Sandymount was one of those walks that pleasantly exceeds expectations… almost no-one else around, quite varied terrain and spectacular views. It’s a very high “return on investment” walk in term of effort vs scenery, except for the section down to Sandfly Bay! You know the views will probably impress when you’ve stopped three times to take a photo from side of the road on the way to the start – and even the carpark has picnic tables with expansive views over Allans Beach and Cape Saunders.
The clearly sign-posted Sandymount track heads straight into a dense forest of macrocarpa – these trees (also known as Monterey Cypress) are native to California and thought to have been introduced to New Zealand in the 1860s gold rush. The track emerges after a few hundred metres from the dark forest to open tussock farmland, and goes through a farm gate.
There’s soon views over Allans Beach and Mount Charles as the track continues through open farmland.
The first lookout is soon reached, a fenced gravel platform near the end of the cliff. From here there are panoramic views over Cape Saunders directly ahead, and Hoopers Inlet to the left.
Directly below is a sea stack, a geological landform created by wave erosion. The small beach next to it looks like a nice spot to kayak to…
Further along the peninsula is The Chasm. The viewing platform was removed and the track re-routed in March 2019 due to “potential land instability”. You can still see The Chasm by walking through the grass to the edge of the cliff. Take great care – I’m generally not scared of heights, but found it very disconcerting to peer down the sheer vertical drop. Apparently there is a car wreck at the bottom… but I couldn’t see it!
The view from the other side of The Chasm shows the vertical cliff that forms one side of this gulch in the basalt sea cliffs. It’s perhaps more disconcerting because of the juxtaposition of rolling green hills and the sudden stark lines of the vertical sea cliffs.
I’m somewhat relieved as a cautiously back away from the vertiginous drop… not that the sheep seem to have any fears as they frolick and munch right on the edge of the cliffs!
I walk directly up the grass towards the track markers further up the hill. Looking back down the rolling hills, you wouldn’t think there was a precipitous cliff at the end.
I’m sharing this part of the walk with many sheep… Sandymount is part of the Roselle Farm. New Zealand seems to strike an effective balance between agriculture and hiking. I’m thinking the life of an Otago sheep is pretty good, with fertile green grass stretching in all directions and pretty stunning views… I guess the downside is a relatively short life before ending up as a lamb chop…
The track then follows the cliff line, althouhgh some distance back from the edge.
The platform to Lovers Leap and the viewing platform were also removed (in March 2019), but an un-signed, rough track heads off the main track towards the cliff-line. From here there are great views of the large sea-arch below the track, which would have been a sea cave before its roof collapsed.
As track continues past Lovers Leap, there are more views of the rolling green hills and spectacular coastline. From here you could continue back the same way, or take the track down Sandfly Bay, or continue the loop via Sandymount summit…
I figure since I’m here, I’ll take the track down to the beach, visible in the distance.
This bit is hard work… not so much going down… but it will be coming back up! It’s basically an enormous sand dune with a narrow track through low coastal shrubs.
The track pretty much vanishes for the final few hundred metres, so I make my own way through the last, smaller sand dunes to the beach. It’s called Sandfly Bay not because of sandflies, but because of the wind-blown sand from the strong southerly winds. There are a few people along the beach, mainly at the north-western end where there is a much easier access point from the end of Seal Point Road.
Sandfly Bay is a nesting site for the rare yellow-eyed penguin (hoiho) as well as sea lions and fur seals. I don’t see penguins (wrong time of the day), but right in front of the track is a sea lion (I think… it could be a seal) resting on the beach.
I don’t stay here long – I need to get back for dinner – so it’s straight back up the sand dune. Definitely a lot less fun hiking up the soft sand. The return trip to Sandfly Bay takes about an hour, but best to allow 1.5 hours plus some time to explore the beach. Once back on the main track, it’s not far to the Sandymount summit, which is one of the highest points of the Otago Peninsula (320m above sea level) and offers sweeping views.
Looking south towards Dunedin is Nugget Point (although I can’t quite make this out); Sandfly Bay is just below and behind the first promontary is Boulder Beach. White Island and Green Island appear as small specks in the ocean.
Inland, to the north, is the tidal Hoopers Inlet lagoon.
To the east is Allans Beach and Cape Saunders; one of the large cruise ships that had been docked on the other side of the peninsula can be seen making its way south.
It’s a short ten minutes or so from here back to the car. Definitely a walk I’d highly recommend, but perhaps skip the Sandfly Bay option unles you want a good work-out!
0.0km Carpark at end of Sandymount Road (254m asl) 0.9km Viewing platform 1.1km The Chasm 2.1km Lovers Leap 2.6km Junction with track to Sandfly Bay 4.6km Sandfly Bay 6.6km Back to Sandymount track 6.8km Sandymount Summit (320m asl) 7.2km Carpark
Accommodation near Sandymount
We stayed at Allans Beach Farmstay, in one of the two rustic cottages. They are basic but comfortable, and just a stone’s throw from Allans Beach in a secluded location. Most of the Otago Peninsula walks, including this one, are a short drive away. Perfect if you want to escape and get back to nature – but not so convenient if you prefer to eat out, as it’s a 30min drive into Dunedin. There’s a wide range of accommodation in Dunedin and on the Otago Peninsula, which is known for its wildlife.
More information on Sandymount
- DOC Sandymount Track web site
- DOC Dunedin walks brochure [PDF]
- Peter Janssen, Excellent Short Walks in the South Island, p.146
- Shaun Barnett, Day Walks in New Zealand, p.176
- NZ TopoMap – Sandymount trail
Best hikes of Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula
There are 46 hikes on the very useful DOC Dunedin walks brochure alone – the top Dunedin and Otago Peninsula hikes which I’d recommend if you can’t do them all are: