The most Northern region of New Zealand, Northland is often referred to as the Winterless North due to it's subtropical climate and incredible coastlines. The region spans from Kaipara Harbour all the way to Cape Reinga, with Whangarei being the largest town with a population of nearly 60,000. Whangarei is considered the gateway to Northland, in particular the stunning beaches of the Tutukaka Coastline - only a short 30 minute drive away.
The region has a great deal to offer, including Cape Reinga, 90 Mile Beach, the Bay of Islands, Whangarei Falls and Tane Mahuta (New Zealand's largest Kauri Tree) just to name a few! Northland can be explored easily by rental car, camper van or by joining a tour - Northland is Sole Ventures birthplace and back yard so be sure to check out our Northland tours if you are interested!
With untouched beaches, impressive views, and the meeting of the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea, visiting Cape Reinga is a must if you are in the region!
Upon your arrival to the Cape you’ll see there are many walks and hikes that lead you to further headlands and hidden bays. These tracks vary in time and length so can easily be done if you are only doing a day trip to the Cape, the most popular of which leads you to the Cape Reinga lighthouse. This lighthouse is a famous destination in New Zealand, not only because of it's geography, but because of the outstanding panoramic views of ocean, beaches and headlands.
When standing at the lighthouse you can often see a distinct line in the water that occurs when the Tamsan Sea and Pacific Ocean meet. Even on windless days there will often be crashing waves and turbulent waters thanks to numerous rocks, sandbars, raging currents and ocean swell. Cape Reinga is one of the few places in the world where you can visibly witness two major bodies of water joining in a truly rare and powerful manner. If you are lucky you might even see sharks or other marine creatures cruising the waters as you look down from the steep cliffs surrounding the lighthouse!
Cape Reinga is one of the most spiritually significant locations in New Zealand to the Maori, this is where the spirits of the dead begin their journey back to the ancestral homeland of Hawaiiki-A-Nui. Read more about the history and cultural significance of Cape Reinga.
You can get here via a scenic flight from the Bay of Islands that takes approximately 1 hour, a 3-hour drive if you have a car, or by joining a tour to the Cape. Either way, you will see many amazing sights so be sure to bring your camera!
There are a number of incredible things to do near Cape Reinga, some of our favourites are:
• The light house walk
• Visit the towering Te Paki Sand Dunes and try your hand at sand boarding
• Tour the rugged 90 Mile Beach on your way to Cape Reinga
The towering Te Paki Sand Dunes are some of the largest in New Zealand and can reach over 80m in height, a windswept and wild landscape, these dunes are well worth the short detour when visiting Cape Reinga!
Interestingly, the majority of the Te Paki Recreation Reserve used to be an island separated from the mainland, over time this led to a uniquely diverse ecosystem including fantastic bird life. Along with a captivating environment there is a load of fun to be had, one of the favourite activities for locals and tourists alike is surfing down the steep dune faces on body boards. If you don't have your own, you can usually hire one for $10 - $20 once you arrive, take care and be prepared to get a face full of sand!
You can access Te Paki with a 10 minute detour from the main highway leading to Cape Reinga, the turn off is only 15 minutes from the Cape so it can make a great addition if you are visiting. It is possible to drive down the Te Paki stream and then carry in down 90 Mile Beach as an alternative to the main highway, provided you have a 4WD and the conditions and tides are right. However we do not recommend this as most insurance companies will not insure vehicles on the beach and it is easy to become stuck or injured with the many dangers of driving on sand and near the ocean. A much better way to experience this is to join one of the 4WD tour buses that most commonly travel the Cape Reinga from the Bay of Islands.
If you are an experienced off-road driver with the right vehicle and wish to know more about driving on the beach please visit click here.
