Road Trip in Northland, New Zealand and 12 Unmissable Things to Do
Road Trip in Northland, New Zealand and 12 Unmissable Things to Do
Traveling allows you to become so many different versions of yourself.
The northern tip of New Zealand’s north island, framed by the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, let us introduce you to the beautiful region of Northland. Sheltered beaches, wineries, colonial-era towns or sand dunes, this region is full of treasures and offers a variety of impressive scenery.
The Northland also kept a deep connection with its Maori’s roots. Not only the region is the home of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, a historic Maori site, but it has also few spots considered as sacred and highly spiritual.
Besides, when you enter a shop over there, locals will welcome saying “Kia Ora”. Which means welcome, hello, thanks, please and bye at the same time. As you can see, learning Maori is quite easy.
Travelers are all the time looking for a change of scene when they explore faraway countries. Following this affirmation, all travelers, and especially nature lovers, will see the great potential of this region of New Zealand.
However, traveling is also an occasion to learn more about a foreign culture. Meeting the locals, discovering their ancestral customs, letting them bring you into their world and share their history, that’s the true magic of a travel. The beautiful thing here, this part of the North Island combined both : An exceptional nature and an authentic connection with New Zealand’s culture.
I have been fascinated by the Maori culture since I was a teenager, it was one of the main reasons why I wanted to travel to New Zealand so badly. I deeply fell in love with this piece of paradise and that’s why I wanted to devote an article exclusively about it.
I’ve been on a road trip over there twice, exploring it from the East side to the West one, the second time with Pedro. So for today, I’m going to share with you the best of both road trips and 12 things not to miss while you explore this area.
The perfect itinerary
Distance : 1042 km
Length : 8 days
Best time to go : From November to April.
Road conditions : Optimal
For those that are more visuals, here is a map with an overview of this road trip. You can open it on Google Maps and it is to hit the road !
1 – Hiking in Whangarei Heads
The first stop we recommend is the beautiful city of Whangarei.
It’s a 2 hours drive north from Auckland. You just need to follow the highway 1 or also called the Northern Gateway.
Be careful though, along the road you will cross one of the rare tolls of New Zealand. For a simple car, the fee is only 2,3 NZD one way ( Less than 1,20 euro) You can easily pay it online, on the website of NZ Transport Agency. You just need to enter your type of car, its plate number and your credit card details. Simple and fast.
Don’t miss : Whangarei waterfall & Whangarei Heads.
2 – Discovering Matapouri Bay
From Whangarei, it’s a 40 minutes drive along the scenic east coast of the Northland. We particularly recommend you to make a few stops, in order to take a great shoot of the remarkable landscapes.
Don’t miss : Tutukaka, a beautiful coastal small town ; Matapouri beach & Matapouri mermaid pools.
3 – Cruising in Paihia
Back on the road, 1h20 away from the Matapouri Bay you will encounter the city of Paihia. Famous as a diving and sailing spot, but also for its sandy beaches.
Don’t miss : Hole in the rock cruise, if you are lucky you can even see some dolphins – I recommend the company Great Sights & a visit of the colonial town of Russell, accessible with a ferry as well.
4 – Spa day in Te Waiariki Ngawha Hot Springs
30 minutes from Paihia, let us bring you to the Ngawha Springs. There is nothing exceptional over there but authentic natural and mineral hot springs.
Also called the Healing Pools, each one has its own name, color and temperature (between 41 and 48 degrees). It’s not at all a fancy looking place, but the quality and virtues of these springs are unique in New Zealand.
It’s perfect to offer yourself a soothing moment in your hectic road trip activities and it’s also an affordable way to take care of your skin.
Indeed, it’s only 5 NZD per entrance ( about 2,50 euros) and there is no time limit.
5 – Wine tasting in Kerikeri
After a relaxing time in the Hot Springs of Ngawha, the next stop will be the charming town of Kerikeri, only 30 minutes away.
Ô valley of plenty – This city is also referred to as “The fruit bowl of the North”. The reason being that Kerikeri is an abundant city, due to its rich and fertile soil. That’s why this lush place possesses amazing vineyards. Then, wine tasting is purely making sense, right ?
Don’t miss : There is plenty of options to test the finest wine of Kerikeri, my personal favorite was Ake Ake vineyard. They also have a restaurant over there, with delicious local specialities.
