22 Jan 2024

Muriwai beach death sparks calls for vehicle ban

From Checkpoint, 5:11 pm on 22 January 2024

'A scene from Mad Max', is how one surfer has described the chaos on Muriwai Beach, when vehicles are hooning around.

The death of a young person has sparked calls for vehicles to be permanently banned from the beach on Auckland's west coast.

Cars could go up to 60km/hr on parts of Muriwai Beach, which is packed with people on a hot summer day.

However, on Monday there were none in sight because of the temporary ban, after the tragedy on 21 January 2024.

"They were down there, close to where we were," said Tim Sullivan. a regular fisher at the beach who saw yesterday's accident unfold, "just doing numerous doughnuts, just hooning up a storm".

"The police were around yesterday, we saw them twice over the day to they were patrolling, but you can miss them easy enough because you see how far down the beach they are."

One person died and another two were injured when a vehicle rolled on Muriwai Beach northwest of Auckland on Sunday 21 January 2024.

Emergency services responding to a fatal incident at Muriwai Beach on 21 January 2024. Photo: Supplied

Sullivan returned to the beach on Monday but was disappointed to find the vehicle entrance blocked and with a security guard on deck.

"It's ridiculous, it's just a knee-jerk reaction," he said.

"How many drownings have there been in the last six months? I think there's been about five at Muriwai Beach.

"Are you allowed to fish there? Do you swim there everyday? Everybody does exactly that."

Auckland Council regional parks acting manager Scott De Silva accompanied Ngāti Whātua o Kaipara members to the site of the accident Monday where a rāhui was put in place.

"It's usually a reasonably standard process and we support mana whenua in that regard. They are supporting council in terms of the rāhui to make sure there is safety over the beach at this time."

Jonathan Thevenard is a regular surfer at Muriwai wants to see more control over vehicles on the beach.

"It's like Mad Max up there sometimes. If you drive up the beach looking for a wave and then here comes all the tradies, so it's like 20 trucks all showing off to each other, I mean sooner or later there is going to be an accident."

However, he said a permanent ban may not be so simple.

"It is awesome when you can drive your four-wheel drive up the beach and look for a wave and park up and go fishing.

"I think that's an important part of New Zealand culture as well so, it's also trying to find that balance."

Call for vehicle ban on beaches

But some regulars of the beach said a ban on vehicles would not just improve people's safety, but drastically improve the beach's wildlife.

"Well any vehicle driving on a beach kills whatever's underneath it on the sand, so when you have complete saturation of vehicles you've killed everything along that strip of beach," said Graham Lowther, a regular visitor.

He said the solution was obvious.

"There's only one option and that's a complete ban, turn it into a sanctuary, turn it into a national park. We're supposed to share this area with creatures not kill them."

Sign at Muriwai Beach after fatality

Photo: RNZ / Jordan Dunn

Auckland Council regional parks principal specialist Stephen Bell told Checkpoint the matter was being looked by police.

He said several beaches across Auckland attracted "less than desirable" driver behaviour, including driving too close to other beach users, and unregistered and unwarranted vehicles.

"I'd call it dangerous driving in the in the least, certainly some have been reckless driving."

As for a vehicle ban at Muriwai Beach, Bell said there were several access points, one was controlled by Auckland Council while others were by Auckland Transport.

"So collectively, if council and transport decided to impose or close vehicle access to the beach, yes they could."

There were reports of vehicles driving up to 140km/hr, he said, when the speed limit was 30km/hr.

"Enforcement and a tighter set of rules, enforceable rules by central government looking at at control of beaches at a national level, consistently, rather than leaving it up to the councils on a case-by-case basis would be a good start.

"I would like government to ensure that the rules around driving on beaches had teeth and were enforceable much more simply than they are now."

Council said there has been several similar incidents to yesterday's accident in recent years, including in 2015 when four people were killed.

The rāhui is due to end on Thursday, 25 January, at midday.

Auckland Council had closed Muriwai Beach to vehicles during the summer peak season from 29 December 2023 to 15 January 2024.