If we’re honest, this track isn’t exactly a must-do in the overall scheme of things, particularly if you’re visiting Northland on a tight schedule. However, if you’re visiting nearby Kai Iwi Lakes (and you really, really should) then you might want to consider this short, easy walk. Your efforts will be rewarded with a little surprise.
Note: This article refers to the original Department of Conservation track which was closed in June 2021 due to concerns around safety. Since then, thanks to the efforts of Herenga ā Nuku Aotearoa (The Outdoor Access Commission) along with the Whangarei Tramping Club, a new track has been established. This new track is on private land so when visiting, stick to the marked route and follow all the rules on the signage that’s provided.
Like most who camp at Kai Iwi Lakes, we were there to enjoy the crystal clear water. We stayed overnight at Pine Beach campground and in the morning were treated to some of the glassiest mirror smooth water we’ve ever seen. Naturally we had to explore the lake on our stand up paddleboards.
As is often the case, the wind started to pickup mid-morning so we figured it was the perfect time to go for a walk. We’d read about the coastal track which heads across farmland from the lakes towards Ripiro Beach and were intrigued. Was this walk any good?
The best way to get to the start of this track is to follow the signs towards Kai Iwi Lakes. Kai Iwi Lakes is just under 3 hours drive north of Auckland and only 35 minutes north of Dargaville. Heading north from Dargaville along Highway 12, after 24 km, look for signs marked Omamari and Kai Iwi Lakes. Turn left into Omamari Road and then, after 8 km, follow the road right into Kai Iwi Lakes Road.
As you approach Taharoa Domain you’ll see a large blue sign and a turn-off to the right. This road takes you to Pine Beach Campground which is the main camping area in the domain. To get to the start of the coastal track, instead of turning right to Pine Beach, continue straight until you see signs for Promenade Point Campground. It’s best to park here in the area designated for day visitors.
From the parking, head back up towards the toilet block next to the main road. From here you’ll need to walk another 700m along the road to the start of the track which is clearly signposted on the left hand side.
Once you reach the usual green and yellow DOC board that marks the start of the track you’ll climb over a fence into a farmer’s field. It’s worth noting that this is a working farm so you may well encounter livestock. We came across some cows on our walk but they simply looked at us warily before disappearing over the hill in a mini stampede.
The start of the track isn’t particularly distinct but there are a few poles and orange DOC markers that lead the way. For the most part you’ll simply follow the fenceline towards the sea, crossing over occasionally using fence stiles.
This isn’t a strenuous walk by any means and apart from one steep set of stairs to climb there’s nothing especially challenging. By the looks of things it can get a little boggy and potholed in places thanks to the cows but it was all pretty dry when we walked.
After the short step workout, the track descends gently to a final fence and gate that overlooks the sea. From here the track is more distinct as it makes its way through a small grove of pōhutukawa trees before depositing you onto a lookout above Ripiro beach.
What you see will of course depend on the tide, but when we walked, the tide was out so we were greeted with a wide sandy beach. There are steps that will take you down onto the beach and from here you can walk as far as the tide will allow.
Looking south, the beach disappears off into the hazy distance and to the north you’ll see the imposing outline of Maunganui Bluff. Apart from two cars that drove past in the space of an hour, we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves, and since we were in no hurry, we wondered a little way up the coast, admiring the colourful sandstone cliffs. And here’s a fun fact for you. Ripiro is actually New Zealand’s longest drivable beach, longer in fact than more famous 90 Mile Beach.
Interestingly, just north of where the track reaches the beach there’s an unusual section of what looks like stratified lignite that shows evidence of the ancient forests that must have once lined this coastline.
Then of course there’s the little surprise we mentioned at the start – a refreshing natural shower, perfect for cooling off in the heat of the day or rinsing off if you decide to swim in the sea.
Overall we thoroughly enjoyed walking the Kai Iwi Lakes Coastal Track. Ripiro Beach feels remote and untouched and, along with the lakes themselves, we think this a place worth visiting as you unhurriedly explore the west coast.
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