New Zealand is a country split into two islands, with two different cultures ways of life and landscapes. Lifestyles, history, and culture can also vary between the different regions of the two islands and Northland is no exception. Unsurprisingly located on the northern tip of New Zealand’s North Island the region’s capital lies roughly a 2-hour drive from Auckland.
The region is essentially a peninsula of land jutting north from Auckland, resulting in around 90% of the region bordering the ocean. To the west lies an improbably straight coastline, made up of several incredibly straight beaches, most famously including ‘Ninety Miles Beach’.
The east coast is more rugged and features numerous bays, peninsulas and marine reserves perfect for exploring by boat, kayak or any other watercraft. Overall Northland is New Zealand’s least urbanized region, with large numbers of people still living outside of cities.
This blend of incredible coast and large numbers of people living in smaller rural areas makes it perfect for multiday road trip adventures – or you could explore the area with one of New Zealand’s amazing tour companies if you are short of time…
The Te Ara Coast to Coast adventure stretches from The Bay of Islands on the eastern side of the island to Hokianga on the Western Coast. The Coast to Coast trip runs through some of the most historically important lands in New Zealand.
The route starts at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, the location of the signing of New Zealand’s founding document, where a museum commemorates and tells a critical piece of New Zealand’s history. The journey then continues heading west around the bay of islands to Paihia, a small coastal village that is keen to welcome tourists. There are café’s restaurants and hotels here making it a great place to stop and have a final swim in the bay before heading inland.
Heading inland will take you past beautiful waterfalls and incredible hot springs, or if you looking for more historical stops you can stop by Ludbrook House, a 190-year-old heritage property or Pakaraka Church, which commemorates the life of early Christian missionaries to New Zealand. The halfway point of the journey is marked Kaikohe and the location of New Zealand’s largest tribe. The land here has been settled on for over 500 years and visiting gives a truly unique insight into how New Zealand has transitioned into the 21st century. By this point, travellers of the Te Ara Coast to Coast will gain an impression of how New Zealand’s ancient affects its culture today, how it affected its interactions with the British and what it means to the people of New Zealand.
The second half of the journey goes further to show the uniqueness of New Zealand, heading past wacky general stores and the story of inland Northland. The route ultimately served as a connection between the two coasts, and therefore shows the difficulties of trade within the country, but also the incredible beauty that old travellers of the route would get to experience. With tons of places to take a break from the car, find a swim or enjoy the mountain air, the Te Ara Coast to Coast route is a great snapshot of New Zealand.
The Ancient Kauri Trail can start from its most southerly point at Maungaturoto or its northernmost point at Hokianga bay. This makes the trip perfect for travellers looking to create a longer route, as they can link up the Coast to Coast route and Ancient Kauri trail down the West Coast. If the Coast to Coast was a human history of New Zealand, then the Ancient Kauri trip is all about experiencing Northland’s natural history.
The route heads down the straight western coasts of Northland to Kaipara Harbour, passing through truly wild territory. The West coast borders the powerful Tasman sea which by battering the long straight beaches has created an extraordinary wilderness. The Ancient Kauri trees form the highlight of this trip. The ancient trees can be found in forests at the northern end of the trail and are deeply linked to historical New Zealanders ways of life. The trees which were previously harvested for rubber and wood, are now protected by the towns that border them.
The Where Giants Gather route tracks the Whangarei Harbour from Mt Parihaka at the mouth of the Hatea river towards the Eastern Coast and Bream Bay. Starting just North of Whangarei, Northlands fastest growing city, this route offers spectacular walks and ocean views.
When you’re tired from driving there are multiple places to take a stop, if you time it right at low tide it is possible in places to walk out to beaches across the sand bars. If it’s food and refreshments you’re looking for instead there are a number of little stops to be found including Parua Bay Tavern which features spectacular views across the bay.
This route is all about exploring the coast and revelling in the natural landscape and wildlife. For those looking for an extra physical challenge look out the walks and mountains that are possible to scale as you head closer to the coast.
The Secret Coast route covers the land on an eastern point about midway up Northlands East coast. The finickity and jagged coastline is perfect for exploration, with large numbers of hidden beaches and coves. It would take years to explore all the notches that make up the headline, so who knows what secrets it’s possible to discover.
The key to this route is persistence, the roads here aren’t always great, and you might be heading down them for a long time, but the rewards are exceptional. Whether it’s a hidden waterfall or a pristinely beautiful bay that you have all to yourself, this route has great gifts to those willing to go the extra mile. The key to enjoying this route is taking your time and enjoying the adventure, the slower the better and the more stops you can between each location the greater the chances of finding those truly magical moments that we guarantee can be found here.
The All About Islands route is, well, all about the islands on Northlands Eastern Coast. This adventure pairs amazingly with The Secret Coast route, as any islands or locations you spy from the mainland, you may be able to journey from the harbours of Paihia and Russel. There are over 140 islands in the bay of islands, so don’t worry if you want more adventure when you arrive in Russel.
There are numerous ways of reaching the island, including tour cruises and a ferry, however, for those with sailing or kayaking ability, there are loads of places you can hire private boats for multi-day use. The Island route is the perfect time to get acquainted with New Zealand’s ocean wildlife, whilst on the water it’s worth looking out for bird life and dolphins, if you arrive in the right season it’s also possible to spot seals and whales visiting the bay.
Camping is only permitted on Urupukapuka Island, due to the protected nature of many of the islands, however, Russell and Paihia are great places to make a base and go for day trips to see the sights and explore the islands.
The Kauri Coast Cycleway is an alternative route from Hokianga harbour down to Dargaville roughly 130km south. If you’re looking to travel under your own steam and take a slower exploration through the wild coastline. The route is best for those with some experience of bicycle touring, most of the road is good however there are some gravel sections. All in, the route for a competent cyclist should be around 8-11 hours of cycling time.
The subtropical climate if Northland means that throughout the year the weather is fair, so you’ll be able to enjoy your time cruising through the beautiful Kauri forests. There are a number of camping spots spotted throughout the route, as well as paths away from the main trail towards Baylys beach and the Kai Iwi lakes.
Now you're all set and prepared to explore our big wide world, why not sort out everything else out all in one go? If necessary for your travel plans make sure you have brought proper travel insurance, protected your privacy by getting a secure VPN, compared all the top hotel booking sites to find just what you're after, reserved an unbeatable rental car price and - of course - booked the best flight deals!
Many budget travelers (including me) indulge in worldwide airport lounge access, so we can experience luxury while still slumming it in economy. Naturally, we would never leave home without a more general travel guide since we couldn’t possibly cover everything here!
Just add an adventurous attitude and plenty of smiles - they go a long way - and that about covers it all! Now go out, find your own path and don't forget to share your best inspiration stories with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram...I'd love to hear from you!