Ninety Mile Beach stretches from Ahipara at the southern end up to Scott's Point at the north along the west coast of Northland, with a small bluff about three quarters of the way up. Interestingly the name is deceptive as the beach is in fact only 55 miles (88km) long, the origin of the name is contested but one story tells of European settlers travelling up the beach with horses. Normally they could travel 30 miles per day on open ground and it took three days to travel up the beach, unfortunately they did not account for the slower pace of travelling on sand but the name stuck regardless once the beach was measured properly!
The famous Te Paki Sand Dunes are located near the northern end of the beach and can be accessed from the beach or State Highway 1 just south of Cape Reinga (for information on driving on the beach please refer to the Te Paki Sand Dunes section). The beach is infamous for wrecked cars and occasionally boats thanks to soft sand, tidal surges, giant swells and frequent offshore storms.
On a more positive note the beach is also known for snapper fishing, shellfish and fantastic surf near Ahipara. If you do swim at the beach, please be careful as our west coast beaches are know for strong currents, random holes, powerful surf and unpredictable conditions. During summer and other popular times of year there is a surf lifesaving team at Ahipara, so look for the yellow and red flags to swim between.
The beach is easily accessible and signposted from State Highway 1, there are also local tour operators that guide four wheel drive and quad biking tours on the beach. 90 Mile Beach is a great spot to combine with the Te Paki Sand Dunes and Cape Reinga if you are planning a visit to the Northern end of New Zealand.
Karikari Peninsula forms the northern edge of Doubtless Bay on Northland's east coast, starting out flat and sandy with open ocean on one side and a protected inlet on the other, as you travel east along the peninsula the ground climbs us to form a vast rocky headland. There are a few small settlements such as Whatuwhiwhi and Rangiputa along with some fantastic and deserted beaches, including the captivating Matai Bay.
A visit to Carrington Winery or Karikari Estate for lunch is always worth the stop, however be sure to check if they are open first as they often close during the winter months. Another highlight not to be missed is Lake Rotopokaka (coca-cola) Lake, aptly named for it's colour caused by rich minerals in the ground, the lake is accessible from Ramp Road about 3.5km along the main Peninsula road after turning off State Highway 10. Please be aware there is a lot of Maori owned land on the peninsula so please stick to the walking tracks and roads, many of which are gravel so take care when driving.
If you are visiting Karikari Peninsula we recommend:
• The stunning white sands of Puheke Beach
• Stay a night in the DOC campground at the beautiful Matai Bay
• Visit the Coca-Cola Lakes
• Enjoy lunch at Carrington Winery or Karikari Estate
Well known for it's array of beautiful sandy beaches, great boating and subtropical climate, Doubtless Bay is located on the east coast of Northland, about an hour and a half north of Whangarei. Best visited between November - May for the warmest temperatures, Doubtless Bay is still a stunning location year round.
It's a fantastic place to relax and unwind away from the crowds, while still being close enough for some fantastic day trips south to the Bay of Islands or north to Cape Reinga and the surrounding areas.
Some of our favourite spots are:
• Coopers Beach
• Taipa Beach
• Cable Bay (a fantastic place to stop for an ice cream)
• The famous Mangonui fish and chip shop for a real kiwi experience!
If you are looking for an easy option to explore our far northern regions, let us create your ultimate getaway with one of our customised tours!
A striking sight to see, the Hokianga Harbour entrance is overlooked by towering sand dunes and is notorious for wild waves and strong tides, few boats cross the entrance due to these dangers. The main townships in the area are Omapere and Opononi, and with a combined population of less than 500 it is easy to get away and feel like you are the only people around!
The towns provide a few top notch local cafes and restaurants so it's a perfect spot to stop in for a meal before exploring the astonishing beauty of the surrounding areas. There is a local water taxi service that can take you across the harbour to the impressive dunes on the far side, an ideal spot to give sand boarding a try, especially at high tide as you can slide all the way down into the dunes then shoot out across the water as it laps against the base of the dunes. The water taxi must be booked in advance as it only runs at certain times of year so be sure to check first! Click here for more information.
