Wharariki doesn’t appear on Condé Nast’s or National Geographic’s 10 Best Beaches in the World. Nor is it on Trip Advisor’s or Travel & Leisure’s Top 25. But, at the moment, it’s our favourite.
It seems to me there are two kinds of beaches contending to be queens of the castles of sand throughout the world.
There’s the “pretty princess” type, the popular girl with her white sand, turquoise waters and bronzed bodies lounging on cushioned chairs sipping tropical cocktails served by collared wait staff.
And the other, the “dark and mysterious” type of beach that beckons, “like a moody, tattooed and tempestuous woman”—which is how Scott Cook, author of the book NZ Frenzy, describes Wharariki, which, he says, “is arguably the most impressive and intriguing beach on New Zealand’s South Island.”
Underrated and under the radar, Fara-rickey, as Wharariki is pronounced, is a strong, weathered and fearless woman of a beach, a Patti Smith kind of gal.
Wharariki Beach sits—actually she’s always in action, never sitting around—at the top of NZ’s South Island near Cape Farewell, about 60 km north of the lovely town of Takaka, a good place to stock up on supplies.
Getting to her requires driving for five kilometres along a gravel road before you come to a car park, and then trekking through pastureland and up and down sand hills for another kilometre.
If the wind doesn’t catch your breath, your first glimpse of her wild beauty will. She has it all and does the slow reveal as you turn left and walk south: the endless sea reaching to mirror her reflection, sculpted dunes, darkened caves dressed in shadowy mauves, encrusted boulders tattooed by moody waves, sheer stone faces creased by the seas of time, weathered archways, stone bridges, sea stacks protecting rock islands holed with mystery…. Let her show you her multifaceted persona until you reach the rocky headland (her head), then turn around and explore her from the other side as you walk to the far north end (her feet). There, at low tide, you can cross an isthmus of sand to several islets and see the gentle, maternal and playful side of Wharariki—her seal pups frolicking in pools of water.
Take Scott’s advice. Go at half-tide or lower so you can access her many charms. Pack extra clothing, as the wind can be intense (although Wharariki was in a calm and sunny mood on both of our visits). To explore her wildness, we suggest you give yourself at least two hours (we spent four hours one afternoon and about an hour the next morning). She’s a kilometre and a half long from head to toe. Don’t think about swimming or surfing as there are rip tides and strong currents—although we did see boaters successfully navigate a narrow island archway. And, of course, take your bottle of water and an extra battery for your camera.
Wharariki, the yin/yang of her natural splendour lingers, like a piece of music that speaks to you from the past.
BTW, Patti has a new book, M Train, coming out October 6, 2015.
Cook, Scott. New Zealand South Island: NZ Frenzy. USA: Scott Cook, 2013. With Scott’s exuberant descriptions of “all the must-see places plus non-touristy hidden wonders” in your arms, you’ll never go back to the dispassionate lonely planet. He researched by travelling around NZ for eight summers, lucky guy, lucky us, lucky you. Like Rimbaud to Patti, Scott influenced so much of our visit to NZ and we thank him for every step he took that we followed. See his website
Following Scott’s recommendation, we parked Kohanga, the trusty Burstner Escape 2 we rented from Wilderness Motor Homes, at the Wharariki Holiday Park, about a five-minute walk from the car park at the start of the trail to the beach. Scott says you’ll see about 50 people at Wharariki Beach in the summer. Near the end of April, a dozen of us were enthralled in her afternoon embrace.