Our top things to do in Northland, New Zealand

Today marks our 3-month anniversary in New Zealand. It feels like we’ve been here forever but then it also feels like we just landed – does that make sense to anyone else? I think, when you’re new to a place, everything feels exciting and  well ‘new’ and you relish every single moment making time feel slower, on the other-hand we’ve packed so much into these short 3 months that it feels like our life is on fast-forward. Since moving to New Zealand, 3 months ago we’ve: bought 2 cars (Paul bought his in Auckland, I bought mine here in Kerikeri); rented a property; started new jobs and also done just about every sight-seeing activity Northland has to offer.

Matauri Bay, New Zealand

So, where exactly is Kerikeri?

The town we’ve moved to is called Kerikeri and it’s in the far north of New Zealand’s North Island. It’s known as “the winterless North”, hence why we’ve chosen this town to start our New Zealand adventure. Honestly, we couldn’t face the cold again having just moved from Whistler, Canada. It is the biggest town in Northland (the state it’s located in) the biggest city here being Whangarei (pronounced Fun-gur-i) – I know, try saying that after a few glasses of wine. To those backpackers reading – you may be familiar with Paihia, a pretty beach-town just 15 minutes drive from us. It is where most expats to this area chose to live but we decided to base ourselves in Kerikeri because it’s bigger, it’s closer to my job & it had a better variety of rental properties. We were very lucky with our rental – we pay $290 a week for a large 2-bedroom house, with a garden, wrap-around deck and a 2-minute walking distance to town.  Believe me, that’s cheap for New Zealand.

The sunset from our bathroom window Beauty is everywhere, it’s up to you to find it.

Now, for some recommendations…

We feel the best things to do in Kerikeri are Rainbow Falls (see photo below), the Stone Store (the oldest stone building in New Zealand, which also houses the cutest cafe overlooking the river), and a visit to the bustling yet quirky Packhouse Market which is held every Saturday morning.

Rainbow Falls, Kerikeri

In the nearby surrounding area we highly recommend Opito Bay we took a drive here yesterday and found the most epic hidden beach – a 15 minute walk through the rainforest across from Opito Bay will bring you to a gem of a beach – just follow the wooden signs. On this particular stretch of sand you’re not likely to come across another soul for hours. Our kind of place! Another fabulous beach in this area is Matauri Bay. A 30-minute drive from Kerikeri with the most epic road winding down, the view as you drive down is spectacular, just be careful not to take your eyes off the road. Matauri Bay plays host to the Rainbow Warrior Memorial an unusual sculpture dedicated to the famous Rainbow Warrior ship – a Greenpeace protest ship which was blown up in Auckland Harbour in 1985. The wreck was moved to the waters off Matauri Bay (FYI – you can dive this wreck too). The walk to the memorial is a steep 10-minute climb but the 180-degree views of the bay is so worth your aching legs.

The ‘hidden’ beach near Opito Bay

The Puketi Kauri Forest is another great stop, only a 15 minute drive from Kerikeri – there are a variety of walks you can do here ranging from quick & easy to lengthy & more difficult. We did the Kauri Stump Walk –  a beautiful wooded walkway through giant Kauri trees & less than 15-minutes round-trip. It is peaceful and typically doesn’t attract too many other tourists. You can camp here too if so inclined.

Kauri Stump Walk at Puketi Kauri Forest

Further afield, the harbour-side town of Mangonui is pretty & picturesque, has the best Thai food in Northland and a sweet little cafe. Next to Mangonui is the very pretty Cable Bay, where we’ve taken some epic sunset shots. Did you know – Cable Bay got it’s name because it was home to the Pacific cable which linked British Columbia by telegraph with New Zealand. We found this fascinating, considering we just moved from British Columbia.

Sunset at Cable Bay

Driving further North you will come across the well-travelled 90-mile beach. This beach is officially a highway, but according to the locals “is really only suitable for 4WD vehicles and is safe to drive only at specific times of the tides”. We drove in our non-4WD Audi for a little while and were fine, although we were very cautious of the tide and didn’t drive too far from an exit. We’ve heard lots of horror stories, of cars sinking in the sand, and when the tide is out far enough you can see the cars half-submerged under the sand! The sunsets here are pretty epic too. At the very tip of Northland is Cape Reinga, the northern-most point of New Zealand and the point where two oceans meet (the Tasman & Pacific). We haven’t made it to Cape Reinga yet, as we’d like to camp a few nights up there, so are waiting for the weather to improve.

