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Thornton Bar

Thornton Bar's most popular beach users are fishermen and fisherwomen. There are a number of ways and areas that are good for fishing. Swimming also has a good following along with surfing when conditions are right. The beach is dangerous even when waves are small due to the strong currents that are formed by the Rangitaiki River mouth that pumps out a great deal of water causing strong rips and currents. There is no Lifeguarding service and all users should exercise caution.

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Family friendly

This beach has limited facilities and may not be ideal for families. It is patrolled by Surf Lifeguards over summer months but does have the potential to be dangerous in poor conditions so ensure your family is well prepared.


The best area for swimming is to the west of the parking area where the beach is less effected by the Rangitaiki River mouth. The beach slopes quickly into the ocean and there is a large dip just off the shore. There is a strong rip around the river mouth and a lot of water is moving around in all different directions for a few hundred metres either side of the river mouth. Swimmers are advised to take extreme care even when there is no surf and especially if there is a wave running. A heavy beach dump is common during periods of swell.


Surfing at Thornton Bar can be good but bar conditions can change very quickly. There are very strong rips and surfers would be advised to surf only on an incoming tide. Thorton Bar is not really the best location for surfing and is only recommended to very experienced surfers with strong swimming ability.


Fishing is the most poplar activity at this beach and on any given day there will be a great many anglers. Surfcasting to the western bank of the river mouth is extremely popular. There is also a boat ramp in the river and small boats can make it over the bar on favourable tides and very calm surf conditions. The bar at the end of Rangitaiki River mouth is very active and not an easy one to cross but good fishing and diving around islands located approximately seven kilometres offshore is a real motivator.

Activities and facilities


  • Canoeing/kayaking
  • Dog walking
  • Horse riding
  • Motorbikes/4WD's


  • Boat launching
  • Car parking
  • Public toilets


The beach is our favourite playground, but it can also be a dangerous place. Learn about the hazards at Thornton Bar and be prepared so you and your family can enjoy the sun, sea and sand safely this summer.



Unpatrolled Beach
Unpatrolled beach.
Never swim or surf alone.

Forecast provided by SwellMap.com

Mainly clear with some cloud
Max Temp.
Water Temp.

Water Conditions

For boating and surfing
Average. 6/10
Poor. 2/10



Safety at Thornton Bar

We want you to have a great time whilst visiting Thornton Bar. But take a moment to learn more about being safe on New Zealand Beaches. More ►

Unpatrolled Beach

Unpatrolled Beach
Unpatrolled beach.
Never swim or surf alone.


Click a safety symbol for more information on the risk

4 simple rules to keep you safe

We want you to have a great time whilst visiting Thornton Bar. But take a moment to learn more about being safe on New Zealand beaches and looking out for each other. More ►

The Water Safety Code:

  • Be prepared
  • Watch out for yourself and others
  • Be aware of the dangers
  • Know your limits
DIAL 111 in the event of an emergency


Thornton Bar is located 17 kilometres west of Whakatane on the east coast of the North Island. Thornton Beach Road leads you 2 kilometres from State Highway 2. The beach is made up of both dark and golden sand and is situated on the western bank of the Rangitaiki River mouth while 5 kilometres to the west is the Tarawera River mouth. Thornton Bar motor camp is located just to the west of the main parking area. Thornton Bar slopes quickly into the ocean and just offshore there is a bar that is formed from sediment moved by the river mouth. Tokata, Rurima, Moutoki and Motuhora Islands are located approximately 7 kilometres offshore, directly in front of the beach.

Public Transport

Bus: http://www.baybus.co.nz


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Beach Water Quality

The Overall Recreation Risk is a guide to give a general picture of water quality at a site. Updated annually, it is calculated from bacteria (enterococci) data collected over the last three years. The Overall Recreation Risk indicator is a precautionary approach to managing health risk and is not designed to represent health risk on a particular day. As such, a site can have an Overall Recreation Risk of ‘Caution’ but still be suitable for swimming some of the time.

Overall recreation risk

The long term risk status based on three years of data

Moderate Risk

Between 1-5% risk of illness

Many councils also provide the results of their weekly monitoring. This lets people know what the most recent bacteria levels were. Remember, even sites with low risk can be unsuitable to swim at from time to time and we recommend that you avoid swimming for 48 hours after heavy rainfall.

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