Tunnel beach New Zealand is one of the most beautiful short walks in the country: it offers magnificent views of sandstones cliffs carved by the sea, including an arch. Plus you can walk inside a man-carved tunnel to reach a hidden sandy beach! Below is my guide to help you plan your visit and make the best of your time.
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Why visit Tunnel Beach NZ
Tunnel beach in New Zealand South Island was one of my favorite coastal areas in the country (you can see all my favorite landscapes in this article).
If offers gorgeous views all along the walking path with sandstone cliffs, arches, sea stacks and, of course, the ocean 🙂
Plus when you reach the bottom, you can walk inside a man-made tunnel (hence the name) to access a hidden sandy beach at the bottom of the impressive cliffs.
If you are heading to Dunedin, Otago, this is a must-see in South Island!
And if you are not yet convinced, below is a short video of my walk:
You can see many more pictures after the practical information.
Planning tips - Tunnel Beach New Zealand
Where is Tunnel beach Located - Map
Let's start with a simplified map to help you locate the beach:
- Tunnel beach NZ in located on the East coast of South Island
- Just South of Dunedin and its peninsula
- You can find my practical maps with my selection of the best places to see in my eBooks:
Be overwhelm by the beauty, not the planning!
Tunnel beach is included in my eBooks, to help you plan an unforgettable road trip:
- 12 easy-to-plan Maps
- 200 scenic locations in NZ
- Tips to plan + make the most of your time
- 285+ large photos to decide where to go
- GPS coordinates direct to the carparks
How to get to Tunnel beach
- Dunedin to Tunnel beach = 10min drive
- Invercargill to Tunnel beach = 2h30 drive
- Queenstown to Tunnel beach = 3h30 drive
- The easiest solution is to drive there while on a NZ road trip
- Just note that the carpark is not that big, so it gets full on sunny weekends
- And if you have long vehicle you will have difficulties turning around. I have seen people struggling.
- Tunnel beach Bus - There are no bus lines going all the way to the beach, you have have to walk after you stop. You have to take the bus that goes to Saint-Clair Park (closest stop to the beach) - Lines 50 stops in front of the Saint-clair residential center at 235 Middelton Road - timetable
Planning to rent a car in New Zealand? Check out the local company Snap Rentals
I selected it myself and paid my rental in full.
- They were very nice and responsive, they pick you up and drop you off at the airport
- The car I rented was in perfect condition
- In addition, they have all-inclusive insurance packages with AAA roadside assistance, which means I didn't have to worry (I think it's worth the price)
Visiting Tunnel beach Otago - Good to know
- Best time to visit - the most important is to consider the Tunnel beach tides; because if you want to walk on the hidden beach, you have to visit around low tide (best 30min around low point)
- And of course, being on the East Coast, it is best at sunrise
- I would recommend avoiding the place in case of strong wind. There is no protection and those cliffs are dangerous
- The track is quite steep (see next section for difficulty) - plan 20min to the bottom of the walk + 5 min to reach the beach
- There is a portable toilet at the carpark but no other facilities
- There is no shade, so wear protection and bring water (especially for the climb back)
- The path is mostly in great condition but with a little of gravel, therefore it can be slippery
- The track crosses private land, please stay on the path
- It may be closed during lambing season (sometime in Spring)
- As you can see on the next picture at the beginning of the walk, dogs are not allowed on this track
Accommodations near Tunnel Beach
- The closest accommodation is the Tunnel Beach Barnstay - Check out photos and availabilities
- You can also find some great accommodations in Saint Clair with sea views such as Hotel Saint Clair - Check out photos and availabilities
- Otherwise Dunedin is only a 10min drive and has a large choice of accommodations - Check out the best rated ones
Dunedin's Tunnel beach track - difficulty
OK let's talk about the walking track.
First of all, you can't get lost! There is only one path and it is well indicated.
As you can see, the sign indicates 1h return. Considering how steep it is, I agree.
There is this small ladder at the beginning and some steps inside the tunnel (but small ones).
The views are gorgeous as you walk down, which helps because it is very steep.
As you can see in the picture below it is a really well maintained path, nothing tricky on the ankles. But if you have knee problems, i recommend bringing your walking poles for support.
The path all the way to the top of the arch is like what you can see above.
Then if you want to reach the beach, you go through a tunnel (small stairs, easy) and you have a few meters that are complicated walking on big rocks:
Views along the Tunnel beach walkway
Below are a few pictures taken along the Tunnel cliff walkway.
The sea has beautifully carved the sandstone cliffs.
The most fascinating section is the arch. However it may not last... the sea is still eroding it.
Tunnel beach cliffs in photos
As you reach the bottom of the walk and before you enter the tunnel you can walk around and admire the white cliffs.
Be really careful, the cliffs are dangerous especially on a windy day!
Those signs are on a small barrier separating the safe area from the dangerous arch part of the cliff.
They warn of danger but do not say forbidden.
And I must admit that the views from the other side of the barrier are stunning.
But please be really careful, and keep your children close.
Man-made tunnel to the beach -
Then it is time to go through the cliff 🙂
Look back and you will see the hidden entrance to the tunnel.
It has been hand-carved and has around 72 small steps.
It is quite fun and easy to go down. Kids will love it!
The only difficulty is when there are lots of people. You are waiting to get down or up but people keep coming in the opposite direction...
Tunnel beach history
- According to Wikipedia, In the 1870s a local politician John Cargill commissioned the tunnel for his family to use.
- Orginally it was just a slope. They added concrete stairs in 1983 and it opened to the public
- Legends surround this place about children's of Cargill drowning...
Sandy cove at Tunnel Beach, Dunedin
The reward is well worth it!.
The beach has fine sand.And you feel really small at the foot of the cliffs.
I am repeating myself but make sure you are visiting at low tide to be able to walk around the beach.
Plus you will get some nice reflections on the wet sand!
Make sure you explore the beach in order to see:
- The massive boulders fallen from the cliffs
- The shells attached to the cliffs
- The small cave
- And if it is raining, you may see a waterfall
And after that one just has to walk back up. The track is still very steep! So take your time and stop regularly to admire the views.
Can you understand why it is on my list of the best beaches in NZ?
Other things to do in Dunedin
Dunedin is a great place to stay in New Zealand.
- The town itself has a cool vibe with Victorian buildings and lots of nice coffee shops
- You can also head to the peninsula to visit the Larnach Castle, the only one in NZ
- And the region is famous for its wildlife - you can visit the Orokonui sanctuary or admire wild Albatross at the Albatross center or via a cruise.
Want to see more of NEW ZEALAND?
Do you enjoy sandstone cliffs?
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