New Zealand’s East Coast and West Coast beaches can feel worlds apart. The rugged beauty of the west coast’s iron-rich black sand lies in stark contrast to the east coast’s more tropical feel, with eye-wateringly white beaches like Rarawa supposedly having some of the world’s purest silica sand. At times, it’s easy to forget that in you’re in the same country, such is the diverse natural beauty of New Zealand’s coastline.
But every now and again, as we explore, we discover unexpected similarities such as Pancake Rocks. Now we know what some of you may be thinking, Punakaiki, been there and seen those, but did you know that the North Island has it’s own version of Pancake Rocks. Not quite as spectacular we’ll admit, but still well worth a visit if you’re in the Waipu area.
Waipu Cove is a small seaside town about 115 km north of Auckland. In summer, families flock to this popular holiday destination to swim in the azure water and enjoy the white sand beach which stretches north to the mouth of the Waipu River and beyond in a long crescent, all the way to the mouth of Whangarei Harbour some 20 km away. While most visitors spend all their time lazing on the beach, many overlook the beautiful coastline just to the south with its local ‘secret’.
Fortunately, for those of us who like to explore, this stretch of coast is accessible thanks to the local Lions Club who developed the Waipu Coastal Trail. There are two parts to this trail, the first is a 2 km track from Waipu Beach to the main road at Waterman Drive. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous and don’t mind some rockhopping, there’s another 900m section that continues on to Dingle Bay at the northern end of Langs Beach, but keep an eye on high tide unless you don’t mind getting wet.
Waipu Pancake Rocks
If you don’t have time to walk the full trail you can just walk to the pancake rocks and back again, starting at Waipu Cove where there is parking, toilets and cafes. Bear in mind that it can get pretty busy on summer weekends so you may want to pick your timing to avoid the crowds, earlier obviously being better.
To find the start of the track you’ll need to cross the small stream at the southern end of Waipu beach. If you’ve timed it right you should be able to simply hop across, but if the tide is in you may be giving your toes a little rinse before you even start. Once over the stream, you can either head left up the small hill, the site of a Māori pā (defensive settlement), and enjoy views of the beach stretching north, or you can simply head right along the coast.
The track itself, while easy to find and well marked (thank you Waipu Lions), is not as popular and well worn as others and on the day we were there it was a little wet and slippery in places so you’ll want to watch your footing – a little difficult we’ll admit as you admire the views of Whangarei Heads to your north, the Hen and Chicken Islands to the east and the amazing azure water below you.
After about 20 minutes, the track reaches a small grove of clifftop Pōhutukawa trees, some of which appear to be growing out of the rocks themselves, and you’ll start to see the layers that give these rocks their name.
Unlike Punakaiki’s rocks which you mostly enjoy from a distance, here, if you feel confident enough, you can climb down and inspect the interesting layers, patterns and textures up close.
While we never got to walk the full coastal trail, the section that we did walk left us wanting more and we thoroughly enjoyed clambering around the interesting rock formations. We wouldn’t necessarily call this a must-do, but if you’re in the Mangawhai-Waipu-Whangarei area and looking for something to do on a sunny day, this trail is definitely worth considering.
Looking for more ideas on things to do and places to see when visiting the Northland region? Have a look at our guide, Top things to do in Northland.