Northland, North Island
including Bay of Islands and Whangarei
Welcome to Northland and the Bay of Islands
Beautiful, unspoiled beaches, fishing, historic gum fields, kauri forests – the Far North has it all. With subtropical temperatures, the Far North is often known as ‘the Winterless north', with warm, humid summers and mild winters.
Twin Coast Discovery Highway
This scenic, circular route gives you the opportunity to explore the best of Northland, following one coast up to NZ's tip, Cape Reinga, where both coasts meet, and the other coast back down. The road splits about 2 hours drive north of Auckland.
Whangarei, Paihia and the Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands, visited by Captain Cook in 1769, is known as the birthplace of New Zealand and is encircled by 144 islands. The region of Whangarei and the Bay of Islands is an outdoor paradise with its subtropical climate and white, sandy beaches, perfect for a family holiday.
Whangarei is the main city of the region and features the Quayside Town Basin - a marina with restaurants, shops, arts and crafts and a children’s playground. See the largest collection of clocks in the Southern Hemisphere or visit the kiwis in their natural habitat.
South of Whangarei is Bream Bay’s white sand and clear waters where the children can swim safely and enjoy the leisure activities on offer. There is plenty to explore in Bream’s Bay, with its beaches and caves, waterfalls and walkways. Famous for its Scottish heritage, Waipu features markets in the winter at Waipu festival from June to August every year.
Continue up Northland’s east coast and you’ll find stunning coastline, gorgeous, protected inlets, cute accommodation and numerous perfect holiday bases. Below we introduce just a few of the main townships or beachside communities.
This tiny coastal town deserves its own mention as a special place, super-friendly and with all the ingredients of the perfect, Kiwi summer holiday. Tutukaka is just 30km north of Whangarei and consists of one main waterfront street with laid back cafes and restaurants on one side and a pretty marina and sandy beach on the other. Like so much of the Bay of Islands, the cove is protected and perfect with children with lots of excellent, flat swimming or kayaking spots.
Look out to sea and not far away you’ll see the Poor Knights Islands – one of NZ’s world-class gems and considered by Jacques Cousteau to be one of the world’s top dive spots. A day out here is a must-do. Check out options with the waterfront business Dive! Tutukaka – if not diving you can still get out to the Poor Knights for the day and check out the amazing arches of these pristine volcanic islands. Other Poor Knights activities include sailing, kayaking and dolphin, seal or orca spotting.
Gateway to the Bay of Islands, Paihia is a pretty, lively beachside town and a perfect base for your family holiday. It’s your start point for Bay of Island adventures including day cruises, sailing, kayaking, swimming with dolphins and reef or wreck diving. Children can participate in most activities (minimum ages may apply, for instance, generally around 8 years for swimming with dolphins).
The town itself has a huge variety of accommodation, cafes, restaurants, live music, supermarkets, bike hire, galleries and craft shops.
If you fancy a day away from the water there are waterfalls, gorgeous family-friendly walks, flat bike tracks, hot pools, Action World adventure playground and plenty more activities. A good rainy day outing – visit nearby Kawakawa, including a vintage railway, glowworm caves and the world-famous 'must-visit' public toilets! Waitangi – other Paihia-based excursions not to be missed include a wander along the foreshore to Waitangi (2 minutes by car), scene of the 1840 signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. There are activity-based tours to keep the kids interested, and a great café onsite. Admission is free to New Zealanders.
Ferries between Paihia and Russell depart several times an hour throughout the day. The passenger ferry goes between the two town centres, while the car ferry (10 minutes on the water), goes between nearby Opua and Okiato Wharf, 5km from Russell. The tiny township of Russell is home to yet more pristine and calm sandy beaches, cafes, great fish and chips and plenty of accommodation.
Whangaroa Harbour is a haven of unspoiled beaches and scenic coastline. It's just half an hour north of Paihia or south of Doubtless Bay and a great base for your boating, fishing or kayaking adventures. This is really getting into unspoiled and scenic New Zealand and it's well worth slowing the pace and stopping for a while. You can also access some superb dive spots from here, one of the most famous being the dive to the Rainbow Warrior (not suitable for children).
With its 70 kilometres of unspoiled coastline, Doubtless Bay extends from Taupo Bay in the east to the Karikari Peninsula in the west and includes the settlements of Coopers Beach, Cable Bay, Taipa and Whatuwhiwhi. The name Doubtless Bay originates from Captain Cook’s visit in 1769 when he sailed past and declared it ‘doubtless a bay’. Doubtless Bay has something to offer everyone, whether its relaxing on the beautiful beaches, buying some of the local arts and crafts, swimming with dolphins, or watching movies in the tiny Swamp Palace cinema. If you visit over summer, around Christmas, you may be lucky enough to see the Pohutukawa in bloom all along the beaches, creating one of New Zealand's prettiest and most iconic vistas.
Mangonui – this very cute seaside town is close to some of Doubtless Bay's best beaches, and home to the famous Mangonui fish and chip shop, overlooking the harbour. Although very touristy, if you get it when it's not too crowded, we recommend a visit... the food is superb and the setting is the perfect fish and chips location!
Ninety Mile Beach and Cape Reinga
Ninety Mile Beach beach is actually a highway but is suitable for 4WD vehicles only, and rental companies don't allow you to drive this stretch of coastline. Therefore it's easier to take a tour to explore its length (tours include sand dune tobogganing, Cape Reinga and lunch and they are cheaper and safer than taking your own car), or wander along parts of it on foot.
Cape Reinga and its famous lighthouse – the northern-most tip of mainland New Zealand, are 100km north of the nearest town, Kaitaia. Cape Reinga separates the Tasman Sea on its west side and the Pacific Ocean on its east. The name of the cape, the Maori word, Reinga, means 'underworld' and another Māori name is 'Te Rerenga Wairua', meaning the leaping-off place of spirits. Both refer to the Māori belief that the cape is the point where the spirits of the dead enter the underworld.
Western Route, Dargaville and Kauri Coast
This beautiful, scenic drive passes through the amazing Kauri in Waipoua Forest and the tiny town of Hokianga Harbour.
The most northern town in New Zealand, Kaitaia is a busy farming town with its surrounding area supporting industries such as wine and fruit growing. The town is the starting point for coach tours to Cape Reinga and New Zealand’s famous 90 mile beach. Nearby Ahipara, on the West Coast, is worth a visit for its superb surfing and views back along Ninety Mile beach.
This region is a great base to explore the giant Kauri, experience a sanddune buggy ride, discover the fabulous beaches and walk/bike trails or take a ferry across the harbour between the wee townships of Rawene and Kohukohu.
Waipoua Forest and the Kauri Kings
The highlight of the Western Route is the great Kauri forests with the giant Kauri known as Tane Mahuta as its King – you'll be filled with disbelief at its immense size! The giants are just a short drive and then a few minutes walk through the forest. The highway has signposts along the way indicating good walks to some of the most amazing Kauri. The biggest of all - Tane, is only 5 minutes walk off the highway.
Dargaville dates back to the late 1800s and its history is reflected in the number of 19th century buildings in a town of some 4,800 people. Known as New Zealand’s ‘Kumara Capital’ and producing two thirds of the country’s kumara, Dargaville is also the main centre for the Kauri Coast and its timber industry.