Wharariki beach New Zealand is definitively one of my favorite beaches in the world: giant rock formations reflecting on sand, dunes, caves and seal pups playing in tidal pools... what more would you want? Below is my guide to help you plan your visit to Wharariki beach and its Archway islands.
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Why visit Wharariki beach New Zealand?
Well I believe the 3 photos I have selected in above and below don't need any words to convince you to head to this beautiful beach (that I included in my lists of Top 50 NZ scenery and of Best things to do in South Island). But to confirm what you are seeing:
- It is a large stretch of sand off the beaten path (you really want to go there at the North West tip of South Island)
- There are white sand dunes at the back of the beach
- At low tide, the water creates a reflection surface on the sand
- There are several islets (the Archway islands) with many arches and they reflect on the sand!!!
- You can walk for a long time and explore caves
- At low tide, small pools remain and seal pups play in them together while the adults rest nearby. They are used to humans and you can watch them in awe!!!
It is a fantastic detour to add to your road trip!
The Beach of Wharariki in video
And below is a short video to give you a feel of the walk and the beach. Cuteness alert!!!! you will see the seal pups swimming 🙂
Can you understand why it is #1 on my list of most scenic beaches in NZ?
Many more pictures of Wharariki after the practical tips.
Planning tips - Wharariki beach (Puponga)
Where is Wharariki beach - Map
- South Island
- North West tip, near the Spit (long stretch of sand)
- In the Puponga farm area of th Golden Bay
- West of Abel Tasman National Park
- Collingwood to Wharariki beach - 35min
- Nelson to Wharariki beach - 2h40 drive
- Here is a map to give you a general idea of its location. You can find my detailed practical maps of each region with the best places in my eBook: The Road Trip Guide - New Zealand
How to get to Wharariki beach Golden Bay
- If you don't have a car, you can book a day trip from Nelson - Check out program & book
- Otherwise, you need a rental car to reach Wharariki
- The last 6km to the carpark are unsealed roads in medium condition
- Then you still have to walk 20min to the beach, and 5 to 10min through the dunes
- Wharariki beach with its GPS coordinates and practical tips is included in my eBook:
Best time to visit the beach of Wharariki
The best times to visit Wharariki are:
- At low tide
- At sunrise or sunset (the beach is facing North)
If you can combine both, lucky you !
Otherwise, I recommend choosing the low tide over the sunset.
And I also recommend arriving before the low tide, to have enough time to get stuck admiring the seal pups + walk around and see the reflections of the island
You can check the Wharariki beach tide times here
Wharariki beach Visit Tips
- Price - access to the beach is free
- Toilets at the carpark
- Café at the Holiday park near the carpark
- Access track - I will show you more further in the article but the shortest track is 10min through farmland on a well maintained track, followed by 10min over big sand dunes with vegetation and then 5 to 10min walking through smaller sand dunes on the beach
- I recommend wearing above ankle shoes or to go barefoot, otherwise the sand will enter your shoes.
- Swimming at Wharariki: it is not recommended because of strong currents
- Surfing - There is a consistent swell with peaks for both right and left handers
- Horse riding - Long horse treks can take you to wharariki beach - learn more
Wharariki Beach Accommodation
Drive to the Wharariki beach carpark
To reach the Wharariki Carpark you ave to drive 6km on unpaved road.
The quality of the gravel road is medium but with no technical difficult. Just take your time.
All places to see are well sign-posted with distances.
You will pass the entrance to the Holiday park to reach a carpark dedicated to the beach.
A toilet is available at the carpark.
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 are not at the airport itself, but they come to pick you up and drop you off
- They were very nice and responsive, the car 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)
Wharariki Beach Walk - access track
And then you have to walk...
Wharariki beach walk map
At the carpark you will find a signboard with weather conditions and a map of the trails.
In the picture below you can see the red dot where you have parked.
The most direct trail goes to the East of Wharariki beach.
The indications give you 20min to reach the beach. It is not wrong as I will take you 20 min to reach the edge of the beach. But then you still have to cross small sand dunes to get to the flat land. So plan 30min.
As you can see on the map below, there is also a trail to the West side of the beach around small ponds. The Map indicates 1h for 3km.
Or you can come back this way, walking a loop.
Wharariki beach track difficulty
It is not extremely difficult. But it is not an easy walk either.
The first 10min are through farm land.
You have to walk past a few gates.
The track is easy, but people with very strong vertigo might not enjoy some sections of the path
The next 10 min you walk in the sand with 2 high sand dunes mixed with vegetation.
They have set up some kind of staircase, but it is not really good.
However the views are really pretty:
Wharariki sand dunes
And then you arrive at the beach... and you realise you still have to go through sand dunes to reach the flat area of the beach.
They are not very tall, but personally I have a lot of difficulty climbing sand dunes. So it was quite an effort especially as I already done a full day of walking. But it was really worth the effort!