Our favourite things to do in and around the area:
• Signal Station walking track at the harbour entrance
• Sand boarding the dunes
• Catch the ferry to Rawene
• Travel south down the west coast to visit the mighty Tane Mahuta, New Zealand's largest kauri tree
Our Northland Voyager tour offers an incredible experience of Northland, including the west coast and Hokianga Harbour.
Located just over an hour north of Whangarei, Kerikeri is a picturesque little town with a rich history. It boasts New Zealand's oldest wooden structure to still be standing, the Mission House, built in 1822 by the Church Missionary Society, right next door is New Zealand's first stone building, the Stone Store. Just outside of Kerikeri are the amazing Rainbow Falls, and there are a number of lush bush walks and fantastic accommodation options available.
With a friendly local vibe, Kerikeri is a great spot to enjoy the local cafes and restaurants during your visit, there's also an airport just out of town where you can arrive via domestic flight from Auckland. One of the main reasons visitors end up at the airport however, is to throw themselves out of a plane for an exhilarating skydive above the magnificent Bay of Islands! it's a great place to stop in or stay during a vacation in Northland, be sure not to miss all Kerikeri has to offer.
One of New Zealand's famed destinations, the Bay of Islands consists of 144 islands and stretches from Cape Brett all the way up to the Purerua Peninsula. The area has a rich history, local Maori of the Ngapuhi Iwi have occupied the area as early as the 13th century (the exact dates in early Maori history are unknown), and it was later the first area settled by Europeans after Dutch explorer Abel Tasman first sighted New Zealand in 1642 and then Captain James Cook arrived and in 1769 which began the British colonisation of New Zealand. Visiting the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in Maori culture and New Zealand history, or read more about our origins.
There is no shortage of things to do in the Bay of Islands, naturally a myriad of experiences are to be found on or below the ocean, with such great protection from the elements the sailing, boating, diving, snorkelling, kayaking and fishing is incredible here. However there is also a lot to be experienced on land, there are marvellous sightseeing opportunities and some wonderful walks and hikes to discover New Zealand's natural beauty such as Cape Brett, Whangamumu and Urupukapuka. Some fantastic mountain biking has recently been established in the Waitangi Mountain Biking Park that suits all ability levels.
Paihia is the main hub of the Bay of Islands, and from this picturesque seaside town you can step back in time by catching a water taxi over to the idyllic township of Russell - this area was New Zealand's first capital. The Bay of Islands can easily be accessed by car, bus, tour or flight from Auckland City.
If you are visiting the Bay of Islands we highly recommend:
• Visiting the famous 'Hole in the Rock'
• Experience our history and culture at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds
• Go kayaking or sailing in the protected waters
• Skydive above the stunning vista of the Bay
• Swim with dolphins
• Sail a traditional tall ship amongst the picture perfect Islands
• Be awe-struck on a scenic flight over the stunning coastline
Our multi-day Northland Voyager explores the Bay of Islands along with our Bay of Islands Adventurer day tour from Whangarei or the Tutukaka Coast. If this isn't quite what you're looking for let us create your dream holiday with a customised tour!
Located in the heart of the Bay of Islands, Paihia is the perfect place to base yourself for a visit to the Bay. There are dozens of accommodation options to suit everyone, fantastic eating options, a fun nightlife and of course stacks of activities and attractions to choose from!
From here the Waitangi Treaty Grounds are only 2 kilometres away, and the idyllic township of Russell can be reached by a short 10 minute water taxi ride across the inlet. Scenic helicopter rides, sailing experiences, swimming with dolphins, visiting the hole in the rock and relaxing on one of the many beautiful islands are some of the most popular activities. Tours depart daily to Cape Reinga and other destinations across Northland, our own Northland Voyager Tour spends two nights in Paihia where we enjoy all the best the Bay of Islands have to offer.
