Essential North Island Road Trips – Pt 1

Thursday, October 22nd, 2020

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Bay of Islands, Northland

It’s winter in New Zealand. The tourists have gone, the amateur olympians have gone, and now the Lions have gone, receding like a red tide back to their half-baked summertimes to digest the uncomfortable stew of pride and emptiness. In a few months it will all start again, but meanwhile it is a great time to cherish the quiet roads, vacant motels, and low, low prices of rental cars… New Zealand is ripe for road-tripping.

In this series we help you plan Kiwi getaways in economical week-long portions. There is an art to a successful short holiday, it’s known as planning. It is not about following your nose, searching “McDonalds near you” on your phone, or abandoning a day’s sight-seeing because of weather. To this end we present four easy tour itineraries, and the first takes you north of Auckland on the

Twin Coast Discovery Highway

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The Twin Coast Discovery Highway (in red). Click to enlarge.

This highway is an 800km loop from Auckland and around New Zealand’s northland. It takes in the Bay of Islands, KeriKeri, and runs as far north as Kaitaia before descending on the opposite coast.

DAY 1: Auckland – Whangarei   177km (110mi)  2:30hrs

  • Cross Auckland’s harbour bridge and head north on SH1, skirting the eastern beaches, devoid of their summertime crowds.
  • Stop in to tiny Waiwera if you fancy a hot spring
  • Have lunch in the riverside township of Warkworth. From Warkworth you can choose to visit nearby Matakana (especially recommended on Saturdays when they have an acclaimed farmer’s market).
  • Just north of Warkworth is Dome Forest, and you can stretch your legs with a 1.5hr walk commencing from the Dome Tearooms carpark.
  • Continuing up the highway will take you to the rural service town of Wellsford, over the Brynderwyn Range, and on to Whangarei.
  • Whangarei is Northland’s largest town, and is set along the upper reaches of the Hatea River. Downtown Whangarei’s waterfront is a sheltered marina, and you can stroll the river banks and see the boats, or check out the shops and cafes.
  • Walks such as to the Whangarei Falls , the rewarding views of the Mount Manaia climb, and the spectacular Quarry Gardens are great ways to explore the area.
  •  Both the Whangarei Heads with its spectacular pohutukawa-fringed volcanic landscape, and the Tutukaka Coast are regarded as top coastal destinations. For something unique and totally memorable Dive Tutukaka offers dive training, accommodation and excursions throughout the year to the tiny islands of the Poor Knights Marine Reserve, and even two shipwrecks.
  • On rainy days the Whangarei Art Museum and Claphams’s National Clock Museum are all quite central, and for classic car lovers, the Packard and Pioneer Museum is another excellent wet weather excursion.
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Whangarei town basin

DAY 2: Whangarei – Paihia   70km (44mi)  1:01hrs

  • Bid farewell to Whangarei after having breakfast in a waterfront cafe.
  • About 40 minutes north you will reach Waiomio, where you can visit the Kawiti glow worm caves. Guided tours depart every 20-30 minutes.
  • A short distance from here is Kawakawa – famous for its Hundertwasser-designed public toilets and vintage railway, which runs Friday – Sunday.
  • On to Paihia, which is the hub of the beautiful Bay of Islands.
  • Take a short ferry ride over to Russell, NZ’s original capital city. Visit The Duke of Marlborough for food and refreshments, then walk it off by climbing Flagstaff Hill for stunning views of the bay.
  • Visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, museum and house, where our country’s most significant historical document was signed.
  • Head out on the water to see, and even swim with, dolphins, or go through the iconic Hole in the Rock.


DAY 3: Paihia – Keri Keri – Kaitaia   114km (71mi)  1:30hrs



• Head back to Auckland via the coastal road.
• You will come across beach after beach along the Ruakaka, Waipu,
Bream Bay and Mangawhai coastal environment.


• Travel across the river plain to Matakohe’s Kauri Museum, where
you’ll discover the important Kauri tree history. In the villages of
Maungaturoto and Paparoa you can explore antique and craft shops
• Continue on to Dargaville; enjoy a bite to eat and perhaps a rail car
journey before exploring the final leg of the Kauri Coast. You may
choose to visit NZ’s longest drivable beach, Ripiro Beach. Stop off
at the stunning Kai Iwi Lakes.
• Discover the Waipoua Forest home to the majestic Tane Mahuta,
the Lord of the Forest. It’s the largest Kauri tree in the world, and is
2000 years old. A guided tour with a Maori guide is the best way to
experience this forest.
• Continue on to the Hokianga Harbour, where Maori first arrived in
Aotearoa, New Zealand. Look out to the stunning sand dunes
which after a short ferry ride you could be sandboarding down.
DAY 2: Opononi – Ahipara
• Make your way north through the fishing village of Rawene. Stop off
and see the art galleries and enjoy a coffee at the Boatshed Café.
• Take the car ferry to Kohukohu and journey through yester-year
taking in rural New Zealand country-side on your way north to
Ahipara. Shipwreck Bay is aptly named as it was the site of the
sinking of many ships, the wrecks of which are still visible at low
• Close by is the Ahipara Gumfields Historic reserve and the
remnants of ancient kauri forests. Ahipara is a popular camping spot
– other accommodation options include motels, bed and breakfast
accommodation and self-contained b holiday homes or units.
DAY 3: Kaitaia – Cape Reinga –
• Kaitaia is the main centre for the ‘subtropical’ north. From here you
can arrange a coach tour to Cape Reinga or catch a bus trip along
Doubtless Bay Ninety Mile Beach. Make the trip to the Cape Reinga lighthouse at
the very top of the North Island (1.5 hours’ drive from Awanui). The
Cape is of great spiritual importance to Maori, who believe it is the
jumping off point for the souls of their departed loved ones making
their way back to their mythical homeland of Hawaiki.
• Head to the stunning Doubtless Bay and enjoy dinner at the
Mangonui Fish Shop.
DAY 4: Doubtless Bay – Kerikeri
• The road leading into Kerikeri is bordered by orchards. Roadside
stalls offer the chance to buy seasonal fruit. Look also for signs
showing the way to artists’ studios – resident potters and painters
have given this district a creative personality.
• In Kerikeri you’ll find galleries, cafes and vineyards, gourmet food
shops, several golf courses and historic sites such as the Stone
Store and the Mission House.
• There are superb bush walks in the area – Rainbow Falls is a
perfect picnic spot.
DAY 5: Bay of Islands
• The resort town of Paihia makes an excellent base for exploring the
Bay of Islands.
• Catch a cruise to the outer islands, go on a dolphin swimming
safari, or take a ferry to the charming township of Russell.
• The historic Treaty House at Waitangi marks the beginning of New
Zealand as a nation.

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