The reason why rental companies do not allow you to drive on 90 Mile Beach (which is only 90km or 55 miles long) is simple: The cars are not insured. Often cars get stuck in the sand and have to be left behind. No emergency service is close enough to save the cars from the flood. Mobile phone coverage does not exist in most parts of the area. So the adventure often ends in an endless walk.
If you have your own car and want to risk the beach drive prepare yourself and the car well. Start two hours after high tide, either the way up or down, depending on the time of the tides. (The direction of the bus tours also changes for that reason.) Spray waterproofing spray on the ignition. Drive close to the water, so you do not get in the soft sand, slow down when crossing creeks. If you get stuck lower the air pressure of the tyres. There are many access roads. The buses use the Waipapakauri Ramp, 6km north of Awanui, and in the north they drive through Te Paki Stream - do not stop there!
If you still have the nerves to do it - do it. But do not expect quick help if something goes wrong.
As we wanted a relaxed trip we went on a bus tour with Cape Runners from Kaitaia.
The bus stopped at the Ancient Kauri Kingdom in Awanui which is a run-down town. In a sawmill they cut 30,000 to 50,000 year old kauri logs which they pull out from the swamps. Then at "The Bluff" which is a good fishing spot, with rough sea and volcanic outcrops. We also stopped after having driven through Te Paki Stream and climbed on the huge dunes. Most tours even include tobogganing on the dunes.
From Cape Reinga the tour leads to Tapotupotu Bay which is a wonderful beach next to the cape.
On the way back south on SH1 we stopped at Parengarenga Beach. The snow-white silica sands are used for producing glass. At Houhora Heads is the Wagener Museum which displays lots of Maori artefacts, kauri gum, early settlers' tools, firearms, and gives insight into whaling and the Victorian times.
See transportation tip
Ninety Mile Beach is actually closer to 90kms, but when you're on it, it feels awfully long!
You can get special coach trips that roar through the surf and stop at sand dunes where you can boogie board down them.
If you have your own transport, look for signposted entries to the beach off State Highway 1. There's one not far north of Ahipara town. It can be dangerous taking your own car onto the beach, and rental cars are not covered by insurance.
This is an old (and dodgy) photo from 1987 on a family trip... I'll do better next time!
At the bottom of Ninety Mile Beach, a sleepy little seaside town just west of Kaitaia. A great place to spend summer days, fishing, swimming, digging pipis or gathering paua. Take a walk inland, swimming in the rivers and water falls and gather blackberries. You can do a sand dune safari on one of the four wheel drive buses based in Kaitaia or take a day trip up to the Cape. Alternately travel overland on winding roads through fertile farm land to Mongonui stopping to have a look at the glow worm caves on the way.