Sand dune face near Te Paki Stream, 90 Mile Beach, Northland
The west coast of the Far North contains some of New Zealands most extensive dunefields, covering hundreds of square kilometres with massive golden dunes rising up to 150 metres above sea level. The dunes have formed along this coast in relation to prevailing coastal currents and wind patterns: Persistent longshore drift along the coast from the south-southeast brings enormous quantities of sand from as far away as Taranaki, while prevailing onshore winds drive this sand onshore to build up the dunefields behind the beach. These processes have been in action here for many thousands of years, building up colossal volumes of sand all the way along Northlands west coast.
Many of these dunes are very old and, over time, have developed a soil cover and become vegetated, but in some places the landscape is still dominated by mobile sand dunes with hardly a scrap of vegetation to be seen. One such place is in the vicinity of Te Paki Stream, near the north end of Ninety Mile Beach, where huge bare dunes extend inland for up to three kilometres. Like giant ocean swells frozen in time, this Namibian-style dunescape is a maze of huge waves of sand, their steep faces spilling away from the southwesterly winds that give rise to their existence. As in a rough sea, waves of all sizes can be found together, from the tiniest surface ripples to the largest swells several tens of metres tall.