Located across the inlet from Paihia, Russell is a lovely little town where life runs at a slower pace, it's a fantastic place to stay, or simply visit for the day and enjoy. The R. Tucker Thompson is a traditional gaff-rigged schooner that was built in New Zealand and launched in 1985, it is now one of the Bay of Islands top attractions and has day and evening sailings that depart regularly from Russell during the summer season.
Russell has a fascinating history, it was originally named Kororareka until 1840 but commonly referred to as the 'hellhole of the South Pacific' as it was a lawless trading post where whalers, seafarers, merchantmen, deserters and escaped convicts from Australia gathered. Before 1840 Russell was actually located 7km further south, and was New Zealand's first capital until it moved to Auckland in 1841 and the settlement was burned to the ground. Afterwards the name Russell was transferred to Kororakera and is where the township exists today.
Russell can be easily reached by a water taxi from Paihia, alternatively you can drive to Opua and catch a car ferry across or make the longer (one hour) drive inland to travel by road the entire way.
The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are regarded as one of the most culturally and historically significant sites in New Zealand. In 1840 this is the site where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between representatives of the British Government and over 500 Maori chiefs, resulting in a declaration of British sovereignty over New Zealand. However there were two documents, an english and a Maori version of the Treaty, both of which held different meaning and have been contested ever since.
The expansive Treaty grounds overlook the Bay of Islands and provide a stunning vista, here you can experience Maori traditions, a traditionally cooked Hangi, cultural performances and both the Maori and European history of New Zealand. If you are in the Bay visiting the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is a must!
Behind the Treaty grounds the recently established Waitangi Mountain Bike Park offers fantastic mountain biking suitable for all ages.
The Kauri Coast stretches from Kaipara Harbour in the South up to Hokianga in the North, and is most famous for the Waipoua Forest where New Zealand's largest kauri tree, Tane Mahuta, is located. Considered somewhere between 1,250 and 2,500 years old and standing at approximately 51m tall with a girth of nearly 14m, Tane Mahuta is an extraordinary sight! The Kauri Coast has a lot more on offer, including Ripiro Beach, one of New Zealand's longest beaches at 107km, longer even than the inaccurately named 90 Mile Beach. This wild and unpredictable beach is home to more than 100 documented shipwrecks over the years including a 36 gun French man-o-war named 'L Alcmene'.
Another fantastic destination to visit are the Kai Iwi Lakes, these stunning crystal clear fresh water dune lakes are a perfect spot to stop in for a swim and a picnic, or if you wish to stay there is a fantastic DOC campsite at one of the three lakes. Dargaville is located near the south of the Kauri Coast and the largest town in the region with a population of less than 5,000. If you are travelling here be sure to check where fuel stations are located as they are few and far between for portions of the drive! The Kauri Coast is a perfect destination to combine with the Hokianga, Bay of Islands and Tutukaka Coast to form a great loop that visits many of Northland's most iconic and out of the way locations.
If a tour is what you're looking for, we travel this loop with our fantastic 6-day Northland Voyager Tour! Alternatively we have a day trip, the Kauri Coast Explorer that departs from Whangarei or Tutukaka if you are a little short on time.
If you are visiting the Kauri Coast we highly recommend:
• Stopping at the marvellous Kai Iwi Lakes for a swim
• Gaze up at the towering Tane Mahuta
• Explore the wild landscape of Ripiro Beach
• Carry on North to visit the blissful Hokianga Harbour
This stunning stretch of coastline was recently rated by National Geographic as one of the top three coastal destinations in the world, and once you have visited it's easy to see why! While only covering a small area, the Tutukaka Coast has an abundance of natural attractions including dozens of accessible yet intimate bays, fantastic surf, hidden rock pools, lush native forests, protected inlets and so much more! This place is a beach lovers haven, most famous for the incredible Matapouri Beach and offshore Poor Knights Islands marine reserve.
