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Time: 1 hour return | Distance: 2.5 km return

Sandfly Bay walk is a lesser known New Zealand Classic. It's a beautiful, isolated beach that is the landing point for one of the rarest penguins in the world - the Yellow Eyed Penguin - plus lots of sea lions!

Otago Peninsula shields a sheltered harbour in its western flank. Around Tairoa Head it captures the Royal albatross’ attention by providing reliable updraughts for fledglings’ maiden flights. It’s exposed eastern shores sit squarely in the face of ocean weather and currents, providing fertile grounds for marine mammals like elephant seals, sea lions and fur seals. And the odd Yellow Eyed Penguin (yep).

PLEASE don't be tempted to get to close to these animals! This is very important otherwise this special place may close for general public. If you want to view the yellow eyed penguins at dawn or dusk then follow the marked track at the southern end to the viewing hide. Please respect and enjoy!

The beach at Sandfly Bay

The beach at Sandfly Bay

Richard Giddons

Looking inland from Sandfly Bay

Looking inland from Sandfly Bay

Richard Giddons

Sealion snooze

Sealion snooze

Richard Giddons

Yellow eyed Penguin

Yellow eyed Penguin

Sarah M Stewart

Map

map

Timing

At high tides with large swells, some sections at the base of the dunes will become impassable.

Dawn and dusk are best for penguin viewing.

Sandymount Track is closed from 1st September to 1st November for lambing.

Access

Sandfly Bay is 15 km from Dunedin city centre. Take Wharf Street, Portsmouth Drive to Portobello Road. This twisty sealed road follows the shore of Otago Harbour, but you want to head right by the lagoon up Marne Street and left onto Sommerville street then left after 1.5 km on to Highcliff Road. This follows the spine of the Otago Peninsula. Sandfly Bay is signposted after 7.7 km on the right along Seal Point Road. Continue to the end. Large vehicle may have trouble turning here.

Track

Never turn your back on beaches with exposed outlooks like Sandfly Beach. Rogue waves can pluck you to the sea instantly and the steep shelf will drag you out. No swimming unless your wish is to be shark fodder.

From the carpark the track crosses gorse and flax encrusted farmland and descends to a viewpoint overlooking the golden sand, flying in the wind. Moon walking down the soft dunes arrives at the southern end of the beach, and the domain of the pinnipeds.

Near the northern end is a series of orange posts, which lead up a gully towards Sandymount Track, Lovers Leap and The Chasm. This loop will add a further 1 hour and 2.5 km to your journey. This track is closed from 1st September to 1st November for lambing.

Flora

Macrocarpa are a notable imported tree on the Otago Peninsula. Their native habitat on the north-western USA also shares constant winds and salty air.

Fauna

Fur seals Arctocephalus forsteri were almost driven to extinction at the beginning of the 1800s, but numbers now seem to be recovering. Sealing was a disgusting job. Like a battle charge, gangs would disembark and attempt to intercept the wave of frightened seals before they reached the sea, directing one swift blow to the tip of the nose. A good sealer had to be quick, agile and strong. Brandishing wooden cudgels they would terrorise an area, heaping the skins under a suitably conspicuous tarpaulin before moving to the next colony.

Different markets called for variations on how the skin was treated. The Chinese market preferred carefully prepared skins, where the subcutaneous fat was scraped away by a ‘beamer’, the flipper holes sewn up and the skin dried. This was carried out in ritualistic fashion by 10 one foot long pegs secured in regular positions about the skin.

The rocky shores would have been stained with the blood of many merciless killings. Rotting carcasses would be strewn like war victims. Indeed the whole picture must have resembled a battle scene. Men who found employment as sealers were often rough and carried hidden baggage.

Seals are known as pinnipeds (wing footed) because of the webbed flippers instead of paws or feet. Streamlined bodies and blubber keep them warm (hence their hunting for fur). Their ears, nose flaps close when diving. They feed on squid, octopus and hoki.

Bull sea lions are absolute monsters, tipping the scales at 400kg. You don’t want to get in the way of one, so be especially vigilant if passing between them and the sea – their escape route. They prefer to slumber on the sand, unlike fur seals who use the rocks as their mattresses. The sea lions are often observed flipping sand onto their backs in an effort to keep cool.

