Ninety Mile beach is a drivable fifty-five mile sand stretch. The beach is accessible at many points and there are signs advising that normal road rules apply. There’s no recommendation as to what specs your vehicle should have, only warnings that tides are swift and strong and that many vehicles have been lost to the sea.
I did not plan to drive on Ninety Mile beach, but I received assurances from multiple cosmopolitan Kiwis that front wheel drive (a.k.a. what Ruth has) is sufficient to traverse the initial soft sand in order to get onto the hard packed stuff, and as I came closer to an entrance point, just the idea that I could Instagram a photo with Ruthie and me on the beach with the caption “Where we’re going we don’t need roads,” was a, “Dude, like come on, how can you not?” moment.
I drove to Ahipara, which is the beach’s southern entry point. I wound through residential streets to find a passable on-ramp. I found one where the asphalt stopped like a seam edge at the beach. Sand lumps rose at the road end before lying flat into hardpan sand. I thought, “I’m not sure Ruthie can make it through that.” To test my idiocy I drove in. Within—I’m approximating here—two seconds of driving off the pavement I felt Ruthie stick and sink.
I put Ruthie into reverse and tapped the accelerator. Tires spun. Ruth sunk more. This is fine. I got out and dug around the tires to see if I could find hard sand underneath. That failed. I pressed the accelerator again and the wheels just spun. I took my hat off and held it by the bill on my hip. “This might be a problem,” I thought.
Two couples were nearby, so I figured I’d ask one of them to please reverse the car while I pushed. Just then, like in some B-movie, like literally without hyperbole that exact moment, a black Toyota 4×4 sped off the asphalt street and dune chopped the soft sand, accelerating fast onto the hard pan and making an exaggerated u-turn in front of me, accelerating again through the soft stuff and stopping a few arm lengths from where I stood. The car’s window went down and an elder’s face under a wide brim felt halt and with square glass frames said, “You stuck?”
“I can hitch you if you’d like.”
“Sure, I got a pinch bolt on the rear if you want to grab it and hook it to your hitch.”
“You do this a lot?”
“All the time.”
We sorted through the escape logistics and I was out in a minute.
He got out of the car. Medium build, full stomach, black tee tucked into jeans. “I suspect you wanted to drive on the beach?”
Tl;dr: I drove on Ninety Mile beach.