Updated: Apr 7, 2020
North of Auckland to Cape Reigna, and everything in between! Golden sandy beaches, awesome little towns and so many islands to explore...
HOT LIST OF #NZMUSTDO IN NORTHLAND:
TE PAKI SAND DUNES
90 MILE BEACH
BAY OF ISLANDS
So now that we have an overview, let's look at these more deeply...
This is the northernmost tip of New Zealand that is reachable by car/van and it is of cultural significance to the Maori. They believe that the deceased take their final journey into the ocean to travel back to the homeland of Hawaiki. It is a stunning area with LOTS of photo opportunities! It is also here that the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific, and if the weather treats you well, you can see the divide between the two oceans and even the waves travelling in different directions. The Cape is also home to the Cape Lighthouse which stands proudly at the end, looking out to the ocean, accompanied by one of the all-famous signs showing distance in all directions. If you have your own means of transportation, it's definitely worth the drive up SH1 to the top. You can check out the awesome Cape on the video links page! On your way back down, stop by...
HOW TO GET THERE: Follow SH1 to the top!
TE PAKI SAND DUNES
You have to drive almost right past the dunes to get to Cape Reigna and if you came all this way, you HAVE to visit them. Standing anywhere up to 150m high, they really are a sight not to be missed (literally!). We won't lie to you, it's not easy climbing up the dunes, but it is so worth it for this completely free thing to do! Bring a body board and let gravity do the work, because when you reach the peaks, there's no way you will want to walk back down!
If you don't have a body board though, don't worry! There is a lorry at the bottom by the car park where you can hire boards for the day for as little as $15. Just bare in mind, as security they will want to hold some form of ID, so make sure you bring this with you. As mentioned above, you can check out this awesome spot on the video links page!
HOW TO GET THERE: Follow SH1 to the left Te Paki exit.
BRING: Body board (or rent one).
90 MILE BEACH
So the funniest thing about 90 Mile Beach, is that it isn't actually 90 miles long! In fact, it is 88 km or 55 miles long and can be accessed at several points along the Aupouri Peninsula. The beach is famous for its hard sand, allowing vehicles to drive along the sand as an alternative to SH1. PLEASE SEE TIDE TIMES as this is only possible at low tide! Also bare in mind that rental companies will not allow you to take your vehicle on the beach. We were lucky enough (and shocked) that we actually managed to bring Hank (our trusty campervan) on this day out with us. We really enjoyed visiting the town of Ahipara, and more specifically, Shipwrecks Bay - the start of 90 Mile Beach, where you can see all the way to the Cape on a clear day. Have a look at 'Hank goes to the beach' on the video links page!
HOW TO GET THERE: From Kaitaia head southwest towards Ahipara.
BRING: Towel and swimsuit!
This was probably one of our favourite towns in Northland by means of stuff to do. It is by far the biggest, and there's such a cool vibe with loads of activities to keep you busy, not just in the town, but super close by as well.
Whangarei has some of the BEST free, yes I said FREE glow worm caves in New Zealand. There are actually a couple of options as well. If you are travelling north from the Auckland region, Waipu is a great little cave where you can go as far as you feel comfortable. TIP: make sure you bring some wellies if you don't want to get your feet wet! You can of course go barefoot, but may not be recommended as it is of course slippery inside. Also just outside of Whangarei is Abbey Caves. Here there are 3 different caves, all of different structure and difficulty level. The middle one is definitely the easiest!
If you're into short walks/hikes, then Whangarei definitely has some great tracks. Our favourite was Mt Manaia, where you can look out over the entire bay from the top and only takes approximately an hour. However, if you don't fancy journeying out to the heads, from the town basin, you can walk up to the Parihaka Reserve that overlooks the town and is also less than an hour. Another great walk has to be the Hatea River walk. You can walk about 3 different tracks around the river and choose to end up at Whangarei Falls - a 26m drop over basalt cliffs. There are 3 viewing platforms so you can see the flow from all angles. We have 2 vlogs on Whangarei - Northland & Whangarei Falls - both on the video links page!