The viewpoint through the rainforest above Opito Bay

Some quirkier recommendations for you…

Want a very unique experience? Then, we hugely recommend Ngawha hotsprings. The hotsprings are located in the centre of a geothermally active area, an area that produces a considerable amount of Northland’s electricity. – all while feeding over a dozen hot pools of all sorts of colours, element make-ups and temperatures. Beware it stinks and it’s a little run-down but that adds to the appeal of it. We met quite a few interesting characters here – one-dreadlocked ‘dude’ insisted on teaching us the Maori alphabet and another guy from London believes the hotsprings have healed him (2 years earlier he was completely paralysed). The Kawiti Glow Worm Caves are another top attraction in Northland, again we haven’t made the visit but have heard great things. Yes, it’s not as ‘touristic’ as its famous sibling the Waitomo Caves, but we prefer off-the-beaten path attractions, don’t you?

The view from the Rainbow Warrior Memorial, Matauri Bay

Some quick notes about some other great towns in the area… 

Paihia, as mentioned earlier is a bit of a ‘backpacker haven’, with an abundance of hostels & seasonal work. The town runs the length of a golden sandy beach has lots of great bars & restaurants – one of our favourites being El Cafe a mexican cafe with great prices. From here, you can catch the passenger ferry to Russell.

Sunset at Paihia beach

Historic Russell was once known by the unflattering nickname of ‘Hell-hole of the Pacific”. It was the first permanent European settlement and sea port in New Zealand, so was once full of rowdy british sailors and prostitutes (hence, it’s nickname). Like Paihia it is a very popular stop with tourists, so justifiably is full of restaurants & tourist shops. Still, it is a very pretty town to spend the day, take lots of photos and have a good hearty lunch. We recommend getting a seat outside the ever-popular Duke of Marlborough.

The beach at Russell

And there you have it, that’s all our recommendations so far for this beautiful part of the world which we are lucky enough to call home. I’m sure I will be writing a follow-up to this post very soon, seeing as Summer is here and there are lots more beaches and attractions waiting for us to explore.

Have you been to Northland? Have I missed anything here? If you think so, pretty please let me know in the comment section below.

You can read more about our relocation to New Zealand here & here

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23 Replies to “Our top things to do in Northland, New Zealand”

  1. this looks gorgeous! i cannot believe you can see where cars are sunked into the sand though – that is crazy! New Zealand is still on my wish list and this post only reinforces it 🙂

  2. I am a huge sucker for beautiful nature and outdoors activities so it’s a pretty big shock that I still haven’t made it to NZ. Kerikeri sounds like a lovely base for exploring much of what the north has to offer. The sunset at Cable Bay looks absolutely stunning, and I’d love to check out the hot springs (and really everything else too). Congrats on making the big move over there and hope you continue to love it!

  3. I’m so pleased that you mentioned the hot springs! When I was really little a relative bought me home a video of the hot springs and I was delighted with it. It looks like you’re having a fantastic time, I look forward to following your journey to see what I can do when I come to NZ

  4. We’ve been thinking about visiting New Zealand for years. The main reason that prevented us going there is the fact that everything is so expensive. $290 per week sounds reasonable… for New Zealand, but then comes the price of the car. Oh well, I just read about your adventures there for now.

    1. I agree, if you are just travelling here and not working the costs are very high. That’s why we chose to do a Working Holiday Visa as it enables us to do both. We were very lucky with our rent, but other towns like Queenstown are expensive but the wages are high and the day-to-day living costs inexpensive.

  5. I’ve been dreaming of visiting New Zealand for years! I love reading about the country and taking notes for when I finally get there. Seems I’ll have to add Northland to the list!

  6. Kerikeri is indeed a revelation. I love the sound of the name itself and the place looks absolutely blissful and doubly blessed by nature. The waterfalls are something that instantly drew my attention to and the next the rainforests would be lovely to take a walk there. But I can see that your home itself is in the lap of nature and you can view some amazing sunsets from your bedroom window itself! You are truly blessed.

  7. Looks like you are having a wonderful time in New Zealand. We didn’t get that far north when we visited.8 years ago . we stayed with our very good friends in Christchurch and traveled to South Island.,We could have stayed for so much longer . But on holidays you have to just skim places and with NZ we wanted to spend time with our very good friends (He is a kiwi and she is from uk we knew them as their eldest daughter went to school with Bethany they are still good friends and we have kept in contact for over 20 years now )

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