Islands, beaches and more beaches
Northland is a region of two very different coastlines that meet at the northernmost tip of New Zealand’s North Island. The east is characterised by beautiful sparkling white sand beaches, coves and islands. The west coast feels wild and remote with stretches of seemingly endless beach including the aptly although incorrectly named Ninety Mile Beach.
There are three main centres in Northland which serve as a good base from which to explore different parts of this long but narrow peninsula. Whangarei, is the largest city closest to Auckland and the gateway to Tutukaka and the Poor Knights Islands. Further north on the east coast is Kerikeri, the main centre nearest to Paihia and the hugely popular Bay of Islands area.
In the far north is Kaitaia, located near the southern end of Ninety Mile Beach, and the last major settlement on State Highway 1 (SH1) which continues north for another 110 km to Cape Reinga, where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea.
Top things to do in Northland
Looking for ideas to help you plan the ultimate New Zealand outdoor adventure? Here are some of the top things for active travellers to see and do in the Northland region.
Visit the Bay of Islands (Ipipiri)
From an outdoor adventure perspective, if you only have time to visit one area in the Northland region, the Bay of Islands has to be it. A mix of history, culture and a huge range of both water and land-based activities make it a worthwhile trip up from Auckland. Here are just a few options for you to consider:
- Rent a kayak and explore the coastline or go on a guided coastal discovery tour with Coastal Kayakers.
- Go on a scenic cruise to the iconic Hole in the Rock. Along the way you can stop off at beautiful Otehei Bay on Urupukapuka Island to have a swim, paddle or walk. There’s also a good chance of seeing dolphins and whales.
- Scuba dive on the wrecks of The Rainbow Warrior, and HMNZS Canterbury, as well as the many amazing reef sites in the Bay of Islands.
- For history and culture, visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds just north of Paihia. It was here in 1840 that the Māori people and the British Crown signed the Treaty of Waitangi to create the nation of New Zealand.
Dive Poor Knights Islands
Poor Knights is without a doubt New Zealand’s premier scuba diving location. This small group of islands lies approximately 20 km / 12 miles off the east coast and is world renowned. There are over 50 dive sites that cater for everything from snorkeling in sheltered bays to arches, tunnels and underwater caves. The generally good visibility and warm water make this some of the best sub-tropical diving in the world and as a marine reserve, there is an abundance of marine life. Dive! Tutukaka is one of the main charter operators servicing the islands.
Visit Cape Reinga
Although technically not the northernmost point of the North Island, Cape Reinga is certainly the northernmost point that most travellers visit. The iconic lighthouse and the view overlooking the meeting of two oceans is certainly worthwhile as is a visit to nearby Tapotupotu Bay. That said, it’s a long way to travel just for a view. To make it more worthwhile, stop in at the Te Paki Sand Dunes, the largest of their kind in the Southern Hemisphere, where you can hire bodyboards and go for a thrilling slide. If you feel like exploring a little further afield, Spirits Bay is also a popular spot.
Visit the Kauri Coast
The Northland region was once covered in native forest. Today, indigenous forest covers only about 14% of the region. The Waipoua Forest on the west coast of Northland is a major conservation reserve and still contains giant kauri trees that survived the extensive milling of the 19th and early 20th centuries. One such tree is Tāne Mahuta, ‘The Lord of the Forest’, the country’s largest kauri tree which is approximately 2,000 years old. When driving along Highway 12 it’s well worth stopping to pay the old man a visit.
Visit Kai Iwi Lakes
Driving to or from Tāne Mahuta along Highway 12, about 24 km north of Dargaville is a sign for Omamari / Kai Iwi Lakes. You don’t want to miss this junction because it leads to some of the clearest, deepest freshwater dune lakes in the Northland region. Read about our visit here, camping at Kai Iwi Lakes.