How To Explore Lake Wainamu And Surf A Sand Dune

One of the best Auckland day trips is to the Waitakere Ranges in Auckland’s rough west coast and black sand beaches. A special treat is Lake Wainamu, a freshwater lake surrounded by native bush and...a giant sand dune to surf on!


Lake Wainamu and its giant sand dune seemed like something that you couldn’t find in your regular guide book. Either you know about it, or you miss out, as easy as that. Having heard and read about it a few times before, specifically about the giant sand dune we’d encounter there and how you could sand board down the dune, I was intrigued.

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How to get to Lake Wainamu

Lake Wainamu lies in the Waitakere Ranges, home of the untamed west Auckland beaches. It’s just off Bethells Beach, or Te Henga Beach, as it is known in Maori language. We parked our car at the parking lot for Te Henga Walkway, a walk along the coast that we still need to explore. The walk to Lake Wainamu starts on the other side of the Walkway parking, indicated by a sign.

We followed the path and soon got to decide whether we want to reach the lake via the stream or over the sand dune. We decided to go via stream first, thinking the path would go along it. But no, the stream is the actual path! We were excited! This already proved to be an awesome walk, and we haven’t even reached the lake or the dune yet! So we kicked off our shoes and started walking in the cool water.


Directions to the lake


The stream leads all around the sand dune, which started off not looking too impressive. But as we saunter along the dune, it kept growing and growing until it reached an impressive height. We turned one last bend and there it was: Lake Wainamu!

Set amidst stunning nature, Lake Wainamu made us feel lightyears away from the city. The only thing reminding us that we weren’t far away was a group of teenagers with bluetooth speakers and an armada of inflatable flamingos and pizza slices.


Lake wainamu: nature pure!


Lake Wainamu track - around the lake in 1 hour

After a few minutes of sitting and admiring the view, we decided to walk the Lake Wainamu track that loops around the lake. This is one of the few remaining Waitakere Ranges walks that’s not closed due to Kauri dieback. It’s an easy walk, mostly on a gravel path and takes about an hour to walk around the lake and back to the dune.

As always, we took a bit longer than the average walker because we (well, mostly Alex) had to stop and take a sh...load of pictures.

About halfway through the loop, at the end of the lake, we discovered a lovely small waterfall that cascades over natural terraces. The water looked very inviting but was too cold for a dip. So we climbed around the waterfall and enjoyed a small picnic before continuing our walk.

Maori Sculpture at wainamu falls


Yummy snackies with a view

Wainamu Falls Chris and Alex.jpeg

Back at the giant sand dune, we jumped into the refreshing lake. Even though Lake Wainamu is so close to the ocean, it’s fresh water and not a tidal lake. To me, not having to check tides is a real bonus. Just get to the lake at any time, hop in and go for a swim. However, it gets deep really quickly, so better keep an eye on your kids.

By now, the sun had heated up the sand and even the few meters from the towel to the water almost burnt my delicate European feet (they can’t withstand anything, really).


Just like walking on the moon!

We walked back to the car via the sand dune now. I still can’t believe how a sand dune this big ended up in the middle of native bush. The whole scenery felt a bit out of this world and like we were walking on the moon or in the desert, surrounded by Fata Morganas.

As we watched kids boarding down the sand dunes we swore to bring our bodyboard along next time we visit. This looked like so much fun!

Sandboarding down the dunes at lake wainamu

A landscape out of this world: Bethells beach sand dune

A pit-stop at Bethells Beach Cafe

Back at the car park, we headed the 500 meters down the road to Bethells Beach. There’s a picnic area with public toilets (those are the only toilets, there are none at the sand dune or the Lake Wainamu track).

And even better, there is a little food truck selling coffee, ice cream and homemade cakes. We couldn’t resist those delicious looking cakes and it was divine!

Afterwards, we headed down to Te Henga / Bethells Beach. The tide was just on its way in and the waves roaring. Like the other west coast beaches, Bethells has a lot of charm and personality. We just love walking along those beaches!


awesome coffee and cakes at bethells cafe

stunning bethells beach / Te Henga Beach



Lake Wainamu, the loop track and Bethells Beach make for a great day trip from Auckland! If you’re in a hurry or depending on where you live, it could probably also be done in half a day. But then again, why rush? Lake Wainamu is awesome to recharge your batteries and take the kids (and grown people) for a ride down the sand dune.

Good to know

  • The walk from the car park to Lake Wainamu takes about 30 minutes, no matter if you walk over the sand dunes or via the stream.

  • Lake Wainamu loop track will take about 1 hour to 1h30, depending on whether you take a break halfway at the waterfall or not.

  • Wear solid shoes to walk over the sand dunes. The dark sand gets extremely hot and it’s a long way back to the car with burnt feet.

  • Bring a bodyboard to surf down the sand dune. Some people tried it with cardboard and didn’t really move much.

  • Are dogs allowed at Lake Wainamu: No, unfortunately not. However, they are allowed on Bethells Beach.

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