The popular tourist route for many travellers is to arrive into Auckland and head down to the South Island stopping at Christchurch and Queenstown. However, we would like to encourage travellers to make time to explore the true beauty of the North Island, the area known as the Northland as it is north of Auckland! We believe it has even more to offer than the Coromandel region.
Whenever we go camping we always try to go just a little bit off the beaten track and go beyond the tourist drives, we always tend to find ourselves stuck (in a fun way!) on these types of unsealed roads….you know.. the ones with cows on the road!
For more about our love for Freedom Camping check out our article here!
Here are a few spots we love in the Northland region, to reach them you will need to pick up a hire car from Auckland as most of them are off the beaten track!
This beach is just 1 hours and 35 minutes drive from central Auckland. Drive to Warkworth and turn left to follow signs to Kawau Bay. From here you get incredible views of Kawau Island and the Hauraki Gulf. It is not too off the beaten track, you don’t have to drive very far to get food, fuel and supplies for your camping trip.
We discovered a beautiful family run campsite a little further on from Snells Beach in Algies Bay called Bethshan Seaside Cottages (don’t worry it has camping spots!) we don’t usually fall in love with a campsite that isn’t run by the Department of Conservation (DOC) but this one was run by a local family and has been owned by the same family for generations! For 40 bucks (get me getting into the lingo!) you will find excellent kitchen and bathroom facilities (when I say excellent, I mean clean, hot and most importantly no charge or timer for showers!). We made full use of the free use of kayaks, boats and paddle boards and recommend you do too!
They have a lovely beach front location, top of the range BBQ’s and even a pontoon with a trampoline on it (yes a trampoline..in the sea). We had loads of fun kayaking out and then catapulting ourselves into the sea! This spot is not far from Auckland in fairness hence why this place is described in my blog post as a weekend trip from Auckland.
If you don’t fancy the husstle and bustle of Paihia and the Bay of Islands we suggest checking out the DOC sites here. 32km’s after Whangarei on State Highway 1, turn off and head towards Whananaki eventually you will hit Whananaki Heads. It is a beautiful seaside village with not much but a few up market Bach’s and two campsite – one DOC and one family run. The family run campsite is on the edge of an estuary so a great fishing spot. There is a DOC campsite further up the road right on beach front. Further along on the estuary edge there is a foot bridge leading to the other side of the estuary it is here that you start to get a real sense of what the Northland region is all about.
Russell – Bay of Islands:
Sure you could head to Paihia with all the youngsters and party away and then go on the generic boat cruise around the bay. But if you can’t afford all that we suggest heading to Russell. A small quaint town with a qurky britsh feel. Why you ask? Because this place was the first capital city of New Zealand and has deep European and Maori history!
To get there cross the car ferry from Paihia and explore all the reserves and paths on your way to Russell. There is a great scenic look out at the top of the hill and you can see beautiful panoramic views of the Bay of Island on a clear day. This is a good way to avoid the tourist trap of an overpriced boat trip full of people getting sea sick!
Now this is my all-time favourite Northland spot and yes we may be a little bias as my partners family originate from here. But if you want to get off the beaten track, eat good fish, visit a place rich in culture and enjoy true remoteness -do stop here! The best way to explore the area is by boat but if you can’t just simply climbing the Dukes Nose or St. Paul’s Rock is enough to get a real sense of the vast natural untouched beauty of this harbour.
There are many historic pā sights (old Maori settlements) and many Bach’s along this harbour and we are truly lucky to visit this area every few months and wake up to the view that is our featured image for this article! A great campsite nearby is Tauranga Bay Holiday Park with absolute beach front pitch’s and again a great pontoon for the kids to jump off into the sea – standard!
Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach:
You can’t go North without going all the way to the top! The sand dunes at 90 mile beach is a good enough reason as any. Check out our pictures below, it is pretty self-explanatory! Hire a board, embrace the hot sand on your feet and climb to the top of that sand dune. Then admire the view close your eyes and glide down in a fraction of the time it took to get up!
Cape Reinga is avery special and spiritual place for Maori people. At the lands end beyond the lighthouse is where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. According to Maori where the two oceans collide and is where Maori spirits begin their final journey in a spectacular swirl of currents!
Don’t forget to drive your car on Ninety Mile Beach as well – just because you can!
Kauri Forest and the West Coast:
Once you have gone as far you can, you will need to come back! We suggest breaking the drive up and taking another route back to Auckland. Don’t forget the west coast! Here they are a few lovely towns like Opononi and Rawene. It is different from the East Coast in many ways.
The Kauri Forest is worth a visit to view the largest native tree in NZ. (The Kauri Tree) The “Lord of the Forest” stands at 51.5 metres go on I do some tree hugging!
Top Tip: If you need to find somewhere to stay when you visit then we highly recommend booking your accommodation in advance, it’s important not to under estimate how busy NZ gets between September and March each year. We suggest checking out BookaBach (private homes often not found on AirBnB) or this link to find out instant availability of the motels/hotels/guest houses in the area.
What is your favourite spot in the Northland Region? Post with your comments below!