Tour operators want end to 'horrific' Muriwai Beach crashes
You can get Auckland's beautiful, windswept, dangerous Muriwai Beach wrong before you even drive it.
And once you're on the beach, driving mistakes can quickly turn deadly, according to four-wheel-drive experts.
Sharon Stewart and Roger Winslade said picking the right time to cruise the 50km-long long black sand west coast beach was just the first of several crucial dos and don'ts.
The highly qualified off-road instructors and assessors with 23 years off-roading experience combined, run tours on Muriwai Beach and don't want to see any more "horrific" accidents and "amazingly stupid" behaviour.
"I think the most important thing when driving on Muriwai Beach is to have a permit to drive on the beach," said Stewart, a UK ex-pat and proud "Geordie".
The Auckland Council-issued annual permit asks applicants to acknowledge they've read the emphasis-on-safety beach driving terms and conditions.
Stewart's comments follow a police announcement they will be using hidden cameras to catch illegal and dangerous beach drivers.
"If people think nobody's watching they'll take the speed right up, they'll go extremely fast which is very, very dangerous."
In recent years there have been several vehicle fatalities on the beach including the deaths of four men when their 4WD rolled in 2015.
In 2007 one person was killed after a 4WD flipped on the beach and in 2004 three people died. There have also been several injuries and countless near-misses.
Winslade, a former policeman, with more than 15 years' 4WD experience, sometimes gets called-in to help with serious beach crashes.
"I've attended some horrific crashes on the beach, we're constantly seeing Westpac Rescue Helicopter fly up here.
"One lady was quite seriously injured not long ago, it was just coming on dark and they hit a log and they rolled - it was horrific.
"We see some amazingly stupid activity from some people, standing on the roofs of cars while they're driving on the beach to people being dragged on pieces of wood behind vehicles, it's incredible what you see."
Driving accidents can happen in a split-second, Winslade said.
Almost invisible softspots, sometimes hidden under shallow water, quicksand and waves can suddenly wrench a driver's wheel out of their hands.
"Your front wheel hits the wave, it feels like [the wave] has grabbed your steering wheel, your natural instinct is to turn away and you roll - so stay well out of the water."
Drivers should also remember they share the beach with others, Stewart said.
"Unpredictable" horses, fishermen with almost-invisible long lines, children "running all over the place" and dog walkers are just some of the myriad hazards, she said.
"Once you nail the technical side of [driving Muriwai Beach] it's an amazing experience," Stewart said
Stewart and Winslade's Muriwai Beach driving advice
* Obtain a beach driving permit from Auckland Council.
* Only drive the beach three hours each side of low tide.
* Never drive alone and always tell someone where you are going and what time you're due back.
* Share with care - although a legal highway, Muriwai Beach is used by all sorts.
* Only use 4WDs on the beach - normal cars get stuck.
* Watch out for soft spots and hidden obstacles, don't speed and drive well out of the water.
* Be aware cellphone coverage tends to diminish the further north you drive on the 50km beach.