Muriwai Beach is wild waves crashing against a seemingly endless black sand beach. This scene competes for our attention with thousands of Australian gannets that fly nearly 2,800 km to court, nest, and breed here. A must-see on Auckland’s rugged windswept west coast, Muriwai Beach is captivating.
Visitors represent a mixed bag, drawing families to the patrolled swimming area, surfers to the big waves, fishermen to the rocks, and tourists (and locals) to the Muriwai gannet colony viewing area.
Less than a 45-minute drive from Auckland’s city centre, Muriwai is a world apart. Muriwai Beach has spectacular sunsets, incredible marine and birdlife, and hiking trails. Nearby, there are vineyards, cafes, a golf course, and a surfing school. While it can be a quick one-hour visit, we prefer an all-day adventure.
Muriwai gannet colony
There is nothing quite like standing on the viewing platform and looking out over thousands of birds and their chicks. Some are nesting, others preening, eating, or in flight.
Each year, about 1,200 breeding pairs of Australian gannets (Māori name: takapu) make the long flight across the Tasman Sea from Australia to breed at Otakamiro Point at Muriwai. They are large tropical seabirds with black and white plumage and a golden head.
With a wingspan of 1.8 metres, the gannets seem to glide effortlessly through the sky.
More from Muriwai Beach …
*The gannet colony and chick footage start at the 20-second mark of the video just below.
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. 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 and continue the cycle.
Important Note: The gannets are typically only in New Zealand from August to March.
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.
Muriwai Beach: black sand, surfing, and swimming
The black sand characteristic of west Auckland beaches draws visitors to Muriwai all year long. It is dense with iron in the form of magnetite (Fe₃O₄) that makes it magnetic.
That, along with the big waves, make Muriwai surf an attractive beach for adventure seekers. The safe swimming area is patrolled by lifeguards and identified by the yellow and red surf lifesaving flags whose position is dictated by currents and riptides.
Muriwai surf lessons
Some links on this page can save you up to 70%. We earn from qualifying purchases through partnerships or affiliate programmes.
If you have ever thought about learning to surf, Muiwai is a good place to start, but much safer with an instructor. With a solid reputation and outstanding reviews, we feel comfortable recommending a 2-hour group lesson with Muriwai Surf School. Importantly, a dedicated instructor is with participants in the water at all times.
Lifeguards, qualified coaches, and skilled surfers cover basic techniques including board control, standing, and catching waves in addition to ocean awareness and safety. Use of a board and a wetsuit is included in the price of the lesson. Check for price and special deals.
Things to do at low tide at Muriwai Beach
If you can, visit Muriwai at low tide, as there are some cool things that can only be done when the Muriwai tide is out. Either way, carefully check the tides, and stay off of the rocks and out of the caves on incoming and high tides.
Muriwai Beach cave
Access to the Muriwai Beach cave is only at low tide. In fact, the cave becomes dangerous at high tide as it fills with seawater.
Starfish exposed on the king low tide
On the south side of Otakamiro Point is Maori Bay, a beach that only appears at low tide. 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.
Muriwai Beach fishing
As we plan our visits for the lower tides, we generally see fishermen on the rocks, despite the warning signs. We have seen occasional waves splash over the rocks, but these New Zealand fishermen didn’t seem too phased by it.
Sunset on Muriwai Beach
A west coast beach, Muriwai offers intense sunsets. If you come for the sunset, be sure to park in the main beach carpark. This is because the parking area at the end of Waitea Road closes after dark.
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 Muriwai gannet colony and beach by car
The drive takes less than 45 minutes from Auckland city centre. From State Highway 16, 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 rooms, toilets, and access to one end of the Takapu Refuge Walk trail.
To get to the other parking area, split off of Motutara Road to the left at Waitea Road. Then, turn to the right on the small road labelled only ‘Gannet Colony.’ At the end of this road is a carpark and the other end of the walking trail offering 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 around the world and in New Zealand. Like a rental car search engine, 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.
A wine lovers tour: This 5 ½ hour adventure takes a small group of visitors from Auckland to three wineries, where you can enjoy some of New Zealand’s finest wines. It also includes a visit to either Muriwai or Piha Beach. Best of all, it advertises a guaranteed departure, so no worry about low numbers of sign-ups. See details and check for discount prices
Private tour: (not currently available) 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). 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. Check price and reviews of this Private Tour from Auckland
Horse Riding: (not currently available) A third option we want to include is new to GetYourGuide, and therefore without reviews. However, it may appeal to horse lovers as it includes a one hour ride along Muriwai Beach. Check price and availability
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 in your beach bag.
- Remember, the sea is unpredictable with currents and riptides. Never swim alone, and always supervise your children.
- The gannets at the Takapu Refuge are wild birds that 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, especially if you are looking for something more unique to do in Auckland.
Save with these resources in Auckland and all of NZ
We usually start with aggregator companies as they do the work for us by providing a list of options, prices, and reviews. However, we also added a few personal NZ favourites:
- Flights: we use Expedia for the best and cheapest flight options.
- Hotels: we use Booking.com as they consistently return the best rates and their reviews are from actual guests. However, for self-contained lodging in New Zealand, we use Bookabach.
- Cars and Campervans: we use RentalCars to find the best deals and dealer ratings. Use Jucy for small campervans.
- Activity discounts: we always check Bookme.com for discounts of up to 70% on selected tours, activities, restaurants and more.
