Beautiful golden sandy beaches, surfing, sandboarding, art, culture, relaxation, fishing, hiking, horse riding and mountain biking – sounds like the perfect New Zealand holiday doesn’t it?
Where can you find all this in one awesome road trip? Northland of course – it really does offer a little something for everyone, making it one of the best road trips in New Zealand.
Day 1 Auckland To Whangaparaoa
Heading north out of Auckland, take a slight detour off the main highway at Redvale and make your way across to the Okura Bush Scenic Reserve.
Okura River Walkway
This hour long walk takes you through some of New Zealand’s beautiful natural forest and along the coastline to the historic Dacre Cottage. Return the same way or you can keep going and extend the walk another hour or so and continue on to Stillwater – a good idea for a quick and easy pick up if one person in your group stays behind and drives the car around to meet you.
Take a scenic drive out along the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, keep a look out for the perfect café for a spot lunch – try the Ferntinental Café at the Gulf Harbour Country Club on Gulf Harbour Drive for a beautiful array of foods and something a little special or look out for Café Manly on the main street at Manly for some classic kiwi fare.
Shakespear Regional Park – Waterfall Gully
Stop by the area known as Waterfall Gully, entrance just off Whangaparaoa Road, and enjoy a stroll through the predator free bird sanctuary, don’t expect too much of the waterfall in the summer months as sometimes it is reduced to more of a trickle, but the walk is a lovely one nonetheless and a good way to stretch the legs.
Shakespear Regional Park – Shakespeare Beach
If the Waterfall Gully walk is not your thing then head further down Bruce Harvey Drive and seek out Shakespeare Beach. You can spend some time in the sand, soak up the sun or take a dip in the refreshing waters. There are public toilets located at Shakespeare Beach and you can explore more of the Shakespear Regional Park from there and even stay the night at the local campground.
Day 2 Whangaparaoa To Warkworth
Hitting the road again its time to make you way northward to Warkworth, take the chance to refuel and stock up. The town of Warkworth has several petrol stations, supermarkets and the usual takeaways and chain stores.
If you didn’t already know you are in wine country here – Warkworth is in the famous Matakana wine region and is home to various boutique wineries including the Monarch Estate Vineyard, Matakana Estate, Gilmans Vineyard, Omaha Bay Vineyard and many more. Stop by your favourite for a cellar door tasting or choose to stay overnight as many of them offer on-site accommodation too.
Nearby Dome Forest provides some scenic walking tracks for some fresh air and exercise. There are a multitude of tracks crisscrossing and winding their way right through the park to choose from, some just an hour and even one that is 7 hours long. Choose what is right for you based on your allotted time frame and level of fitness.
Take a detour down past Snells Beach and Algies Bay on to the tip of the peninsula known as Mahurangi East for a chance to escape the crowds and get off the beaten track. Martins Bay is the perfect place to stop the night, choose from the local Holiday Park with tent sites and cabins or check out the local Martins Bay Bed and Breakfast for something different.
Scandrett Regional Park
The Scandrett Regional Park is just around the corner from Martins Bay and offers a good opportunity to explore on foot right out to the tip of Scandrett’s Bay. Drive back along the coast and see the beautiful bays and coastline as you head back towards Snells Beach.
Brick Bay Wines
Stop by the Brick Bay Vineyard and experience the unique ‘Sculpture Trail’ and they just happen to have an award winning restaurant on-site too! The sculpture trail is a dynamic exhibition of large-scale pieces set among the stunning native trees and wildlife. Trail tickets cost $12 per adult, or $10 if you are dining in the stunning Glass House restaurant perched on the edge of the water.
Day 3 Warkworth To Whangarei
Leaving behind the beautiful bays, beaches and wineries of the Matakana area, it’s time to officially cross the border from Auckland into the Northland region.
Roughly an hour’s drive from Warkworth, the Mangawhai Heads is one of those pretty places you simply can’t bypass. Overflowing with creativity in the form of arts and crafts, Mangawhai is also one of the best beaches for swimming and surfing. Learn to surf, try stand up paddle boarding or just take a walk along the popular Mangawhai Cliff Top Walk.
Getting back on the main Highway, Whangarei is the next stop on the list. Northland’s biggest town, Whangarei is home to around 60,000 people. The Town Basin is a good starting point with a number of shops to browse and a good café scene. There is also a local museum and plenty of galleries to explore. Based from Whangarei you can choose a wide range of activities including caving, horse riding along the beach, diving, fishing and much more.
