Australia & New Zealand Wildlife & Nature

Exploring New Zealand’s Tutukaka Coast

Imagine taking a stroll along a picture perfect beach, digging your toes in the soft sand and feeling the sun on your skin. You hear the waves as they wash up on the shore. There is a light breeze, you take a deep breath. The air is fresh with just a hint of salt. Welcome to the Tutukaka coast.

Why Go?

National Geographic has recognised this breath-taking stretch of New Zealand’s North Island as one of the top 3 coastal destinations on the planet, and for good reason. The postcard beaches like the horseshoe shaped bay of Matapouri are just the beginning of what is on offer here. The Tutukaka Coast is one of the few places you can observe and appreciate natural beauty in all its forms.


For those seeking the adventure and solitude that comes from going in search of secret bays, take the coastal track up the hill from Matapouri, which will lead you to the hidden Whale Bay. Pohutukawa trees reach for the heavens, and this magical setting brings calmness and serenity to every soul that visits. Further along the coastal walk is Sandy Bay, which is the best surfing beach in the area. Hosting regular competitions, this beach is unique in that it offers waves suitable to every skill level; from the kiddy corner to the big breaks further along the beach. Local shop Tutukaka Surf offers board hire, surfing lessons as well as selling a selection of beach wear.

Coastal Wildlife

It is a little disputed fact that the Tutukaka Coast is one of the best places in the world to view wildlife. Whether you dream of watching dolphins playing in the waves around your boat, or whether you want to witness the majesty of orcas as their dorsal fins glide through the water, the waters around the North Island can offer you these experiences. Make time to join a whale-watching tour. Southern right whales and pilot whales are residents of these waters so your chances of seeing them are very good.


The next stop is Tutukaka itself. The modern marina here is the gateway to the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve. The warm currents that flow in from the Coral Sea, as well as the dramatic landscapes above and below water, make the Poor Knights Islands one of the world’s top and most iconic dive sites. Incredible varieties of unique plant, animal and fish life occupies this area in abundance. The volcanic origins means that there is a myriad of spectacular drop-offs, walls, caves, tunnels and arches. Hundreds of kingfish circle in packs while pink maomao swim in huge schools. Thousands of snapper break the water while they eat on krill and plankton – this spectacle is a behaviour which has been recorded nowhere else on earth. Coralfish, snapper, grouper and a dozen species of wrasse dart around these waters. Moray eels, nudibranchs, gobies and clownfish are also plentiful.


For those who don’t have sea legs, between Matapouri and Tutukaka, is a slightly inland hike along the Te Araroa Walkway. This hike (taking about 2hrs one way) leads you through gulleys, across streams and underneath towering Kauri forests that throw together every shade of green. Leafy branches provide relief from the baking sun during the heat of the day. Those with keen eyesight and a bit of luck may stumble across some of the local wildlife rummaging through the foliage, while the incredible birdlife sings you their songs. The trail forks, and the signs will direct you to the largest remaining Kauri tree on the east coast; Tane Moana. Measuring over 11m in diameter, he is the guardian and sentinel of the Tutukaka coastline.

Where to Stay

There is a variety of hotels and motels scattered around the area, however for a truly authentic stay, make your bed in one of the cute cottages or beach homes which are available for rent. For the free spirits who want to turn up and see what’s available on arrival, that is a perfectly acceptable practise. If you need some guidance, agencies in the surrounding towns will be happy to help. For those who prefer to book in advance, check out websites such as Holiday Houses or Book A Bach.

Whatever your taste for adventure travel, and whatever your budget, the magnificent Tutukaka Coast is absolutely certain to go beyond every expectation. Make sure you’ve added exploring New Zealand’s Tutukaka Coast to your bucket list! And if you’ve been, share your best bits in the comments below.

Special thanks to Taquiman for the photo of the moray eel and RussellStreet for the feature photo of Whooleys Beach.

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