Photos of Wharariki Archway islands
The beach is famous because of the Archway islands and the large flat sand area that retains water at low tide offering magnificent reflections.
The 2 largest of the islands are often not noticed as they do not have a particular shape and are adjacent to the beach.
However the smaller islets are similar to rock stacks and are mesmerizing.
The largest one is 66m (217ft) tall and has 2 natural arches.
The smaller one also has an arch but you will have to walk to the West of the beach to be able to see it.
Those arches are the reasons of the name of the islands.
The shapes looks quite different as you walk around the beach and see them from various angles. Sometimes you don't even see the arches!
Beach of Wharariki and Caves
The beach of Wharariki is quite large.
Because of how flat it is, the difference between high tide and low tide is impressive.
And some water remain on the sand as the sea recedes.
This is why Wharariki beach is famous: the reflections...
And when the sky is on your side with incredible clouds, it is such a pleasure to photograph.
Above is the view towards the West and the middle
Below is the view towards the East.
If you walk towards the West of the beach, you will find caves that are only accessible at low tide. There are several along the cliffs.
I was too tired to explore it all, but if you set aside a full day to explore the area, you can really have fun.
Seal pups in Wharariki tidal pools
The other highlight of Wharariki are the seal pups.
As written on the path to the beach: "There are a group of seal pups that use pools on the beach to play in. They are fascinating to watch. Please respect their home"
Keep a respectful distance and don't chase them.
When I visited, people were quite respectful. I hope it stays like that so that everyone can enjoy this amazing experience.
However they are wild animals and I can't guarantee you will see them.
The pools are to the East of the beach. Just look for a group of people standing in silence looking down...
This is where you have to go.
Note: just be aware that you will be mesmerized. And it will be difficult to stop watching them.
Therefore I recommend you arrive at least 1h before low tide, start with the reflections, the archways and caves and then look at the pups.
They really are playing right next to you in the pools. They have so much fun!!!
Try squatting rather than standing as it is less threatening for them.
They will even be curious and get closer.
Definitively do not chase them. Adults are not far away and they can surprisingly be very fast.
Below are a few pictures. Or you can rewatch my video at the beginning of the article 🙂
Wharariki beach and Golden Bay accommodations
So where should you stay to be able to visit Wharariki beach?
- If you want a big town, you can stay in Nelson and do the 2h40min drive each way on a day trip - check out accommodation options
or you can stay in towns closer to the Wharariki such as:
- Tataka in the South of Golden Bay - check out options and book
- Collingwood in the North of Golden Bay - check out options and book
or you can opt for the holiday park right next to the beach carpark but it is far from everything else (Wharariki holiday park).
I chose to stay in the quiet Collingwood.It is a very small town with nice coffee shops and some facilities. It was a great location to explore the Spit and all the North West tip.
I booked the Collingwood park motel and really enjoyed it.
The owner was really nice, the rooms spacious, clean and modern and the facilities good (wifi was ok too).
Below are 2 photos I took. You can check out more photos and availability online
Things to do around Wharariki beach NZ
And there is much more you can do in the area.
On the way to Wharariki, you can take a short detour on the unpaved road to reach Cape Farewell.
It is a short walk uphill to the viewpoint.
Cape Farewell is the most Northerly point in South island.
It was named by James Cook in 1770 as it was the last land he saw as he started sailing back home.
The other famous landmark in this region is the Spit (aka The Farewell Spit).
It is a narrow sand spit that stretches for 26km (16mi) above sea level and keeps growing...
There are several walking trails. The place is quite fascinating but it is not so easy to appreciate the sheer size from ground level at it is only a low level of sand for a very long time. It would be more appreciated from the sky. And you can see plane and helicopter options here.
There are many hiking trails in the area between Wharariki, Farewell, the Spit and other cliffs and coves.
For example there is the hilltop walk - 1h30 from Wharariki to Cape Farewell and you can continue to Pillar point +1h
You can also do full day hikes...
Golden bay beaches
The whole area is Golden Bay. It is a large paraboloid-shaped bay with gold/orange sand beaches.
The Aorere and Takaka rivers flow into the bay.
It is mostly populated in the South.
There are several beaches to enjoy. My favorite was Tata Beach on the Abel Tasman Drive.
Abel Tasman National Park
And of course South of Golden Bay is the famous Abel Tasman National Park.
It is a sought after area because of its dreamy beaches and easy walking trails.
You can explore on foot, by boat or both. And you can also kayak around it.
And much more
- The Pupu springs
- The Wainui falls
- The Takaka rocks
- The lagoon of Kaitereteri
- Ngarua cave
If you are planning a road trip around New Zealand, all those locations are included in my eBooks to facilitate you organization:
Want to see more of NEW ZEALAND?
Have you ever seen seal pups play?
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