There are a great number of pristine walking trails to be found of all lengths, most focusing on reaching outstanding white sand beaches or taking in the striking coastal views. The area is also well known for marvellous diving (see the Poor Knights Islands), boating and surfing with a range of great breaks to choose from depending on the conditions. Tutukaka village is the hub of the coast, this is where most of the accommodation, food and drink options are found along with the local marina where you can depart for any on water activities.
The Mermaid Pools are a series of captivating rock pools that are popular for swimming, located a 15 minute headland walk from the northern end of Matapouri Beach. With the right conditions the Mermaid Pools are absolutely stunning, if you plan on visiting the mermaid Pools please be aware that there is no longer an officially recognised track, the current path leads up and over the headland and can be very steep and slippery so take care. The Pools themselves can become dangerous in large swells or high tides, please be very careful and only swim in the rock pools - not the ocean. There have been accidents before where people have been seriously injured from jumping off the cliffs.
The Tutukaka Coast is a 2½ drive from Auckland and 25 minutes from Whangarei, if you need a group transport option contact us today as Sole Ventures are based in Tutukaka and regularly organise group tours, transport and activities from Auckland and Whangarei.
Sole Ventures founders, Sam and Cole, both live in the Tutukaka area, these are their top recommendations!
• Visit the picturesque Matapouri Beach to relax and enjoy a swim
• Take a surf lesson at Sandy Bay
• Dive, snorkel or otherwise explore the remarkable Poor Knights Islands
• Enjoy fish and chips on the shores of the sheltered Ngunguru Estuary
• Make the short walk to Whale Bay, one of the most stunning beaches in the world
• Explore some of the fantastic local walking tracks
If you are in the area and want to enjoy the coast with a day trip, check out our Tutukaka Coast Discoverer! Alternatively if you are looking for a longer adventure, our six day Northland Voyager discovers the best of Northland and it's hidden gems, including two nights on the Tutukaka Coast.
The Poor Knights Islands are captivating set of islands that lie off the East Coast of Northland, 24km from Tutukaka Harbour. They are famously known as a world class dive destination thanks to the well deserved rating of explorer Jacques Cousteau as one of his top ten dive sites in the world. A heavily protected marine and terrestrial reserve of the islands have allowed the fantastic diving environment of the Islands to endure. The Islands once hosted a Maori tribe, but due to an unfortunate and bloody history the Islands are now Tapu (sacred) and have been uninhabited for nearly 200 years, allowing for an incredibly diverse ecosystem to develop.
Due to their volcanic origins, the Islands have a dizzying array of archways, caves and pinnacles, boasting the world's largest sea cave and the tallest sea arch in the southern hemisphere. These islands are well worth visiting, daily boat trips run and facilitate diving, snorkelling, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding or simply relaxing in the sun while exploring the fascinating environment of the Poor Knights Islands.
Experience the Poor Knights Islands as part of our fantastic Northland Voyager Tour.
With a population of a little under 60,000, Whangarei is the largest town in Northland and serves as the 'gateway to the north', it's the perfect location to begin any vacation to Northland and is only 2½ hours from Auckland or a short domestic flight. The town itself is located at the head of Whangarei harbour and has a number of fantastic walking and cycle trails within a short distance. One of the towns most stunning locations are the Whangarei Falls, this 26m high curtain waterfall flows year round and makes for an impressive sight - a must do if you are staying or passing through Whangarei!
From the city it is only a 1 hour drive to the Bay of Islands and less then 30 minutes to the Tutukaka Coast, there are a number of bus and shuttle services that travel between these destinations.
The Twin Coast Cycle trail (Pou Herenga Tai) is a mountain bike trail stretching from the west coast Hokianga Harbor all the way over to Opua in the Bay of Islands. With a total distance of 87km the trail is frequently ridden in stages or broken up in to 2 days of cycling. Along the trail you will see some amazing parts of Northland such as both coast lines, native bush, birds and much more. The trail is relatively easy and accessible to most people who can ride a bike, there are also tour operators who assist with pick up/drop off as well as guided tours.
Photo credit: Alistair Guthrie