Looking for a perfect weekend escape from the city where you can get back to nature? You’ll find in in Port Waikato!

Port Waikato is a small but perfectly formed coastal town located about an hour and fifteen minutes drive from Auckland with a similar distance from Hamilton. Off the beaten track, the town is a hidden gem and a popular destination for nature lovers, thanks to its beautiful sand dunes, long sandy beach, and amazing wildlife. 

One of the best ways to explore the area is by taking the Port Waikato dunes walk. This 5km loop track takes you through the sand dunes and offers breathtaking views of the coast. Along the way, you may also encounter a variety of wildlife, including dotterels, oystercatchers, terns, and godwits.

Discover the natural beauty of Port Waikato’s Sand Dunes

The Port Waikato dunes walk is an incredible experience that takes you through the area’s natural beauty. Try this Itinerary taking you on a  Port Waikato Dunes adventure and a trip to the Nikau Caves. 

9:00 am – Start your day early amidst the sound and sight of the crashing waves and shimmering black sand of the west coast at Sunset Beach, Port Waikato, home to the award winning Sunset Beach Surf Lifesaving Club and only 1500 metres from the Port Waikato Holiday Park. Relax after your travels with a hot cup of coffee and mouth-watering muffin from Sundays Coffee Shop at the beach car park. .

10:15 am – Head toward the end of Ocean View Road where the dune walk begins and take some time to figure out your destination. Will your adventure take you to the mighty river mouth, where the Waikato River meets the Tasman sea, home of the endangered Dotterel? Will it take you in a loop down the extensive beach shore? Or will you wander deep into the pampas tracks and walk the river’s edge from Maraetai Bay?

10:30 am – Let the adventure begin! Follow the trails that twist and turn to find your way back to civilization as you admire stunning views of the coast and natural sand dune formations – ‘tis the Sahara of the Port! Not to worry – you will never get lost as the hills in the distance provide a direction back to the town.

Note: this iconic trail is rated as moderate and takes approximately 2-3 hours to complete. So wear sturdy shoes, and bring plenty of water and sun protection.

Top tip:

As you wander, keep an eye out for the dotterels, oystercatchers, terns, and godwits. These birds are a common sight in the area, and they nest in the sand dunes. Don’t forget to carry a picnic morning tea to enjoy when you find that magic spot. However, it’s not recommended to feed the birds – they are well-fed by their environment!

1:00 pm – Finish the walk and head over to Cobourne Garden Reserve, where you can enjoy your picnic lunch and take a stroll through the beautifully maintained gardens while you await 2 pm check-in time at the Port Waikato Holiday Park.

2:00 pm – You don’t need to rush after lunch. Fortunately, you’ll have plenty of time to check in from 2pm and spend a relaxed afternoon exploring your home for the night. Strolling up the hill walkway is the best way to discover a magnificent view of your new surroundings. Take a moment to look out over the dunes to see all you explored earlier in the day.

6:00 pm – Make use of the large communal kitchen or one of the three barbecue areas to cook something delectable for dinner or grab some hot chips and a burger from Sunset Takeaways. Even better, if you’re a keen fisher, try and catch some local kai moana from the pier earlier in the day!

7.30 pm – With one of the best sunset views in NZ, it’s not named “Sunset Beach” without reason! Take a stroll along the shore or join other visitors and locals sitting along the grassed areas of the car park. Here’ you’ll be able to watch the sunset as it appears to sink into the water sending an array of mesmerizing colours after a beautiful day. Furthermore, the beach is a popular spot for wildlife spotting, so keep an eye out for these little creatures as you walk.

After dark, gaze up at the milky way on a clear night as you soak in the tranquillity.

Day Two of your Waikato Adventure:

8:00 am – Start your day with your own breakfast before check-out (by 10am). Or wait until you reach the Nikau Caves Cafe for a delicious brunch and enjoy the lovely surrounds.

9:00 am – Take the scenic route and venture along Port Waikato – Waikaretu Road to the nearby Nikau Cave, about a 25-minute drive from Port Waikato. As you look out over vast rugged farmlands at the amazing limestone formations, it isn’t hard to figure out why the area was selected as a film spot for Lord of the Rings’ Weathertop Hollow scenes.

9:15 am – Next, start the guided tour of the Nikau Cave. The tour takes about an hour and takes you through an underground wonderland of stalactites, stalagmites, and glow worms. However, its advisable to ideally pre-book before your trip to ensure your place on a tour slot!

10:30 am – After the cave tour, you might want to plan a lunch stop if you’re heading back to Auckland. For something a little special, try heading to Bracu Estate. Set amongst 70 hectares of trees, it’s a truly beautiful setting. Alternatively, if you’re heading to Hamilton, drop by the Zealong Tea Estate. Notably, the high tea experience is a real treat. Regardless of which way you’re heading, allow an hour from the Nikau Caves to these destinations and make a booking in advance!

11:30 am – Arrive at Bracu if heading to Auckland or Zeelong is en route to Hamilton.

1:00 pm – Finally, head back home with fresh air in your lungs, a full stomach, beautiful memories and a phone full of pics to reminisce on your adventures until your next visit!

In our opinion, the Port Waikato dunes walk is a must-do activity for nature lovers and bird watchers. With the stunning views of the coast and the chance to spot a variety of wildlife, it’s an unforgettable experience. It’s useful to know the walk is rated as moderate in terms of difficulty, the walk takes 2-3 hours depending on fitness.

Port waikato snad dunes