Yellow-eyed penguins weigh around 5 kg and stand around 70 centimetres tall. They breed in southern parts of New Zealand and Sub-Antarctic Islands in spring. Chicks are reared during the summer in nests constructed of flax. During the February moult, birds are vulnerable. Be Aware. Observe their behaviour and don’t hassle them for a photo. You have another home to go to. This is their home, so use your manners. Numbers are in serious decline.

European History

The name ‘Sandfly Bay’ comes not from the prevalence of those nasty little biting insects, but from the fact that sand flies on the constant wind.

48 reviews with the most recent first, showing page 1 of 4.

S Weslake's avatar

S Weslake

United Kingdom

Ranking: 8/10

Visited in search of seals and penguins. No penguins but some fun sea lions lolling around - don’t get too close.
Gorgeous beach, very steep uphill climb back to the car park - good workout for your calves! Worth it despite the lack of penguins.

Reviewed 3 months ago

Myriam Ackermann's avatar

Myriam Ackermann

Switzerland

Ranking: 9/10

Beautiful 'playground' for the kids with sand dunes and slides, sea lions, very windy.

Reviewed 12 months ago and experienced in January 2017

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Fabian Probst's avatar

Fabian Probst

Switzerland

Ranking: 9/10

Nice view, good information, scenic dunes, sea lions.

Reviewed 12 months ago and experienced in January 2017

Damien Bernard's avatar

Damien Bernard

France

Ranking: 10/10

Hard trekking through the sandy dunes to see penguins and sea lions (only a few of them), free in the nature. Friendly DOC warden, it is a must see.

Reviewed about 1 year ago and experienced in February 2017

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Ilona Roeters's avatar

Ilona Roeters

Netherlands

Ranking: 9/10

Very nice walk along the beach, we saw many sea lions. That was wonderful!! We did not see any penguins but the sea lions were amazing. The walk back is up a steep sandhill so prepare yourself for this.

Reviewed about 1 year ago and experienced in December 2016

Eveet De Beleir's avatar

Eveet De Beleir

Netherlands

Ranking: 9/10

The signs are really clear and it is wonderful to see real wild sea lions without paying for expensive tours. We did not see penguins though.

Reviewed about 1 year ago and experienced in December 2016

Avoid Camping Fines!

The only camping map where each location is approved by every regional council in NZ. So if it shows on the map, you’re allowed to stay.

The Rankers Camping NZ app, is also in association with…

Laia Pujol's avatar

Laia Pujol

Spain

Ranking: 10/10

Nice walk down to the beach where we had the opportunity to see a penguin (yellow eyed) and some fur seals. Quiet and clean area.

Reviewed about 1 year ago and experienced in December 2016

Vallee Manon's avatar

Vallee Manon

France

Ranking: 8/10

Beautiful spot with some sea lions on a wild beach. Appealing place for and hour and a half of walking. But note, the walk back was more difficult.

Reviewed about 1 year ago and experienced in December 2016

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Sylvie Martel's avatar

Sylvie Martel

Ranking: 10/10

Very nice walk. Beautiful scenery. Saw many seals but no penguins as we were not at right time.

Reviewed over 1 year ago

Gessica's avatar

Gessica

Italy

Ranking: 10/10

Awesome bay, you can see yellow eyed penguins very closely and for free. Always with perfect nature.

Reviewed almost 2 years ago and experienced in March 2016

Award-1-24px Congratulations Sandfly Bay Track - Otago Peninsula

Rankers TravellerVoted Awards 2011 Top Free Penguin Experience Winner

Sven and Annie's avatar

Sven and Annie

Netherlands

Ranking: 9/10

We say five yellow eyed penguins in an hour and a half. Lots of seal and sea lions. There is no hiding place though so you have to be really careful so you do not disturb the penguins. Have patience and it will be awesome!!

Reviewed almost 2 years ago and experienced in January 2016

Lili Souris's avatar

Lili Souris

Germany

Ranking: 10/10

Most beautiful beach in New Zealand so far. You can see seals, penguins and sea lions.

Reviewed almost 2 years ago and experienced in February 2016

Ella Gilmer's avatar

Ella Gilmer

New Zealand

Ranking: 9/10

Absolutely stunning place. There were a fair number of other people there, but it still felt very remote. It was the wrong time of day to see penguins but there were sea lions basking on the sand and playing in the ocean. The only reason I didn't give this a 10 is that the walk back up the sand dune is incredibly steep, such a killer.

Reviewed about 3 years ago

48 reviews with the most recent first, showing page 1 of 4.

