe to drink so feel free to buy some large bottles and refill them with tap water.  
  • Leave valuables locked in your car – Carry only the essentials when out exploring the dunes to avoid losing items in the winds and sand.  
  • Be especially careful with your cell phone, sand can easily get in and break it. 
  • Use sun protection – The NZ sun can be harsh, especially when reflected off the sand. Wear hats, sunglasses, and apply sunscreen.
  • Visit during daylight – The dunes get dark and cold immediately after sunset. Begin exiting by late afternoon to avoid navigating the sandy terrain in darkness.
  • Check forecasts – Weather conditions can vary widely, from intense sun to strong winds. Check forecasts to be prepared with proper clothing.
  • I would suggest not coming out if it rains, its very exposed and likely to feel miserable in inclement weather.  
  • Care for gear – Rinse off sand after use to keep sleds/boards in good condition for the next adventurer. Return rentals before closing time.
  • Respect nature – Take only photos and memories; help preserve the dunes by sticking to marked paths.

Taking a few sensible precautions will help ensure you have an amazing experience amidst the natural wonder of the Te Paki Sand Dunes. Follow Leave No Trace principles to respect the fragile dune ecosystem.

90 Mile takeaways is the take away place/restaurant closest to the giant sand dunes.  

The closest takeaway shop to the Giant Sand Dunes is “90 Mile Takeaways”

Frequently Asked Questions About Te Paki Sand Dunes

How do I get to the Te Paki Sand Dunes?

The dunes are located about 6 hours drive north of Auckland on New Zealand’s North Island. Take Highway 1 north, then turn off on the signed side road about 3.5km to reach the dune parking area.

Where can I stay near the sand dunes?

Accommodation options close to the dunes are very limited. Most people stay in towns about 40 minutes or more away, such as Kaitaia. Camping is not permitted right at the dunes.

What is there to do at the sand dunes?

Popular activities include hiking up the towering dunes, sandboarding/sledding down the steep slopes, playing in the soft sand, and exploring the unique landscape.

Should I rent a sled for sandboarding?

You can rent boogie board-style sleds specifically made for sandboarding at the rental stand near the dune parking lot. Or bring your own sled if you have one.  If you are looking to save money, there are less expensive places to rent a sandboard as you drive towards Cape Reinga.  

When is the best time to visit the dunes?

The best times with optimal weather and fewer crowds are the shoulder seasons of March-May and September-November. Avoid mid-day heat in the summer, or rain.  

What should I wear and bring?

Pack layers of clothing and sturdy footwear along with sunglasses, sun protection, and plenty of water/food.

Are there age/health restrictions?

The dunes require a decent level of fitness to climb. Those with medical conditions or physical limitations may want to enjoy the dunes from the bottom rather than climbing up. 

How high are the Te Paki sand dunes?

Some of the Te Paki sand dunes can reach heights of up to 490 feet tall. The tallest dunes rise nearly 500 feet into the air.

How long do visitors usually spend at the dunes?

Plan to spend at least 4 hours to hike, play, and sandboard at the dunes. It gets dark quickly after sunset so start heading out well before then.

How were the Sand Dunes Formed?

The sand dunes were formed from grains of sand carried on the winds blowing from the Tasman Sea. The dunes stretch for around 6.2 miles along the coast, bordered by the sea on three sides. 

Where to Stay to Visit Giant Sand Dunes?

There are no hotels close to the Giant Sand Dunes.  We chose to stay in Carrington Estates, which is a good 2 hours south and drive from there.  This is actually the closest hotel we could find.  But since we were able to combine a visit to the Giant Sand Dunes with a visit to Cape Reinga as well as the 90 mile beach, it worked out very well.  The hotel itself is nice enough, and seems to cater more to weddings than to individual travelers.  Still, we found it comfortable and the location (right on the beach) is great.  

Carrington Estates has great breakfast options, important since there is not a lot of food available in the area

It also faces a beautiful beach

The view from our room in Carrington Estates

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