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A New Zealand Travel Guide

The Bay of Islands and Northland

Paerengarenga Harbour entrance. 

"history, sea, forests . . . all merged into a natural playground"

Bay of Islands

To get more information on Northland, New Zealand, Download my FREE E-BOOK "A New Zealand Travel Guide.  It will give you much more detail on arrival formalities, transport, accommodation, driving in the country, as well as a detailed guide to the action and attractions in the regions.  All that and a whole lot of other useful stuff you'll need to know.

The most popular attraction in Northland is the Bay of Islands. Pity really . . . there's so much more to this region which is the cradle of the country's European history and has been a stronghold of the Maori for centuries.

Getting There

The Fast Way

You can sprint up to Paihia on State Highway 1 from Auckland in about 4 hours or so, do the highlights and be back in Auckland the following day. But to do it properly allow at least four,  preferably six days.

Take SH1 to Kawkawa then follow the signs to Paihia. 247km, trip time 3 3/4 to 4 1/2 hours. Stops along the way could include the beachside town of Orewa, the thermal area of Waiwera, the tiny colonial village of Puhoi, and the provincial capital Whangarei.

A More Leisurely Route

If you want to take a more leisurely ramble, however, you can opt for the "Coastal Route" from Warkworth through Leigh, Pakiri, Tomorata, Mangawhai, Langs Beach and Waipu Cove and back to SH1 at Waipu township.

A rapidly growing feature of the area is the vineyards around Matakana, several of which have cafes on site.  Take launch druise to Kawau Island, watch teeming shoals of fish at Goat Island, rise a horse along Pakiri Beach or catch a wave at Waipu Cove.


Key to a visit to Whangarei is the Town Basin. This was originally just a wharf where yachts tied up. Gradually it became known as a meeting point for sea wanderers around the world, especially in the tropical cyclone season. Now, there's a very attractive retail development built on the site including Claphams National Clock Museum, the largest collection of its kind in the southern hemisphere.

Whangarei Falls are worth a diversion for happy-snaps. Surrounded by totara, matai and kauri they make a fine spot for a picnic lunch. 

The Tutukaka Coast is world famous for its year-round big game fishing. It's also an extremely beautiful stretch of coastline for walking, swimming and lazing in the sun. Not easy to get to, but worth the effort.

If you prefer scuba diving the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve is an absolute must where fish life teems and the visibility is often over 30m. It's off the Tutukaka coast.

Take a quick diversion into Kawakawa, especially if it's time to find a comfort stop. The dunny (trans: toilet, loo, little boy's room, or that quaint American euphemism the "bathroom") was designed by Austrian-born artist, the late Freidrich Hundertwasser who made his home here. It really is worth the side trip . . . believe me you ain't never seen a toilet block like this.

The Bay of Islands.

Paihia is the capital of the area but Russell, across the other side of the bay, also makes an interesting - if quieter - ops base. 

The Waitangi National Reserve is a central focus of NZ history. It was here that the country had its birth as a western nation with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between the British Crown and an assembly of Maori leaders on 6 Feb 1840.

The Treaty House may be visited. There's also a beautiful Maori meeting house on the grounds and a superb example of a Maori waka, a  war canoe.

Nearby is the Waitangi Visitor Centre where static displays and an audio-visual provide an introduction not only to the area, but indeed to an understanding of the complex relationship between Maori and pakeha in NZ today.

Big attraction in the Bay of Islands is, not surprisingly, the bay itself.  There's a whole raft of on-water options ranging from a simple ferry ride to a multi-day cruise aboard a tops'l schooner.

Take a stroll around Russell across the bay from Paihia . Places of interest are the Captain Cook Museum, Christ's Church (with authentic bullet holes supplied by courtesy of Maori warrior chiefs a century and a half ago) and Pompalier House, home of the first Catholic bishop of New Zealand.


Kerikeri is a must-visit. You'll find NZ's oldest house there, down by the wharf. So is the Old Stone Store, the oldest stone building in NZ. The north's sub-tropical climate is perfect for citrus fruit and that oh-so-Kiwi fruit, kiwifruit. All the local orchards sell at the gate. Shop around. Lot's of crafts people at work around here too and their work is widely on sale at various road-side craft shops. One of the more unusual is the country's only kaleidoscope maker - which might make a great take-home gift for one of the smaller members of the family.

Whangaroa and Doubtless Bay

Along the coast between Paihia and Kaitaia there are some beautiful spots to be discovered by those who have the time to leave the beaten track. Whangaroa Harbour is one of the most beautiful in the north, but it's hard to get at . . . the best bits can only be seen by launch.

Doubtless Bay is regarded by many as the ultimate Northland destination.

Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach.

Reinga, the northernmost point in the country, is a place of great spiritual importance to the Maori. It is from here - the northern tip of the country - that the spirits of the dead took a last rest before beginning the long journey back to their ancestral homeland, Hawaiki.

The Pacific Ocean and the tempestuous Tasman Sea meet here in a boiling, turbulent battle of the waters. Strong currents surge up both coasts, clashing together just off the cape . . . quite a sight, especially since it's neatly set off by a picture-book light-house.

The big attraction up here is, of course Ninety Mile Beach. Driving on it is not advised (see the photo for a reason). Best way is to take one of the coach tours.

But there are other ways of enjoying the west coast scenery.- on a quad bike to visit the historic gumfields.  Or try BloKarts (micro land yachts), horse treks, mountain bikes, and sea kayaks

The West Coast and Waipoua Kauri Forest

On the return journey from Paihia to Auckland take the extra time to travel the western route through the Waipoua Kauri Forest. The Kauris here are among the largest living things on earth - exceeded only by the sequoias of California.

Between the forest and Dargaville, out towards the coast, are the kai Iwi Lakes.  great picnicking, swimming or camping spot.  Crystal clear and white sand beaches surrounded by forest. 

Between Dargaville and the junction with SH1 is the Matakohe Kauri Museum - one of the best small museums in the country. A brilliant evocation of the days when hard men felled the forest giants or probed the swamps for their fossilised gum.

State Highway 16 : The back road to Auckland

Instead of taking State Highway 1 back to (or out of) Auckland  your other option is SH16  from Wellsford through Hellensville and the west of Auckland.

Just south of Helensville is Parakai, a thermal area which is home to a hot pool complex.

As you get nearer to Auckland you'll enter one of the country's oldest wine-making areas.  The area that runs through Kumeu, Huapai and on towards Henderson is headquarters to some of the best known vintners in NZ. Several have excellent vineyard cafes and restaurants.  Not a bad place to stop overnight on your way to or from the north. 

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A New Zealand Travel Guide is written by David Morris and published by

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Just About Everything You Ever Needed  To Know To Get The Most From Your NZ Holiday

The (Almost) Complete Guide To NZ is the kind of information you need to make the best of your holiday in New Zealand - recommendations on where to stay, where to eat, what to see. 

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Transport, rest areas, photo opportunities, historical background, special places that few others know about  Ohhhh . . .  heaps and heaps of stuff.

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Arrival  Formalities



A Regional Guide




10 March 2012