- Travel Insurance: we start at InsureMyTrip as they are the best option to compare plans and find the right coverage for you.
Before you book the rest of your trip: Check out our travel resources page for more companies that we use when you travel.
We believe this list to be the best in each category. You can’t go wrong using them on your trip too.
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What will you do at Muriwai Beach?
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I love the social distancing shot of the Gannets nesting. 🙂 Great post!
Fascinating – what glorious sights you share every week.
wowww those photos are stunning!! I’d love to visit here. So cool to see so many animals all around
Wow. Your pictures are really beautiful! Especially love the starfish. Thank you!
As I scrolled, I quite literally found myself saying, “whoaaaaa” at your photos. So cool! This beach really has everything. In a few years when it’s safe to do so, New Zealand is definitely on my list.
Muirwai Beach sounds incredible! I’ve never seen so many birds and I think its awesome that you can go into the cave at low tide! I would love to visit one day!
That is a stunning sunset photo at Muriwai beach! The Muriwai beach cave looks so interesting and I would love to stumble upon some starfish. This looks such an amazing place!
The birds are so beautiful, we are really need to start protecting our nature and beaches more!
I’ve never been to New Zealand but it’s definitely on my list! Your photos are absolutely gorgeous and I love beaches + hiking/would love to learn to surf! :]
Wow! Never heard of this place before but it looks incredible!!! Thanks for sharing!
Those seastars are just stunning, Rhonda! What a great shot. You’ve given us so many good reasons to explore this beach – the sunsets and gannet colony would be the biggest draw for me.
I had never heard of Muriwai Beach, but I would love to visit this place when I get to New Zealand–hoping to go in the next two years. I love your photos! Thanks for all the great information, including tours that are available.
Ah love this post! I live in the south island and still haven’t got up to the north just yet! I’ve heard lots about these guys though! Lovely photos! I’ve certainly saved this for my north island planning 🙂
My friend and I have been planning a New Zealand trip for years and are finally both in a good place to make it happen. We both considered Muriwai Beach, and I’m glad I found your post to learn about the area and transportation options. I’ll be sure to share this blog post with her ASAP for our trip!
your nature photography is always stunning
I’d never heard of gannets before reading your post. They are definitely graceful-looking birds, and I love the bright colors. It must have been pretty amazing to see so many gathered in one place (despite the smell!). You have some stunning photos here — I especially loved the sunset shots!
Muriwai Beach looks amazing, can’t wait to visit hopefully next year. I’ve only been to one black sand beach in Papeete, Tahiti. Those star fish (sea stars) are huge!
Thanks for the introduction to Muriwai Beach. It’s incredible to have access to such rugged coastline just 45 minutes away from Auckland. Visiting New Zealand continues to be at the top of my travel destinations. I’d love to explore the beach and enjoy the amazing sunsets. Great shots!
Renata - www.byemyself.com
I like it when beaches have a rougher appearance – and this beach looks wild. I like the waves breaking agains the rocks. However, the sea stars are just amazing! What a great shot!
Muriwai was the last stop of our life-changing trip to New Zealnd five-year ago. It was a fabulous experience despite the smell. I got some of my best photos from there. Thank you for the lovely reminder.
Oh so many pretty birds. I love the variety of wildlife and nature in New Zealand. I had no idea how stunning Muriwai Beach was. Maybe I need to do a trip to the North Island next.
Muriwai Beach looks gorgeous. At only 45 minutes drive, I’d be there often if I lived nearby. Sea stars are one of my favorite sea creatures, so I’d definitely be up for exploring the tide pools to see what I could find. And the nesting gannets seem like a must see. You got some amazing shots of them!
I love going to surfing spots, not because I’ve got a single bit of surfing skills, but I’m a kid inside and I still love to jump giant waves. I love the black sand beaches, I’ve seen a pic before and always been curious.
What a beautiful natural landscape with the rock formations on the beach! The birds look so pretty, but too bad they stink. The sunset took my breath away,
Those birds are trippy! All those nests are just side by side like that and no fighting? Do the baby birds sometimes accidentally wander to other nests? And that black sand.. hmm… we have some black sand here in Langkawi and now I want to go see if it is magnetized also. I hadn’t realized that might be why it’s black. Interesting read Rhonda, thanks!
Those gannets are truly beautiful, especially with yellow heads! We were in Auckland in 2017 and didn’t know about this scenic Muriwai beach. Your photos are awesome, especially the sunset!
Muriwai beach – thanks for introducing me to this lovely place. This is such a gorgeous site! You keep adding to my bucket list.
Oh wow, this is gorgeous.
Great photos. We never made it out to Muriwai Beach.
Actually, these are interesting shots. I’m glad you used them.
bettyl - NZ
What a great series of shots. I haven’t made it to Muriwai, but maybe someday soon!
Never been to New Zealand, Now I really want to go. Love the moss covered picture!
Well, the ones you shared are great. I especially like the B&W one.
Have a great Sunday!
These are brilliant shots I liked them all they are all sort of peaceful 😉
Have a beachtastic week 😉
That beach looks absolutely gorgeous.
I’ve not been to that beach and I love the first shot the very best. I really like it a lot.
Have a fabulous day. 🙂
L. Diane Wolfe
Beautiful! I love the second seaweed shot. Perfect density.
Alex J. Cavanaugh
Some great beach shots. The sunset shot is really powerful.
Those rocks have amazing colors by themselves, and with the algae, they’re really something to look at. You did an awesome job on the sunset – wow!