Also known as Te Henga (which means “sand”), Bethells Beach is an isolated beach situated 18 miles (30 kilometers) northwest of Auckland at the mouth of the Waitakere River. Black sand and wild surf are surrounded by sand dunes and native bushland, creating the perfect habitat for birdlife.
The dunes of Bethells Beach have recently been part of a successful breeding program of the threatened New Zealand dotterel. This bird nests in holes in the sand above the waterline, so it’s at risk from ground-dwelling predators. Bethells Beach is one of the few places you can see them in the wild. Many other bird species, including harriers, pukekos, warblers and petrels inhabit the area, and blue penguins sometimes visit at night.
There’s evidence that humans have lived at Te Henga for more than 1,000 years. Shell middens, a cave shelter at the south of the beach, and an inland "pa" (fortified village) used for food storage are indicators of the past inhabitants that relied on the plentiful resources of this beach and surrounding forests.
Swimming and surfing conditions can be very dangerous at Bethells, as there are often rips. Only confident swimmers should tackle the waves. You can stroll along trails that branch in different directions through the sand dunes and bush. Take a picnic lunch on the 2.5-hour return walk to Lake Wainamu, or explore the Waitohi falls. The hiking trails here are also a part of the longer Hillary Trail, which winds for almost 47 miles (75 kilometers) through the rain forest and coastline of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park.
There’s a food truck at Bethells Beach on fine days, but it’s a good idea to pack your own food, as the beach is quite isolated. You’ll need to rent a car to visit the beach. There are ample free parking spaces behind the dunes and at the entry to Lake Wainamu.