Big Ben

Big Ben

Big Ben is a small island, home to a large rock pool between Port Charles and Stony Bay in the northern part of the Coromandel. It can be accessed on foot at low tide and can be reached by boat or kayak at high tide. For accessing the island by foot you follow and old vehicle track from the top of Stony Bay road down to a rocky beach and then hop on across a bay to find Big Ben. Carry your snorkel, mask and flippers and bask in the sun while you explore around the rocks searching for crabs and kina. It is a beloved destination that I have been fortunate enough to know about through extended family. Hopefully, others too can now discover this beautiful spot at the very top of the Coromandel Peninsula.


45 mins


1 km


Rock Pools, Beach

Lying in the middle of the rock pool trying to catch some rays

In Detail

Big Ben is a large island that Ensures that you plan your trip to Big Ben according to the tides forecast. This spot is really only known by the locals in the area. Treat the area with much care and respect so that it can be enjoyed by many more people in the future. At the peak of summer, over the Christmas/New Years period often we would often have the rock pool all to ourselves. Not only does it provides excellent swimming opportunities for less confident swimmers, but also for those who aren’t confident enough to snorkel in the sea. The area has an incredible amount of marine life.

Swimming in the rock pool, Sandy Bay inlet in the distance

Getting There

The road to Big Ben follows a windy gravel road that is very tight in places, at times only really a one-way road. The closest town to Big Ben is Colville, however many people will spend there summer camping at either Waikawau Bay campsite or Stony Bay campsite. From Colville follow the road until you reach the turn off to Port Charles or Port Jackson. Follow the road to Port Charles, turning left when you reach the turnoff to Waikawau Bay. You should pass a further turn off to Carey’s Beach and then drive on past Little Sandy Bay and Sandy Bay before reaching the small gated entrance to the dirt track to Big Ben. From Stony Bay follow the road until you reach the point marked on the map below, if you reach Sandy Bay you will know that you’ve gone too far.


The route to Big Ben is relatively easy to follow. According to my mother who used to visit the spot as a young kid you used to be able to drive right the way down to the Rubber Trees when an old couple used to farm the land. DOC has since reclaimed the land however, cattle still graze the land from time to time. Regenerating native bush covers much of the since converted land. Getting down to the first bay begins with jumping over an old rusted fence and following the formed track right the way to some large rubber trees. The key part of the track is that you must cross a small stream near the giant rubber trees which comes out to a boulder-filled beach. From here it is a short walk to the next beach, then a matter of crossing to the small island Big Ben.

[wp_mapbox_gl_js map_id=”5197″ height=”800px”]



Parking & Starting

The track starts along an old farm track, you can tell that you have found the right track by an old rusted gate that bars the track. It features a handwritten sign stating no hunting, no firearms, and no dogs. At times you can find the gate has been left open as it had this time. Always remember to leave the gate how you left it.

Top: On the road between Sandy Bay and Stony Bay where the track to Big Ben begins
Bottom: The hand painted sign and where the first gate lies

Farm Track

The walk down to the track is rough but manageable in a pair of jandals. Keep to four-wheel drive track and follow it right the way down to get down to the ocean. There is a little road that veers off to some hives if you do follow the route you’ll end up finding yourself face to face with a view as shown in the picture below. It’s a beautiful sight over Port Charles offering panoramic views. It’s a lot easier to return the way you came back onto the vehicle track than trying to clamber down the track.

Looking out over Lion Rock and Port Charles

Manuka trees shelter you for most of the first section of the walk. Soon after they part the track hits quite a mud clogged section. Depending on how much rain the area has had depends on how muddy the track is. Cows often graze the pastures in the area and usually turn a lot of the mud over, when it is dried up you have to do a lot of stepping stone hoping to get through this section. If you are wearing jandals or shoes that can come off your feet easily ensure that you do these parts barefoot or tighten your shoes up to avoid losing them. Finally, once you are at the bottom of the track walk towards the stream on your left of the track you have descended and cross at the large rubber tree and follow a rough track down to a rocky beach.

Top: Looking down the stream crossing opposite the
Bottom: Looking down on the first stony beach at the end of the track

Beach Crossings

From the beach that you come out on that, you make your away around to the Island, Big Ben. There is a generous amount of rock-hopping involved as you make your way around the coastline. There are good opportunities to spot crabs, starfish and look at the different shellfish clammed to the rocks. This section of the walk can be exciting to take your time on, especially with young ones. I have always been able to spot a large amount of diversity not only around the rocks but in the surrounding sea. On our most recent trip, my uncle was lucky enough to spot a whole school of fish by swimming between the island and the rocky beach the track leads out onto.

Top: Scampering across rocks on the first beach heading on towards the second
Bottom: Looking out over Big Ben after a good swim at the rock pool

Rock Pool

The crown jewel of this island is a large rock pool you can swim in. Situated right next to the sea, It’s home to many small sea life creatures and plants. It’s essential that you pack your snorkel and mask. Sitting on top of the water, taking in all of the surroundings of the rock pools. The pool is easily deep enough to dive down into, deep enough that you can pick shells from the bottom. Just ensure that you look where you put your feet. Last time we visited we found sea eggs sitting in prime standing positions in the rock pool. The last thing you want to happen is to end up digging sea egg spikes from your feet.

Top: Getting into the pool is always the hardest part, once your in it’s warm
Middle Left: The visibility in the rock pool is often extremely good
Middle Right: Diving down deep into the rock pool
Bottom: Discovering crabs around the rock pool scuttling about always creates some excitement

Return Journey

The return journey from the Big Ben follows exactly the same route. The most important part about returning is that if you don’t want to swim that you head back before the tide comes in too far. One of the best ways to prepare is to head in on an incoming tide. You’ll have plenty of time that you can spend at the rock pools without a worry. The tide is only going to get lower.

Looking back towards the stony beach the track comes out on

A swing is hung on the opposite side of the stream where you enter the bush go on to ascend. It’s a short walk through some long grass and then up the stream from where you came. At times the track can be quite muddy even after long dry periods. If you’re wearing jandals or the like it can be a good idea to take them off through the soft patches to avoid losing them in the mud. Once you’re through the patch, just before you reach the farm gate you can find an easy descent to a stream below where you can wash your footwear before completing the rest of your journey back to the car.

Top Left: Cleaning our shoes after the major muddy section of the track
Top Right: Although the stream is small it’s easy enough to clean your jandals or sandals in
Bottom: A Keruru (New Zealand Wood Pigeon) nestled up high in the rubber trees