Just 10 minutes from Whangarei in the Whangarei Scenic Reserve you will find the Whangarei Falls. The Falls are a short walk from the carpark off Boundary Road or a bit longer walk if you walk up from the A.H. Reed Memorial Park. The Falls make for the perfect spot for a picnic lunch or even a swim in the natural pools at the bottom of the waterfall.
A small local heritage park and museum where you can check out kiwi, tuatara and gecko. Learn about conservation efforts and see these animals up close and personal in their semi-natural habitats. Check out the heritage sites including the Clarke Family Homestead c1886, the Oruaiti Chapel c1859 and the Riponui Pah School c1898.
Parihaka MTB Park
If mountain biking is your thing then hire a bike from one of the local stores and hit the trails at the Parihaka Mountain Bike Park. The Park has rides that cater to all levels from beginner to advanced, with varying terrain including steep drops and rolling flats. The Park is open 24/7 and just a short 5 minute drive from the town centre.
Looking for something a little different? The Abby Caves are the perfect combo of adventure and exploration and the best part is they are free. See here for information on how to find the Abby Caves in Whangarei and also where the caves are located along the walkway. There are three caves altogether to discover, the Organ Cave, the aptly named Middle Cave and the Ivy Cave. Do take care and be prepared when entering the caves, you will need a torch/flashlight, warm clothing and sturdy footwear.
Day 4 Whangarei Again – There Is So Much To Do!
There is so munch to do and see in Whangarei we had to set aside two days here – but trust me it’s worth it!
Diving At Poor Knights Island
This one is a biggy and it will use up most of your day which is why we set aside the extra day for it. Many travellers to Whangarei come to experience a shipwreck dive off the Tutukaka Coast. Dive! Tutukaka offer a good variety of trips to nearby Poor Knights Island, widely considered one of the best diving spots in the country.
The Tutukaka shipwreck dives include being able to visit the HMNZS Tui and HMNZS Waikato. These ex-NZ Naval ships were purposely sunk here to provide optimal dive opportunities. Purpose cut access and exit points allow you to explore the guns, bridges, control areas, a helicopter hangar, the engine rooms and cabin and crew areas.
Detailed onshore briefings, transport on the diving boat and the assistance of highly trained dive masters are included in your day of diving, however these wreck dives do require some previous experience.
If you still want to dive but don’t meet the requirements for the ship wreck dives, Dive! Tutukaka offer learn to dive sessions in shallower waters. They also provide cruise opportunities for non-divers. Their Perfect Day Ocean Cruise lets you make use of kayaks, stand up paddle boards and snorkel sets along with offering sightseeing, good food on board, and swimming around Poor Knights Island.
Day 5 Whangarei To Paihia
Leaving behind the amazing sights and sounds of the Whangarei region it’s hard to imagine you will be able to top this epic two day stay, but there’s so much more that awaits – so here we go!
Paihia is just on an hour’s drive from Whangarei and its coastal bays and inlets make for some amazing boating trips and fishing, along with swimming and kayaking. Get out on the water with ‘The Rock Adventure Cruise’ for an overnight or day cruise complete with fishing, snorkeling, kayaking and more.
Swim With Dolphins
Or why not choose to swim with the dolphins and experience this amazing creature up close and personal. This has to be one of the must-do activities when visiting Paihia and the Bay of Islands, there are a few choices on this one but we recommend the experienced team at Carino Sailing & Dolphins as a portion of every fare goes toward marine mammal conservation.
The Waitangi Treaty Grounds
The historic Waitangi Treaty Grounds are located just across the Bay, and provide visitors with an insight into New Zealand’s cultural beginnings. The Treaty Grounds are the birthplace of the iconic Treaty of Waitangi signed over 150 years ago by around 500 local tribal chiefs and the British Crown. A day pass will get you in to the historic grounds, entry to the museum and a fully guided tour plus more.
Day 6 Paihia To Cape Reinga To Ahipara
Taking State Highway 10 out of Paihia, the scenic drive to the very tip of the North Island – Cape Reinga is going to take you around 3 hours.
If you wish to travel by beach, Sand Safaris, Harrisons Cape Runner and Tua Tua Tours all offer reliable tour services of the Cape. If you are tackling the trip self-drive style you will have to stick to the main road and be sure to pack a picnic lunch and supplies (don’t forget to check your petrol tank is full) as there aren’t any shops up there! Seek out the lighthouse at Cape Reinga (it’s about 300 metres from the road end) and experience the tumultuous point where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet.
90 Mile Beach
Don’t miss the giant sand dunes on the west coast as you make you way back down adjacent to 90 Mile Beach. See our helpful guide to 90 Mile Beach here for more information on driving on 90 Mile Beach and activities in the area including Sandboarding on the giant dunes.
