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Vehicles On Beaches

Four-wheel drives and motorbikes are becoming more popular.  Unfortunately they can have a dramatic effect on the natural character of our beautiful beaches.

Some people take their four-wheel drives, dune buggies and motorbikes down to the beach to speed along the hard sand, drive to a favourite fishing spot, or to climb up and down the dunes.  These vehicles are damaging the Bay of Plenty's coastal environment that the vehicle users and other beach users are enjoying.

Some beaches have been restored through careful re-sculpting, replanting and pest control, but other parts of the coast are still in poor condition.  Vehicle use also conflicts with other activities on the beach, like sunbathing and children playing in the sand.

See also:

  • Rules for when and where vehicles are allowed on the region's beaches
  • Making a complaint for contact details and information about who to contact in different situations

Environmental damage

Dune plants are very hardy plants.  They gather sand, shelter birds, and withstand wind and waves.  But they are very sensitive to a heavy vehicle driving over them.  All motor vehicles can kill plants with a single pass, and even the wide flotation tyres of quad bikes crush and destroy plants.
Vehicles compact the sand, squashing small creatures that live on or under the sand and compressing their habitat.  They frighten away birds, lizards and other species sheltering in the dunes, and crush their nests and eggs.  Weeds and pest animals spread through the damaged ecosystem.  Drivers dump litter and waste material from their vehicles onto the beach and dunes.

The first vehicle does the most damage - so even though the majority of drivers on beaches may be responsible, the less responsible minority greatly harm the coastal environment.

Once the dune plants are destroyed, the foredunes and rear dunes are exposed to the wind and the sand begins to blow away.  Once a "blow out" forms on a dune, the dune begins to disappear quickly, blown inland.  The waves begin to erode the beach and dune because there are no plants to rebuild them with sand.

This increases the hazard risk to people living near the beach.  Without the dunes, waves erode the beach and the land at a much faster rate.  Homes have more sand blown onto them.  Storm surges and possibly tsunami are more likely to damage homes and property. 

Beach user conflict

Vehicles on beaches can cause problems with other beach users.  People using popular beaches for swimming, sunbathing, fishing, playing sports or simply enjoying can be concerned about vehicles driving at unsafe speeds and/or too close to children and unaware beachgoers.

The safety of the vehicle drivers themselves is also important.  Driving a four-wheel drive along the beach is different to driving through towns or on roads. Drivers without the necessary skills or care can risk damaging their vehicle, themselves, or others.

Some people think that the special qualities of the beach that New Zealanders love are threatened by increased vehicle use on the beach.  The tyre tracks, the noise, conflict with other users and damage to the dunes are all contrary to enjoying the coastal environment.

Who is responsible?

The following organisations are responsible for managing vehicles on beaches:

  • Bay of Plenty Regional Council looks at integrated management of the coastal environment, particularly the coastal marine area (seaward of mean high water springs).  The Regional Coastal Environment Plan contains a rule for vehicles on the foreshore ("wet" beach) and coastal vehicle management policies.
  • The four coastal territorial authorities: Tauranga City Council, Western Bay of Plenty, Whakatane District Council and Opotiki District Council are responsible for managing vehicle use on beaches within their district.
  • The Department of Conservation sets national policies on coastal management, and also manage their coastal reserves at a local level.  They protect native birds and animals that are threatened or endangered.  The Bay of Plenty Conservancy (Tauranga area, Rangitaiki area) and the East Coast/Hawkes Bay Conservancy (Opotiki area) cover the Bay of Plenty beaches.
  • The Police regulate dangerous behaviour and illegal vehicle use (like speeding, drink driving, licences), on beaches as well as on roads.  They can prosecute criminal behaviour and bylaw breaches.

Further information

If you have questions about the planning process to review management of vehicles on beaches, contact Bay of Plenty Regional Council - details below.