In the beginning of this year, we did a two-day road trip to the north from Auckland. The northernmost part of New Zealand’s North Island is maybe not that well-known among many travelers as many people want to explore the most popular sights of New Zealand and don’t have enough time to continue to the north after Auckland. Anyhow, we really recommend making a trip to the north if your schedule allows this. These areas offer lots of cool things to see! We collected here the best places to see in the northernmost part of New Zealand that you shouldn’t miss.
For many people, the highlight of the north is Cape Reinga, the northernmost point of New Zealand where you can admire gorgeous cliffs and the meeting point of two oceans. On the way, there are also plenty of gorgeous beaches, waterfalls, sand dunes and many other things to see. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to see everything on our trip and the weather wasn’t that perfect all the time either, but we also listed here some places that we would have definitely wanted to see. On this trip, we basically only spent money on fuel and food as all the natural sights and cool beaches are luckily free to visit.
There are plenty of accommodation options in Northland area. If you want to do penny-pinching like us, the free campsite Raetea North Side Camping Area is a great option. This campsite is located about 100 kilometers from the north cape and it is an idyllic and laid-back camping area in the middle of nature. Even the phone signal didn’t work in this peaceful place but on the other hand, Kaitia with all the shops and services is within a short drive. The only facility on this campsite is a compost toilet that you can reach by paddling through a small river that flows across the camping area.
Northland also offers several other camping areas (that you need to pay for though). If you are after other accommodation options, you might want to look for them in Paihia area that is a popular tourist place and has a good selection of hostels and hotels.
Orewa Beach was the first place where we stopped after leaving Auckland. There is a lookout spot at the side of the road where you can have a look on the whole beach. There were people swimming, surfing and jogging on the beach and the place is easy to reach from Auckland, in case you are just looking for a nice day trip destination.
Mangawhai definitely offered the most beautiful beach views on our road trip! The long, white-sand beach was full of people enjoying the sunny summer day and the atmosphere was great. There were hang gliders in the sky and the views were just perfect. The waves looked a bit wild but the people were swimming in a supervised spot. Once you are on Mangawhai beach, we recommend climbing on top of the nearby hill where you can have an even better look on the beach. The town center of Mangawhai features an area with food places and cafes and we had some cheap takeaway sushi and coffee here. There is also a camping area in Mangawhai.
When we were driving to the north from Mangawhai, we wanted to stop every five minutes as there were simply so many gorgeous beaches next to each other. We stopped by on Waipu beach to take a break and some pictures. Waipu has been told to be one of the best beaches in Northland and the long white-sand beach definitely is a gorgeous place to spend a summer day! Also this beach features a campsite and other services.
The famous north cape of New Zealand is among the most visited places in the north. Cape Reinga is the northernmost tip where you can see a lighthouse, rocky landscapes and the meeting point of two oceans: The Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. New Zealand’s native people Maoris believe that Cape Reinga is a place where the spirits of dead people move to another world. In this place, you can actually see the border of the two oceans when the water masses with different colors hit against each other close to the coast.
We were a bit unlucky because when we reached Cape Reinga, the weather was so foggy that we weren’t able to see further than like 20 meters. Except for that, the place was impressive and totally worth visiting! For us, driving to Cape Reinga was already an experience itself. When we cruised on the winding road in the middle of sheep ranges, we felt for the first time that we are really in New Zealand.
We read online about Mermaid Pools that are located on the east coast of Northland so we decided to visit them on the way back home. And luckily we did, as it turned out to be one of the best things on our trip! Anyhow, getting to the pools was more challenging than we first thought. To go there, we first had to paddle across two small beaches. From there, a steep jungle path lead us across a big hill.
Once we reached the other side of the hill, beautiful ocean view opened in front of us. After a 20-minute sweaty trek, we finally arrived at Mermaid Pools. These clear-water pools were formed in the beach cliffs and you can swim in them like in a swimming pool. Definitely a place worth visiting! The trek started on Matapouri beach and also this beach itself looked very cozy. We could have easily spent half a day just lazing on the beach.
After visiting Cape Reinga, we decided to take a bit different route back so we headed to the east from Kaitaia and drove back to the south along the coast. Doubtless Bay area offers several beautiful beaches where you can stop by and have a break. We spend a good while here just admiring the ocean and sitting on the beach cliffs. We could have easily spent the whole day here (as well), had we had more time. We must say that there are too many cool beaches in New Zealand!
This waterfall is reachable within a few minutes walk from the parking place and there is also a place to have a refreshing swim on a hot summer day. If you are keen for a bit longer walk, there is a trekking route in the area as well.
After a long day of sightseeing and driving back toward Auckland, we were so tired that we could barely get out from the car. Well, after all, we had to hop out once more as we happened to pass Whangarei Falls that are located right next to the main road. You don’t need to spend any time walking to this waterfall either so it’s an easy place to visit if it’s on your route.
Other places to see
We were surprised how many cool places we managed to see during such a short road trip! We drove at least 1000 kilometers and were totally exhausted when we finally made it back to Auckland late in the evening. Even though we saw a lot, there are still many things on our list that we would have wanted to experience.
We missed i.e. the famous 90 Miles Beach that spreads along the west coast to the north cape. The beach is 88 kilometers long (so the name is actually a bit exaggerated). Anyway, we cannot deny that the beach is very long and an interesting place to visit. The special thing about this beach is that you can drive through it by car or bus. Anyhow, it’s not very wise to go there with a very small vehicle if you don’t want to bury your car in the sand. That’s why the safest way to discover the beach is by bus. We didn’t get to see the beach because it was raining so much at that point that we didn’t really want to get out of the car. Close to the beach, you can also find massive Te Paki Sand Dunes where you can rent a slide and slide down the dunes.
There are more places to discover on the west coast of Northland, like Waipoua Forest, where you can admire huge and ancient Kauri trees. Kauri forests that grow in the northern parts of New Zealand are among the oldest in the world and are being protected in many ways. Unfortunately, there is a tree disease that has destroyed these trees in the last decades. The government is trying to prevent the disease from spreading by asking the people to spray the shoes and to clean the hiking gear in all natural parks. Close to Waipoua, there is also Kaiiwi Lake with crystal clear water where you can take a swim in the summer. There is also a camping area by the lake.
We only had a quick break in Paihia that is one of the most popular tourist places in Northland. From the town, you can reach Bay of Island that consists of 140 beautiful, subtropical islands and make a cruise around the islands. In this area, you can also enjoy many activities from snorkeling, kayaking and mountain biking to spotting dolphins and doing base jumps.
So here are our tips for the northernmost part of New Zealand. Have you explored this area on your New Zealand trip?