Top fishing, top beaches, top cruising, top diving, tree tops and a rich history define the top of the North Island: Northland. It is a paradise where you’ll find sandy beaches that stretch for miles, ancient rainforests and impressive sand dunes, offering outdoor enthusiasts a diverse playground. Northland is considered the “birthplace of modern New Zealand” and emits a sense of history not found in any other part of the country. This is the region where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean and where European settlers once met resident Maori populations. When will the Northland region meet you?
KEY REGIONS AND TOWNS
The Far North is famous for icons such as the Ninety Mile Beach and Cape Reinga, New Zealand’s northernmost point. Maori believe it to be the “leaping-off place of spirits”, where the spirits of the dead enter the underworld. Kaitaia, a busy farming town, is the last major settlement on the main road north to Cape Reinga. Just 5km from the town are the golden sandy beaches of Ahipara, a small settlement and popular holiday spot, with the Ninety Mile Beach to the west.
Doubtless Bay and Karikari Peninsula
Doubtless Bay has more than 70km of unspoiled coastline and an abundance of safe beaches, and was named by Captain Cook in 1769 when he said, “this is doubtless a bay”. The main village of Mangonui was settled by whalers in the early 1800s and is now dotted with waterfront cafes and restaurants. Just to the north you’ll find Karikari Peninsula, where the waka (Maori canoe) Waipapa is purported to have made its first landing in New Zealand. The peninsula is home to several beaches, including Maitai Bay, Whatuwhiwhi and Tokerau Beach. Cable Bay is known for its pink sanded beach.
Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands encompasses 144 islands and is home to the historical towns of Russell,
Paihia, Waitangi and Kerikeri. Full of cafes, restaurants and colonial architecture, you’ll fall in love with Russell’s elegance. In addition to being home to New Zealand’s oldest stone building (Stone Store), Kerikeri is known for its niche food products, cafes and galleries. The small settlement of Waitangi is mostly known as being the location where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, and the Treaty Grounds provide locals and visitors with plenty of New Zealand history. Nowadays, the Bay of Islands is one of the most popular tourist destinations, full of history and culture, and famous for its water activities.
Kauri Coast and Hokianga Harbour
Stretching from Brynderwyn in the south to Hokianga in the north, the Kauri Coast is home to the world’s oldest and largest Kauri trees, including Tane Mahuta in Waipoua Forest. Opononi, in the Hokianga Harbour, was the home of world-famous Opo, the friendly dolphin, who was known for playing in the sea with children and enjoying human company in 1955-56. The small town of Dargaville is a great place to stop on your drive up north, and has one of the longest unbroken stretches of sandy beach in New Zealand, which is largely drivable from one end to the other.
Whangarei and Tutukaka
Whangarei is Northland’s only city, home to more than 50,000 people. Its Town Basin marina is a quayside cluster of interesting colonial-style restaurants, cafes, specialty shops and classy arts and crafts. Head out to the coast to Whangarei Harbour towards Whangarei Heads, with the seaside village of McLeod Bay set under the dramatic rocks of bush-clad Mount Manaia. At the end of the Whangarei Heads Tourist Drive, Ocean Beach offers powerful surf and awesome views, bounded by sand dunes and surging coast. Half an hour northeast from Whangarei is Tutukaka, a bustling nautical town and the gateway to the famous Poor Knight’s Islands, considered one of the top ten diving spots in the world.
Mangawhai and Waipu Cove
Only 90 minutes north of Auckland is holiday favourite Mangawhai. Pre-1900, timber, gum digging and shipbuilding were the community’s main source of income. Today, the locals are working to reopen a closed harbour entrance and to stop the sand mining of their famous dunes. The Mangawhai Village is popular for locals and holidaymakers, with plenty of shops and eateries. Head 20 minutes north and you’ll find the Waipu Caves. The 175m-long main cave reveals one of the tallest stalagmites in New Zealand and is home to millions of glowworms.
Getting here and around:
Air New Zealand offers regular flights Whangarei, Kerikeri and Kaitaia.
Coach, self-drive and guided tour options are available for travelling to and around Northland.
There are three short ferry trips available in Northland – a passenger service between Paihia and Russell, a vehicle ferry between Opua and Okiato en route to Russell, and another between Rawene and Kohukohu.
Spring (Sep-Nov) – mild with humidity building, some tropical-style showers, 11-18°C; Summer (Dec-Feb) – warm and humid with sea breezes, 23-28°C; Autumn (Mar-May) – tropical storms can blow in bringing rain, 13-21°C; Winter (Jun-Aug) – mild and wet (pack your raincoat), 13-18°C.