A locals tips for the best things to do in Northland, New Zealand.
We have been living in the stunning Bay of Islands region of New Zealand since September 2017. We have kept ourselves busy exploring this coastal region in the state of Northland, New Zealand.
The weather in the so-called ‘Winterless Far North” has been less than ideal this Summer. According to Northland locals it has been one of the worst Summer’s in years, a complete washout. But, we have had some beautiful days too and we certainly made the most of these fine days. In fact, I think by now we’ve made it to pretty much every beach in Northland.
7 of the best things to do in Northland New Zealand –
I know the South Island gets most of the good press (& a lot of the tourists) but there is so much beauty to be explored in the North Island. From the famed Cape Reinga, giant sand dunes at Te Paki and the largest Kauri tree in the world – you are certainly spoiled for choice in Northland!
Plus if you love getting out in nature you may wish to extend your vacation to Northland and explore the Tawharanui Regional Park, near Matakana – just over 2 hours drive from Paihia. This is one of the prettiest hikes in New Zealand.
- Have a picnic at Opito Bay, Kerikeri
- Drive to Cape Reinga
- Visit the sand dunes in Te Paki
- See Tane Mahuta (the largest Kauri tree in the world)
- Explore the beaches of the West Coast
- Pay a visit to the Stone Store in Kerikeri (the oldest building in New Zealand)
- Drive along the Tutukaka Coast
Anyway enough babbling, here’s a locals top tips in full detail for the best things to do in Northland, New Zealand.
1. Have a picnic at Opito Bay
In fact, this beach is nameless. When you get to Opito Bay (approximately a 15 minute drive from the large town of Kerikeri). Follow the signs across from the carpark for Ake Ake point. It’s a beautiful walk through the rainforest, filled with birdsong and the distinct smell of tea-tree. Follow the signs for the beach and at the end of a steep hill you will be greeted by perhaps our favorite beaches in the region. In fact, it’s where we got engaged recently!
We often come to Opito bay to sunbathe and swim, and we pretty much have it to ourselves every time. We have started coming here for a sunset picnic (with some beers of course) in recent weeks. And it’s become one of my favorite past-times.
2. Take a scenic drive to Cape Reinga
The famed Cape Reinga, the most Northern Point of New Zealand and the place where two oceans meet (the Tasman and the Pacific). It took us approximately 3 hours, driving from Kerikeri. The road can be a tad tiresome. Plus there’s not a whole lot to see after Kaitaia.
My Top Tip: if you need to stop for food/ want to bring a picnic stop in Kaitaia as there’s pretty much nothing after here.
Cape Reinga is very popular and can get quite crowded so try to get here early or late to avoid the tour buses. There’s an absolutely incredible beach about a 25 minute walk from the lighthouse called Te Werahi beach. To be honest, we spent more of our time here than at the Lighthouse itself. To get the best photo of the Lighthouse stand at the top of the hill directly facing it.
On the way home, be sure to stop in the picturesque town of Mangonui – which has a great Thai restaurant. In fact it’s the best in Northland, it’s simply called The Thai Mangonui
3. Have fun at the giant sand dunes in Te Paki
We didn’t partake in sand-boarding here but took a long walk around the dunes which are akin to what I imagine the planet of Mars to look like.
To rent a sandboard on site is $10-$15. Even though we didn’t join in the sand-boarding fun, I feel it’s well-worth a stop here on the way to or from Cape Reinga.
4. See the largest Kauri tree in the world
Tane Mahuta is a giant Kauri tree on the west coast of Northland. The tree is a whopping 51.5 metres tall and has a trunk girth of 18.8 metres. No tree-hugging this one!
Known as the “lord of the forest” it makes you feel incredibly small. There’s a kind of surreal peaceful energy that overcomes you in its presence. Tane Mahuta is a 70 minute drive from Kerikeri.
There’s a great little foodtruck on-site serving great coffee and freshly baked cakes. It is free to visit Tane Mahuta, which is fantastic considering it’s one of the top tourist sites in Northland.
Did you know – Kauri’s were depleted by logging, which started in the 1820s. And the few giants that remain are threatened by dieback disease, a rot that is carried on people’s shoes and by mammals. Today, visitors have to hose their shoes and make sure no soil is on their clothes before entering the rainforest. Even the root structures of Tāne are so fragile walkways have been built to protect them.
5. Explore the wild west coast
A completely different coastal terrain to the eastern side, the west coast is famed for its white-sand beaches & sand dunes. You may even spot massive purple jellyfish lurking in the shallows.
We walked a beach next to the town of Omapere that was gorgeously deserted and felt like another world. There is also a gorgeous view point and scenic walk called Arai Te Uru just off Signal Station Road in Omapere. Come here for lots of great photo opportunities.
6. Visit the oldest stone building in New Zealand
Established in 1819, the Kerikeri Mission Station is one of the first places in New Zealand where Māori invited visitors to live among them. Today, the Stone Store, situated along a pretty riverside just five minutes from central Kerikeri. It is a captivating place to visit.
There’s a pretty little café along the river here called The Honey House. Which, I highly recommend!
7. Drive one of the most scenic coastlines in the world
According to National Geographic, the Tutukaka coast is among the top three coastal regions in the world. No mean feat, and after visiting this region for the first time this past weekend, I feel it’s certainly deserving of all the praise. Tutukaka is a 80 minute drive from Kerikeri and just 20 minutes from Whangarei the largest city in Northland, New Zealand.
Visit the stunning beaches along the drive
First, we stopped at Sandy Bay a beautiful golden sand beach ideal for surfing. Our next stop was perhaps my favourite – Whale Bay a gorgeous turquoise-hued cove ideal for swimming and kids as it is protected from the elements. It is about a 10-15 minute walk from the carpark. There is a gorgeous viewpoint here too, a 20 minute walk from the carpark for those all-important photos.
Our final stop was Matapouri for the famed Mermaid Pools. The beach at Matapouri is in itself worth the visit, a long stretch of white sand with crashing waves – again, ideal for surfing. The trek to the Mermaid Pools can be tricky especially in high tide, we had to wade through the ocean at one point and after that it’s a steep climb up hardened muddy ground.
My Top Tip – I advise this walk only for the relatively fit. Its also easier to go barefoot so you can get a grip on the dry hardened ground.
So, there you have it a snippet into our lives here in Northland, New Zealand. It’s a quiet peaceful existence and as much as we love the quiet life, we’re starting to get itchy feet once again and so are very much looking forward to a move to the adventure capital of New Zealand – Queenstown.
Tell me, have you ever visited Northland, New Zealand? Did you like it? Anywhere we should visit while we’re here? Comment below (I will love you for it)!
Surely, I’ve convinced you to visit Northland, New Zealand now.
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