S Weslake's avatar

S Weslake

United Kingdom

Ranking: 8/10

Visited in search of seals and penguins. No penguins but some fun sea lions lolling around - don’t get too close.
Gorgeous beach, very steep uphill climb back to the car park - good workout for your calves! Worth it despite the lack of penguins.

Reviewed 3 months ago

Myriam Ackermann's avatar

Myriam Ackermann

Switzerland

Ranking: 9/10

Beautiful 'playground' for the kids with sand dunes and slides, sea lions, very windy.

Reviewed 12 months ago and experienced in January 2017

Conservation Campsite Pass

Save up to 70% on campsite fees! Support conservation and experience the natural beauty of NZ. 96 Department of Conservation campsites, one convenient pass.

Get the Pass

Fabian Probst's avatar

Fabian Probst

Switzerland

Ranking: 9/10

Nice view, good information, scenic dunes, sea lions.

Reviewed 12 months ago and experienced in January 2017

Damien Bernard's avatar

Damien Bernard

France

Ranking: 10/10

Hard trekking through the sandy dunes to see penguins and sea lions (only a few of them), free in the nature. Friendly DOC warden, it is a must see.

Reviewed about 1 year ago and experienced in February 2017

Top Ranked NZ Deals Pass

Access savings worth hundreds of $$ on Top Ranked NZ Accommodation and Activities for just $1 per day.

Get deals pass

Ilona Roeters's avatar

Ilona Roeters

Netherlands

Ranking: 9/10

Very nice walk along the beach, we saw many sea lions. That was wonderful!! We did not see any penguins but the sea lions were amazing. The walk back is up a steep sandhill so prepare yourself for this.

Reviewed about 1 year ago and experienced in December 2016

Eveet De Beleir's avatar

Eveet De Beleir

Netherlands

Ranking: 9/10

The signs are really clear and it is wonderful to see real wild sea lions without paying for expensive tours. We did not see penguins though.

Reviewed about 1 year ago and experienced in December 2016

Avoid Camping Fines!

The only camping map where each location is approved by every regional council in NZ. So if it shows on the map, you’re allowed to stay.

The Rankers Camping NZ app, is also in association with…

Laia Pujol's avatar

Laia Pujol

Spain

Ranking: 10/10

Nice walk down to the beach where we had the opportunity to see a penguin (yellow eyed) and some fur seals. Quiet and clean area.

Reviewed about 1 year ago and experienced in December 2016

Vallee Manon's avatar

Vallee Manon

France

Ranking: 8/10

Beautiful spot with some sea lions on a wild beach. Appealing place for and hour and a half of walking. But note, the walk back was more difficult.

Reviewed about 1 year ago and experienced in December 2016

Camping NZ App Icon

Camping NZ App

Every camping site on your iPhone™, iPad™ or Android™ phone or tablet. Avoid camping penalties using this council approved app. Featuring offline maps.

Download from the App Store Download Android app on Google Play

Sylvie Martel's avatar

Sylvie Martel

Ranking: 10/10

Very nice walk. Beautiful scenery. Saw many seals but no penguins as we were not at right time.

Reviewed over 1 year ago

Gessica's avatar

Gessica

Italy

Ranking: 10/10

Awesome bay, you can see yellow eyed penguins very closely and for free. Always with perfect nature.

Reviewed almost 2 years ago and experienced in March 2016

Award-1-24px Congratulations Sandfly Bay Track - Otago Peninsula

Rankers TravellerVoted Awards 2011 Top Free Penguin Experience Winner

Sven and Annie's avatar

Sven and Annie

Netherlands

Ranking: 9/10

We say five yellow eyed penguins in an hour and a half. Lots of seal and sea lions. There is no hiding place though so you have to be really careful so you do not disturb the penguins. Have patience and it will be awesome!!

Reviewed almost 2 years ago and experienced in January 2016

Lili Souris's avatar

Lili Souris

Germany

Ranking: 10/10

Most beautiful beach in New Zealand so far. You can see seals, penguins and sea lions.

Reviewed almost 2 years ago and experienced in February 2016

Ella Gilmer's avatar

Ella Gilmer

New Zealand

Ranking: 9/10

Absolutely stunning place. There were a fair number of other people there, but it still felt very remote. It was the wrong time of day to see penguins but there were sea lions basking on the sand and playing in the ocean. The only reason I didn't give this a 10 is that the walk back up the sand dune is incredibly steep, such a killer.

Reviewed about 3 years ago