6 – Sunbathing in Doubtless Bay
An hour from Kerikeri, you will reach Doubtless Bay. Still on the east side, this bay counts with numerous white-sand beaches. With an incredibly appealing water, this place is inviting you for a swim or snorkelling.
Don’t miss : Coopers Beach ; Matai Bay & Taupo Bay, a good surf spot.
7 – Enjoying the sunset at Ninety Miles Beach
From Doubtless Bay, it’s another one hour drive to get to one of Northland’s most famous beach : Ninety Miles Beach.
As the name suggests, this beach is spreading over 88 km, it feels like it’s never-ending. Located on the western coast, this spot is also renowned for being a spectacular sunset point. On your way to Cape Reinga, this is an unmissable stop.
8 – Sandboarding on the dunes of Te Paki
Half an hour up north form Ninety Mills Beach, you will enter into a totally different environment. From the lush lands of Kerikeri to the beautiful beaches along the coast, now you will step into a little version of the Sahara : Te Paki.
There, you can experience some sandboarding. All along the road, many shops propose sandboard renting, from 5 to 10 NZD. If you stay in a hostel in the surroundings, most of them rent them for free to their guests.
9 – Exploring Cape Reinga
Do you think that’s already a lot of wonders that we’ve shared with you ? Well, your eyes are not done being amazed as you will arrive at the ultimate spot of Northland : Cape Reinga.
It’s only a 15 minutes drive from Te Paki and what a drive. It’s one of the most scenic routes you will ever see in New Zealand. On the way up to Cape Reinga from Te Paki, there are many hidden camping spots where we highly recommend you to experience a night, surrounded by an unspoiled nature.
Once you will arrive in Cap Reinga, you will notice that this place is just incredible, it have something in the air who makes it so special. It almost feels like you are dreaming, with your eyes open. According to Maori mythology, the spirits of the dead travel to Cape Reinga on their journey to the afterlife.
On a clear day, you can even see the separation marker between the Tasman Sea & the Pacific Ocean.
10 – Surfing at Ahipara
After reaching the northern tip of the island, it’s time to go down. But this time, let’s discover the treasures of the west coast. From Cape Reinga, you can join the city of Ahipara in 1h40 minutes. This place is idyllic for long walks along the beach, to enjoy a surf session in the dynamic waves or to spot the sunrise.
We recommend you a cosy place in Ahipara, Endless Summer Lodge. Located only 50 meters away from the beach, this guesthouse is full of charm and the kindness of the staff is incredible. You can even borrow a surf and a sandboard for free during your stay.
Don’t miss : Shipwreck Bay, idyllic surfing spot.
11 – Visiting Omapere
Another a 2 hours drive south from Ahipara will bring you to the city of Omapere.
This place offers many coastal walks and countless possibilities of trails, rewarding you with spectacular views. An open window to the beautiful heart of Hokianga Harbour, Omapere is the pearl of the West coast.
Don’t miss : Arai te Uru – A beautiful nature reserve with numerous gorgeous hikes.
12 – Setting a foot into the magical Waipoua Kauri Forest
40 minutes drive from Omapere, there is our last stop in the Northland : Waipoua Kauri Forest.
Kauri is a typical tree from New Zealand. They are sacred and an important part of Maori’s culture. The Maori also called them the God Trees. You can only find them in this part of New Zealand.
Into the Waipoua Kauri Forest, you can witness Kauri trees up to 50 meters tall that have been living for 2500 years, such as the famous Tane Mahuta – The Lord of the forest.
That’s no surprise that New Zealand has been used for so many different movie sets, such as Lord of the Rings or King Kong. Nature is simply breathtaking and magical, it almost seems that you are on another planet and Waipoua Kauri Forest is a perfect representation of that.
We hope you enjoyed this road trip with us, discovering some of the Northland’s treasures. Wishing that it can help those intending a road trip over there.
Thanks a lot for reading & see you soon for a new adventure.
We are Camille & Pedro, a Franco-Brazilian couple. Currently starring in our own travel reality show, we would love to bring you along in our adventurous universe. We’ve been both experiencing solo traveling and are now keeping this nomad lifestyle as a couple. On our blog, we are sharing our adventures around the world, offering tips & creating travel guides for other wanderers.