HOW TO GET THERE: From Auckland, follow SH1 north. On your way, stop by Matakana, Mangawhai, Ruakaka Beach & Waipu if you have time.
This particular coastline houses some of the best beaches in New Zealand in terms of white sand and blue sea. Both Tutukaka and its neighbouring beach Matapouri are absolutely stunning, and well worth spending a day soaking up the sun. At the left side of Matapouri beach, there is also some cool rock formations to explore. Tutukaka itself, is famous for its connection with the Poor Knights Islands - an incredible diving opportunity in a protected marine reserve. During the summer, you can go snorkelling or diving with an instructor, however, in the winter months, you may only dive if you have a PADI certificate.
HOW TO GET THERE: After Whangarei, exit SH1 and head for Ngunguru Road until it becomes Matapouri Road.
BRING: Beach towel and swimwear!
The Waipoua Forest is home to thousands of New Zealand's native Kauri trees, but within the forest lies a few that are famous. The most famous being Tane Mahuta - standing at an impressive 148ft, with a girth of 15.44m and estimated to be up to 2,500 years old - it is known as the God of the forest. Less than a few kms away, you will also find 4 other walking tracks including: Te Matua Ngahere - the Father of the Forest and the largest kauri by girth (16.41m) and the Four Sisters. Spend some time navigating your way through the native New Zealand bush and admiring the beauty it has to offer.
HOW TO GET THERE: The forest lies on SH12, north of Dargaville and south of Opononi.
BRING: Your camera!
BAY OF ISLANDS
The bay of islands may have actually deserved it's own blog post, but as it is a part of Northland, I am going to just summarise the area and give you the golden information...
If you are lacking time, the key places to visit would be: Russell and Paihia, however, we really recommend taking a bit more time if you have it and also visiting Kerikeri and Waitangi.
Russell is in our opinion, one of the most romantic little towns in the region. It has this cute, cosy feel to it and it just feels like the ultimate place to settle abroad. You wouldn't expect it to have this kind of feel to it though, considering it's history. Russell, some years ago, was known as the 'hell hole' of the Pacific, and was thriving with violence, drugs and alcohol due to it being quite an accessible point in New Zealand. Make sure you check out Flagstaff Hill for panoramic views of the neighbouring towns and the local museums which are relatively inexpensive and of course, your trip wouldn't be complete without fish and chips on the beach front! Grab them from the takeaway near the wharf before catching the ferry to Paihia.
Paihia is another one of those towns that just steals your heart. During the summer months, the Bay of Islands' population swells four fold because you can explore so many of the 144 islands the region has to offer.
Waitangi is probably one of the places you've heard of before, but can't remember why. The reason being is New Zealand celebrates Waitangi Day every year to commemorate the Treaty of Waitangi being signed on 6th February 1840. You can visit the treaty grounds and learn about the culture of the Maori and the history that this place represents.
Following further north, you will find Kerikeri, which is a super small town in itself, but it is home to the gorgeous Rainbow Falls which is a nice easy 5 minute walk from the car park making it super accessible for people of all abilities. Another hidden gem that not everyone knows about is Ngawha Hot Springs. These are probably some of the cheapest and most natural pools you will come across in the North Island. The site itself is very primitive, but each of these hot pools are 100% naturally powered by their own individual spring - unlike some other resorts where water is pumped from one spring. The beauty of it is, it's also probably the cheapest (besides free) in the country at only $5 per person!
HOW TO GET THERE: The easiest way to visit Russell would be to catch the ferry from Paihia wharf, however you can drive to Russell and catch the vehicle ferry as well. Keep going north from Paihia to reach Waitangi, then loop back around using SH11 going north on SH10 for Kerikeri or south for SH12 for Ngawha Hot Springs.
BRING: Some Love!