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vehicle tracks on Matakana Beach vehicle tracks on Matakana Beach

Vehicles on beaches

Four-wheel drives and motorbikes 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.

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.

No vehicle use (unless for emergency or law enforcement purposes) in Indigenous Biological Diversity Area A (IBDA A) in the coastal marine area. This is all areas coloured burgundy with diagonal stripes on the Proposed Regional Coastal Environment Plan v9.0 maps below.

In other areas, vehicles can drive on the foreshore (area below spring high tide - the "wet", firm sand part) for these activities:

  • Surf life saving operations.
  • Emergency situations like fire-fighting, oil spills, rescue operations, salvage of vessels and sea mammal strandings.
  • Burial of dead animals by the Department of Conservation or local council.
  • Launching or retrieving vessels.
  • Transporting recreational equipment to the water's edge.
  • Coast Care and Estuary Care projects (unless part of mangrove management activities).
  • Defence Force activities (prior notice must be given to Bay of Plenty Regional Council, the Department of Conservation and adjacent territorial authorities). 
  • Certain projects carried out by local councils, Government, and educational institutions. For example:
    • Monitoring and data collection
    • Maintenance of infrastructure and facilities
    • Law enforcement activities
    • Beach grooming
    • Removal of litter.
  • Use of land yachts.
  • Setting up and running temporary recreational events (that are permitted by Rule SO 1).
  • Access for people with disabilities.

Otherwise vehicle users need a consent from Bay of Plenty Regional Council.

For more information, please refer to Rules DD 7 & 8 in the Proposed Regional Coastal Environment Plan.

For information on what to do if you see a vehicle breaking these rules, please see below point on making a complaint.

Remember - The rules that apply to vehicles on the road (obey the speed limits, no drink driving etc.) also apply to vehicle use on the beach. The police can enforce these rules on the beach the same as on a legal road.

Vehicles on Beaches - Local Rules

District and City Councils also control vehicle use on beaches. Follow the links below for the relevant rules and information about vehicles on beaches in your district:

Tauranga City Council (TCC)

Vehicles and horses on beaches in Tauranga City

Quadbikes may be driven on the beach with the permission of Tauranga City Council, and provided they use the vehicle access point between 105 and 107 Karewa Parade.

Western Bay of Plenty District Council (WBOPDC)

Rules for beaches from Te Puru creek north of Waihī Beach to Otamarākau, minus the Tauranga City Council area (please refer to Section 10 of the bylaw).

Vehicle access is largely permitted in WBOPDC reserves at current vehicle access points or if the appropriate permit has been received for vehicle crossings. There are exceptions to this rule:

Vehicle access is restricted in the following locations:

  • Three Mile Creek reserve
  • Waihī Beach Surf Club reserve
  • Kauri Point scenic reserve
  • Levley Lane reserve and accessways
  • Huharua
  • Park Road reserve (Katikati Ward)
  • Pukehina Ocean reserves (Maketū Ward)
  • Seabreeze Park (Maketū Ward).

Whakatāne District Council (WDC)

Rules for beaches from Otamarākau to Ōhope Spit

The WDC Beaches Bylaw 2008 largely prohibits the use of vehicles on beaches (apart from emergency service vehicles), unless prior permission is granted by Council.

Vehicle use is also restricted on Biodiversity Sites BS67A Ōhope Spit and BS71A Otamarākau-Matata-Whakatāne Dunes shown on Planning Maps 106A, 107A, 125A, 127A, 505A and 506A. This restriction is in place between 1 September and 31 January. It is for the protection of nesting birds and there will be signs set up at the beaches with this restriction.

Ōpōtiki District Council (ODC)

The Ōpōtiki District Council Consolidated Bylaws 2021 outlines the rules around vehicle use on beaches. More details can be found under Part 4 ‘Beaches’ section, page 31 onwards. Maps of these vehicle prohibited zones can be found in Schedule 1 of Part 4: Vehicle prohibited areas, page 34-38.

If you wish to complain about a vehicle on the beach based on the existing rules, please get as many details as possible, such as:

  • License plate number.
  • Make and model of the vehicle.
  • Name or description of the driver.
  • The effects (actual or potential) that you saw or experienced personally.
  • Photos (e.g. via a photo-capable cellphone).

If the vehicle is damaging mudflats or inter-tidal beaches, call Bay of Plenty Regional Council's Pollution Hotline on 0800 884 883.

If the vehicle is disturbing native birds in a Department of Conservation reserve, or disturbing marine mammals (like seals), contact the Conservation Hotline on 0800 362 468.

If the vehicle is breaching the district council's rules within the district council area, and is unlikely to have Council permission, call:

  • Tauranga City Council: (07) 577 7000
  • Western Bay of Plenty District Council: (07) 571 8008
  • Whakatāne District Council: (07) 306 0500

If the vehicle is driving dangerously, without a license plate, if there is alcohol/drugs involved, or if the driver is violent or threatening, call the nearest police station:

  • Waihī Beach: (07) 863 5236
  • Katikati: (07) 549 0004
  • Tauranga: (07) 577 4300
  • Mount Maunganui: (07) 575 3143
  • Te Puke: (07) 573 9147
  • Edgecumbe: (07) 304 9004
  • Whakatāne: (07) 308 5255
  • Ōpōtiki: (07) 315 1110
  • Te Kaha: (07) 325 2828

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. 

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, Whakatāne District Council and Ōpōtiki 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, Rangitāiki area) and the East Coast/Hawkes Bay Conservancy (Ōpōtiki 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.