Driving on the beach

Four-wheel drives, dune buggies and motorbikes are an increasingly common sight on our beaches.

People drive on the beach for a variety of reasons, including reaching a favourite fishing spot, speeding on the hard sand or climbing up and down the dunes.  Most use their vehicles responsibly, but a minority upset other beach users and pose a safety risk to other people and to themselves. The sheer volume of traffic at some spots is also damaging Northland's coastal environment.

Environmental damage

Sand dunes are narrow but important bands of sand between the land and sea. They act as buffer areas to help protect the land, people and houses from storm surges, cyclones and even tsunami.

The 'building blocks' of a dune system are its grasses, which keep the sand from drying out and being carried away by the wind. These native plants give us our distinctive coastline and are crucial to the survival of the birds, lizards and insects that live, eat and nest in them.

Sand dunes are very sensitive to vehicles driving over them. All motor vehicles and bikes can kill plants with a single pass - even the wide flotation tyres of quad bikes or the small wheels of kids' motorbikes can crush and kill plants and the creatures that live in them.

  • Always use established vehicle access routes onto the beach and then stick to the hard sand below the high tide mark to minimise your impact on the dunes and beach.
  • Drive with care near the water, as vulnerable shellfish beds tend to be situated there.
  • Keep motorbikes (including kids' bikes) off the dunes. Motorbikes can do just as much damage to sand dunes as bigger vehicles.
  • Avoid driving close to marine mammals such as seals.
  • Respect archaeological sites – many beaches carry evidence of centuries-old Māori occupation.

Remember! Do not park or drive on the sand dunes as this destroys vegetation.

Remember not to park or drive on the sand dunes as this destroys vegetation.

Join a motorcycle club

Riding motorbikes on beaches can damage our fragile sand dunes and endanger other beach users.

Have fun and keep our beaches safe by joining your local motorcycle club and using their tracks instead.   Competitive or non-competitive, there are plenty of options for dirt, quad or trail bike riders.

Find your local motorcycle club at: www.freewebs.com/whangarei.

Invisible victims

The beach is home to rare birds which nest in the soft sand on the beach and lower dunes. Shorebird nests are often well camouflaged, making them vulnerable to being run over by vehicles whose drivers do not see them. Each year many eggs and chicks are unintentionally
crushed by vehicles.

  • Stay on the harder sand between the waterline and the high tide mark.
  • Stay clear of nesting birds.
  • Drive around flocks of birds - they are often resting after long periods of flying.

Safety of other beach users

The increasing number of vehicles on Northland beaches is causing problems for other beach users. People using popular beaches for activities such as swimming, sunbathing, fishing and playing sports are encountering vehicles driving at unsafe speeds and too close to children and other beachgoers.

Respect the rights of others for quiet enjoyment of our coastline – keep well away from other beach users.

Take care around people when driving on the beach.

Driving safely on the beach

The safety of the vehicle drivers themselves is also important. Taking a four-wheel drive along the beach is different to driving on the road. Drivers without the necessary skills or caution risk damaging their vehicle and injuring themselves. There have been a number of deaths from vehicle crashes on New Zealand beaches in recent years. Common causes of accidents include hitting a patch of soft sand at speed, rolling over in sand dunes or crashing into another vehicle or person.

  • Always slow down and drive carefully where there are pedestrians as they may not be able to hear you approaching.
  • Watch for dogs, horses and fishing lines.
  • Avoid making sharp turns at speed - front wheels can dig into the sand and cause your vehicle to flip.
  • Park your vehicle away from traffic areas and at an angle to the water so you can be seen by other drivers.
  • Keep below the speed limit for your own safety.  Obey the road rules by wearing a seatbelt at all times, using your indicators and keeping your vehicle roadworthy.
  • Do not drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Note: The rules that apply to vehicles on the road also apply to vehicle use on the beach!

30km/h speed limits

Whangārei district
Three beaches in Whangārei district have a 30km/h speed limit in place:

  • Ohawini Bay, Oakura
  • Bream Bay, between the port and Waipū Cove
  • Langs Beach

For more information: Vehicles on beaches bylaw information on Whangarei District Council's website.

Kaipara district
There are also 30km/h speed limits on sections of Ripiro beach, either side of the Baylys Beach and Glinks Gully beach entrances.

For more information: Speed limits on beaches information on Kaipara District Council's website.

Which agency is responsible for monitoring driver behaviour?

The following organisations all share some responsibility for managing vehicles on beaches:

Northland Regional Council
We set regional rules for the use of the tidal section of beaches and also have a role in setting policies for managing the wider coastal environment.

Northland's three District Councils - Kaipara, Whangārei and Far North
These are responsible for the management and use of vehicle access routes to beaches within their respective districts and on their reserves.  Find contact details for the district councils

Department of Conservation
The Department  sets national policies on coastal management, manages its local coastal reserves and protects native birds and animals that are threatened or endangered.

The Police regulate dangerous behaviour and illegal vehicle use like speeding, drink driving and licences on beaches as well as on roads. Police can prosecute for criminal behaviour and bylaw breaches.

Agency responsibility for Bream Bay beaches

Download the 'Agency responsibility for Bream Bay beaches' flyer with contact details (PDF, 274KB)

Agency responsibility for Bream Bay beaches graphic.

Making a complaint

If you wish to make a complaint about a vehicle on the beach, please get as many details as possible without putting your own safety at risk. Try to record:

  • the date, time and length of time the incident has taken place;
  • the make, model and registration of the vehicle involved (OR the registration of a trailer if it is being used to transport motorcross bikes);
  • a house address if the vehicles are coming from a property;
  • a description of the driver (or their name if possible);
  • the effects (actual or potential) that you saw or experienced personally; and 
  • photographs.

Who to contact

  • Dangerous driving - Police
  • Driver posing a risk to other beach users - Police
  • Vehicle is unregistered or unwarranted - Police
  • Driver appears to be underage - Police
  • Driver under the influence of drugs or alcohol – Police
  • Driver abusing other beach users – Police
  • Noise complaint – District Councils
  • Rubbish dumping – District Councils
  • Damage to shellfish - Northland Regional Council
  • Vehicle destroying vegetation / damaging sand dunes – Northland Regional Council
  • Vehicle endangering marine life – Department of Conservation
  • Destruction of archaeological sites – Department of Conservation
  • Disturbance of birds or wildlife – Department of Conservation
  • Driving in DOC conservation reserve – Department of Conservation


Northland Regional Council
24/7 Environmental Hotline 0800 504 639

Department of Conservation
0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468)

District Councils
Contact details for your local district council


  • In an emergency dial 111
  • Otherwise contact your local police station. Refer to the blue 'Government pages' in the front of your phone book's white pages.
  • To report unsafe driving dial *555 from your mobile.

Further information

If you have questions about the planning process to review management of vehicles on beaches, contact Northland Regional Council on 0800 002 004 or email info@nrc.govt.nz