Muriwai Beach on Auckland’s rugged west coast is one of my favourite local spots to take visitors. It is less than 45 minutes from Auckland’s city centre, yet a world apart. The transition takes us from the calm, family friendly beaches of the North Shore to the wild, windswept west coast, where we find black sand, a surfer’s paradise, and a colony of gannets that fly nearly 2800 km to court, nest, and breed here.
That’s not all. Muriwai beach has spectacular sunsets, incredible marine and bird life, and hiking trails. Nearby, there are vineyards, cafes, a golf course, and a surfing school. Muriwai can be a quick one-hour visit or an all-day adventure.
Muriwai gannet colony
Important Note: The gannets are typically only in New Zealand from August to March.
Each year, about 1200 breeding pairs of Australasian gannets (Māori name: takapu) make the long flight across the Tasman Sea from Australia to breed at Otakamiro Point at Muriwai. These boobies are large tropical seabirds of the gannet family, with brown, black, or white plumage and often brightly coloured feet.
Visitors can stroll along the short (under 1 km) Takapu Refuge Walk from car parks on either end to see the birds. Depending on wind direction, we typically smell the birds before we see them from the viewing platform. And they stink, far worse than we expected.
In March, the gannets return to Australia. Many of the chicks don’t survive the long flight, but those that do will return in three years to continue the cycle.
Muriwai is one of three New Zealand mainland breeding colonies for takapu. Each of the other two, Cape Kidnappers in Hawkes Bay on the North Island and Farewell Spit in Tasman district on the South Island, attract larger colonies than Muriwai.
Like much of New Zealand, Muriwai beach is teeming with birdlife. We frequently see oystercatchers, shags, terns, and other, more common bird species. We have also seen fur seals, and have been told that there are little blue penguins in the area, but we have only seen them in other regions.
Muriwai Beach: black sand, surfing, and swimming
The black sand characteristic of west Auckland beaches draws visitors to Muriwai all year long. That, along with the big waves, make Muriwai surf an attractive beach for adventure seekers. Swimmers choose a section of beach patrolled by lifeguards that is identified by the yellow and red surf lifesaving flags. The best safety advice on Muriwai Beach, or any patrolled beach, is to swim between the flags.
The black sand is found in seemingly random sections of the beach and is dense with iron in the form of magnetite (Fe304) that makes it magnetic. When the girls were younger, we did science experiments with sand and magnets.
Muriwai Beach fishing
As we plan our visits for the lower tides, we generally see fisherman on the rocks, despite the warning signs. We have seen waves splash over the rocks, but the New Zealand fisherman don’t seem too phased by it.
Muriwai tides: what to see on the king low tide
On the south side of Otakamiro Point is Maori Bay, a low tide beach. On the low end of the king tides (also called spring tides), areas of the beach are exposed that allow us to see fascinating marine life in the tide pools that are normally hidden under the sea. I find the multi-armed seastars the most fascinating.
King tides occur when the sun and the moon are in alignment, therefore increasing their gravitational pull. The result is the highest high tides, complimented by the lowest low tides of the year.
Sunset on Muriwai Beach
The incoming king tide seemed to add the intensity of the sunset at Muriwai. If you come for the sunset, be sure to park in the main beach carpark. The parking area at the end of Waitea Road closes after dark. An acquaintance we met on the beach had to call for help to get their car out, an expensive proposition.
Getting to Muriwai Beach
Unfortunately, there are no public transportation options from Auckland to Muriwai. The two best options are a private vehicle or a tour.
Visiting the gannet colony by car
If you have your own vehicle, the drive takes less than 45 minutes from Auckland city centre. From State Highway 16 you will take Muriwai Road for about 10 km before splitting onto Motutara Road. If you stay on Motutara, it will end in the beach’s large carpark, which has public changing and restrooms. From here, you can access one end of the Takapu Refuge Walk trail.
Or, while driving in on Motutara Road, split off the left at Waitea Road and then to the right on the small road labelled only ‘Gannet Colony.’ At the end of this road is another carpark and the other end of the Takapu Refuge Walk trail. This option provides a slightly shorter walk to the viewing platform.
If you don’t have your own vehicle, renting one in Auckland is easy. We have been using RentalCars.com successfully in various countries around the world and in New Zealand. They compare local companies and often offer lower prices than going direct. For us, it’s the customer service that keeps us coming back.
Visiting the gannet colony with a tour
Without your own vehicle, the best way to visit Muriwai is with a tour. There are two that pique our interest, both with great ratings and reviews. The first is for wine lovers. This half-day adventure takes visitors from Auckland to three wineries (including a private tour of Kumeu River Wines). It also includes a visit to Muriwai beach, lunch, and a honey tasting.
If the wine doesn’t appeal, or you have a larger group, check out this private tour priced for a group (rather than a per person price like the wine tour). We love the flexibility of private tours, as we tend to want more in one spot and less in another on organized tours. This full-day option will take you where you want to go on the west coast, exploring destinations like the gannet colony and black sands at Muriwai, as well as locations of natural beauty, adventure, or wineries.
A third option we want to include is new to Viator, and therefore without reviews. However, it will appeal to horse lovers as it includes a one hour ride along Muriwai beach.
Final thoughts on visiting Muirwai Beach
- If you are going into the water, swim between the flags. (This is important enough to mention twice).
- Weather in Auckland is changeable. Dress in layers and bring a wind/rain jacket.
- Carefully check the tides, and stay off the rocks and out of the caves on incoming and high tides.
- Remember, the sea is unpredictable with currents and riptides. Never swim alone, and always supervise your children.
- The gannets at the Takapu Refuge have been protected since 1979 by Auckland Regional Council with the help of the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society.
- Muriwai is one of several interesting places to visit along Auckland’s west coast and should be included on any list of things to do in Auckland.
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