Learn about the long buried ancient Kauri trees and the forgone practice of ‘gumdigging’ that sustained many early settlers to the area over a hundred years ago. These huge trees lay buried and preserved in peat swamps and are prized for their timber which is used to make crafts and furniture. Entry to Gumdiggers Park costs around $13 per person
Known for its awesome surf and beautiful beaches, Ahipara is the final destination for this epic day on the road. The Ahipara Holiday Park is the perfect place to spend the night, with tent site, cabins and motel units available for your stay. Grab some fish and chips at Bidz Takeaways and eat them ‘kiwi style’ down on the beach as the sun sets over the waves.
Day 7 Ahipara To Dargaville
After an early morning surf or swim at Ahipara its time to hit the road again and make your way south.
Hokianga Harbour Ferry
Take it off road (for about 15 minutes) and catch the Kohukohu to Rawene Hokianga Harbour Vehicle Ferry. This scenic little diversion will cut down on drive times and best of all it’s a great addition to the road trip between Ahipara and Dargaville. Ferry’s run on the hour between 9 am and 8 pm. It will cost about $20 to take your car across plus a little extra for passengers.
After departing the Ferry check out the historic Clendon House situated on Parnell Street (2 minutes’ drive from the Ferry terminal). The house was home to Captain James Reddy Clendon Chairman of New Zealand’s first bank. Entry to the carefully preserved historic home is by small fee and it is open to the public from 10 am to 4pm on set days only.
Now that you know all about New Zealand’s ancient Kauri trees you simply can’t pass by the Waipoua Forest without visiting the giant Tane Mahuta Kauri. This huge over 2000 year old tree stands at approximately 50 metres tall, with a trunk circumference of nearly 14 metres in total and is New Zealand’s largest known living Kauri tree.
A little further down the road the second largest kauri tree ‘Te Matua Ngahere’ is also accessible along with the ‘Four Sisters’ kauri which consists of four kauri trees growing close together. There are also several walks you can take from here through the Waipoua Forest.
Day 8 Dargaville To Auckland
Having provided you with a range of accommodation choices overnight, Dargaville is a great little example of welcoming Northland towns. You will find a sprinkling of cafes along the main street so grab a hearty breakfast and fuel up for the day’s activities.
The Dargaville Museum
Take a wander around the museum for the opportunity to see a Maori Waka, replica gumdiggers camp, shipwreck relics and the masts of the ill-fated Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior ship. Guided tours can be arranged, entry costs $15 for adult and $5 per child.
Dargaville Rail & River Tours
Take a tour of Dargaville with a difference – in a self-drive rail converted golf cart! Dargaville Rail & River Tours offer visitors the chance to participate in their ‘Rail Carting’ adventure tours along the historic Northern Wairoa River railway lines and on through nearby farmland, with the option of an added Waiotira Junction extension. Each cart carries up to 4 people, prices range from $80 to $180.
Back on the road again following State Highway 12, you will pass through Ruawai, Matakohe, Paparoa and Maungaturoto. Just after Maungaturoto take Doctor Hill Road and make a detour to the Piroa Falls (about 11 minutes down the road). The Falls are a great place to stop and stretch the legs as well as offering a good photo opp and fresh air. The walk to the falls is only 200 metres.
Take the Mountain Road opposite Fonterra Maungaturoto as you return to the main road and enjoy an authentic NZ back-road experience a little more interesting than the main highway through Brynderwyn. After re-joining State Highway 1 for a while, take the turn off onto State Highway 16 at Wellsford and you will soon come across the visual extravaganza of Gibbs Farm.
Gibbs Farm is a private property showcasing a series of stunning larger than life sculptures and is only open to the public by appointment so you will need to have booked in advance for this one. The sculptures include works by artists Graham Bennett, Chris Booth, Daniel Buren, Bill Culbert, Neil Dawson, Marijke de Goey, Andy Goldsworthy, Ralph Hotere, Anish Kapoor and many more.
Back To Auckland
From Gibbs Farm taking the western route following State Highway 16 it will take approximately an hour to return to Auckland. You will pass by the Woodhill Forest and the Riverhead Forest which are both worth a look if you have the time. Entering Auckland via Te Atatu South it is about 30 minutes drive from here through to the Auckland Airport (dependent on traffic).
That concludes our epic 8 day road trip around Northland taking in the Matakana area, the Bay of Islands, Whangarei, Cape Reinga, Ahipara and the rugged West Coast. Need affordable car hire to make this trip a reality? NZ Rent A Car have a wide range of rental cars suitable for road trips around New Zealand. Pick up your car from the Auckland Airport or in the central City the choice is yours!