While you’re here, you won’t want to miss –
Called the “Winterless North” by the rest of New Zealand, the sub-tropical climate of Northland is one good reason why it was the first place to be settled by both Māori and Europeans. The beauty of this region is another.
With stunning vistas in the Bay of Islands, the dramatic sweep of Ninety Mile Beach, spectacular 86 feet high Whangarei Falls and panoramic views from Cape Reinga, Northland can definitely hold its own in the scenery stakes.
You’ll find an impressive variety of things to do in Northland. If you’re keen to learn more about New Zealand’s early history, then the Bay of Islands is the place to go. There’s the famous Waitangi Treaty Grounds; Russell, the country’s first capital; and Kerikeri – home to the two oldest buildings in New Zealand.
And for ancient Maori history, visit the west coast where legends abound and a mighty kauri tree, the Lord of the Forest, stands proudly.
Bay of Islands
The jewels in Northland’s crown are the 144 islands that make up the Bay of Islands. Many of the islands can be explored and camped upon, making this an ideal vacation spot for boaties.
The mainland towns of Paihia and Kerikeri are popular tourist destinations for their warm weather and range of things to do: nature walks, boat cruises, swimming with dolphins, diving and fishing, to name a few.
One of the best restaurants in Paihia is Shippey’s. Watch the sun go down from the deck of a 19th century moored ship, while digging into a delicious seafood meal. Paihia is also close to Waitangi, where the infamous Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the Māori and British Crown in 1840 – a must-visit!
Russell is a short ferry ride from Paihia. This quaint town was once dubbed “The Hellhole of the Pacific” thanks to the drunken sailors and whalers who lived here in the 19th century.
Today Russell is a lot more peaceful and offers a glimpse into a bygone era with many carefully preserved historic buildings. However, if you want to see the oldest buildings in New Zealand head to Kerikeri. Kemp House and the Stone Store were built-in the early 1800s and are both open for public viewing.
Ninety Mile Beach
Northland’s Ninety Mile Beach is one of the reasons you’ll want to venture past Kerikeri – you’ll be pleased if you do. Although officially a road, the best way to experience the country’s most iconic beach is drive it as part of a bus tour to avoid getting stuck in the sand. Sandboarding down the impressive dunes and long walks on the beach are among the things to do.
Many bus tours also take in Cape Reinga – the most accessible northern point and where you can witness the Tasman Sea meet the Pacific Ocean.
The 1940s lighthouse and accompanying distance signpost are two of the most photographed landmarks in New Zealand.
Cape Reinga Walks
There are several lovely walks you can do from Cape Reinga depending on how active you want to be. The walk to Te Werahi Beach on the west coast of the cape takes about 30 minutes and is a nice excursion if you want to stretch your legs.
There is a loop track accessed at the far end of Te Werahi beach that takes you past Twilight Beach for a walk of a couple of hours.
For the adventurous, the Cape Reinga Coastal Walkway is an epic track that takes up to 4 days to complete. It runs from Spirit Bay on the east coast, to Te Paki Stream on the west coast. There are camping options if you want to stay overnight along the way. The entire track is also broken up into sections from 30 minutes to several hours, so you can walk just parts of it if you prefer.
Harbor and Coast
The Hokianga Harbor on the west coast offers a scenic break where you can take stock of your Northland journey. Harbor towns such as Kohukohu, Rawene and Opononi are filled with interesting relics of both European and Māori history.
Further inland, Horeke is the second oldest European settlement in the country. You’ll find plenty of accommodations, cafes, independent studios and friendly locals in the area.
Perhaps the most famous inhabitant you’ll meet though is Tane Mahuta (Lord of the Forest) in Waipoua Forest on the Kauri Coast. This giant kauri tree is the largest living specimen in New Zealand and estimated to be between 1,250 and 2,500 years old. Along with Te Matua Ngahere (Father of the Forest), these magnificent trees are a sight to behold.
Although many visitors to Northland head straight to the aquatic playground of the Bay of Islands for their vacation, if you decide to head past Kerikeri, or over to the west coast, you’ll discover many more things to do in magical Northland.