Driving safely on the beach

Northland’s beaches are under increasing pressure from four-wheel drives, motorbikes and other vehicles.

Quad bike on sand dune.We have more than 3200km of coastline and hotspots like Ahipara, Tokerau Beach, Bream Bay and Ripiro Beach (which includes Glinks Gully and Baylys Beach) are especially popular with both local and holidaying motorists.

Most drivers are responsible and considerate towards other beach users and the environment when heading to their favourite fishing or picnic spot, launching a boat or just having fun.

However, people have been injured – and even lost their lives – on Northland beaches through inappropriate vehicle use. Of particular concern are careless or dangerous driving, excessive speed and vehicles which travel too close to children and other beachgoers. The sheer volume of traffic at some popular spots is also causing environmental damage, especially to dunes.

Tips for driving safely on the beach

  • Drive to the conditions – keep your speed down.
  • Keep off the dunes and always use designated vehicle access routes onto the beach, then stick to hard sand below the high tide mark.
  • Drive slowly and carefully near other beach users.
  • Follow normal road rules; wear a safety belt or helmet at all times, use your indicators, follow any reduced speed limits in place and never drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Watch for people, dogs, horses, fishing lines and wildlife.
  • Park away from dunes and busy traffic areas, at an angle to the traffic and make sure you don’t block access.

DOC beach sign.

Environmental damage

As well as posing a risk to human safety, vehicles on beaches can also affect the beach environment itself and the wildlife living there.

Coastal sand dunes are an important and distinctive feature of large stretches of Northland’s coast. They help to protect land, people and houses from storm surges, cyclones and even tsunami, and provide shelter for lizards, insects and shorebirds. However, dunes are easily damaged by vehicles.

Wheels kill dune vegetation and if even small areas of dunes lose their plant cover they can become unstable and move inland.

Rare shore birds nest in the soft sand on the beach and in lower dunes. They are often hard to spot and easy to run over if care is not taken. Each year many eggs and chicks are crushed by vehicles. 

Squashed skink on beach (Photo: Pete Graham, DOC)Watch out for wildlife. (Photo: Pete Graham, DOC) 

Eggs and chick in beach nest (photo DOC).Nesting shore birds are often hard to spot. (Photo: DOC) 

Which agencies deal with vehicle use on our beaches?

Several organisations have responsibilities linked to the use of vehicles on beaches in Northland, including the Police, district and regional councils and the Department of Conservation.

Making a complaint

If you want to complain about inappropriate vehicle use on a beach, contact the appropriate agency:

  • Dangerous driving or unsafe vehicle – Police
  • Driver abusing other beach users – Police
  • Driver under the influence of drugs or alcohol – Police
  • Underage driver – Police
  • Unregistered or unwarranted vehicle – Police
  • Damage to sand dunes/destruction of vegetation – Northland Regional Council
  • Disturbance of birds/wildlife – Department of Conservation
  • Driving on Department of Conservation land – Department of Conservation
  • Noise complaint – your local district council
  • Rubbish dumping – your local district council; and
  • Vehicle in a designated no vehicle zone not on DOC land – your local district council.

Try to provide as many details as you can including:

  • the date, time and location;
  • the make, model and registration of the vehicle/s involved;
  • a description of the driver; and
  • Photographs.

Police 4WD vehicle on Ahipara Beach.Road rules apply on all beaches.

Contacts

Northland Regional Council

Department of Conservation

District Councils

Police – in an emergency dial 111; report dangerous driving on *555

  • Otherwise contact your local Police station.  See the blue ‘Government pages’ in the front of the phone book.

This publication has been produced in partnership with the NZ Police, Department of Conservation, Far North District Council, Kaipara District Council and Whangarei District Council.