Venture north of Auckland to the spiritual land of kauri, paradise islands, wild coastline and the historic birthplace of New Zealand.
The heart of the northern district lies in the Bay of Islands, an aptly named natural harbour, home to 144 examples of paradise – think golden sand in shimmering turquoise. The area is a must-visit for all travellers, being the first place Europeans settled and the grounds for the Treaty of Waitangi. The narrow landscape makes exploration of the North easy via the Twin Coast Discovery Highway. With extensive coastline, stunning ancient
forests and a dotting of interesting towns, there’s so much to love up here!
The birthplace of New Zealand
The land that is now New Zealand was first discovered by Kupe; a Polynesian explorer from Hawaiki. He gave it the name Aotearoa, Land of the Long White Cloud. 400 years later, Māori began to populate the North Island. The first Europeans arrived here in 1642, and they began to settle from 1769 when James Cook arrived. The Bay of Islands was the first place they came, and on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds the nation’s founding document was signed in 1840.
Waitangi Treaty Grounds
The Treaty Grounds are open to visitors 7 days of the week from 9am, year round. Day passes range from $25-50 for adults, and children under 18 have free entry. On the 6th of February each year (Waitangi Day), the grounds become the location of a free festival for the public to enjoy. Discover the events that shaped this nation at the-state-of-art Te Kōngahu - Museum of Waitangi. Witness an authentic Māori cultural performance including waiata (singing) and a powerful haka, and finish off a traditional hāngi dinner; made in a Māori earth oven, where your food is steamed to perfection.
On the water
A network of inlets, peninsulas and coastline, the Bay of Islands is the perfect place to get in the water. A huge range of activities are on offer; Scuba Dive on an exploration of the Rainbow Warrior or HMNZS Canterbury wrecks. Excellent dives can also be found around the Poor Knights Islands, not far from the Bay of Islands.
For anyone wanting to ride the waves, the northern district has a variety of options for every surfer, most days.
Make up your own adventure by hiring a kayak, taking a sailing trip or, if you’re a keen fisherman, why not charter a boat and try your hand a catching a big one. This region is known as NZ’s mecca for big game fishing. Activities can be booked from many of the townships, including Paihia and Kerikeri.
Less than 2 hours drive from Paihia, connect with nature in The Waipoua Kauri Forest, home to New Zealand’s tallest kauri tree, Tāne Mahuta (Lord of the Forest). A tour with Footprints Waipoua will acquaint you with the region’s longest standing residents, with an introduction to Māori mythology and the forests’ spiritual resonance.
Pop into the Kauri Museum in Matakohe to discover an impressive wealth of history around the 19th century kauri industry.
Known for its wild, exposed beaches, your travels around Northland must include a run along the famous ‘90 Mile Beach’ or even longer Ripiro Beach.
These vast sandy straights characterise this coastline and can be walked, galloped or driven. Take a 4x4 or ATV down to Pouto Point, at the southern end of the Ripiro to enjoy spectacular views out over the Kaipara Harbour and Tasman Sea before racing along the sands, past shifting dunes to Baylys Beach, where you’ll often find people long line fishing.
Moving further north, pass the isolated but stunning Hokianga Harbour on your way to Cape Reinga. Māori tradition teaches that the Cape is where the spirits of the dead depart for the ancestral homeland of Hawaiki, and is therefore a sacred site. The coastline of the Far North is interconnected by a series of remote, high quality walking trails and campsites that bring you to the heart of nature’s unaltered beauty. Sleep at Spirits Bay, where the passing beam of the lighthouse is the only sign of civilisation.
Arts, food and activities
Around the Bay of Islands you’ll find a number of towns, each unique in their own way. Paihia, often considered the hub of the Bay, has a number of accommodations, eateries and bars, creating a lively summer atmosphere. Waitangi, close to Paihia is where you’ll head for history and Māori culture.
Colourful Kerikeri is a charming town boasting citrus orchards, cafés and galleries. New Zealand’s oldest buildings – Kemp House (1821) and the Stone Store (1832) – sit in postcard-perfect splendour beside the inlet. If you prefer seeking out adventure then for the most spectacular view of all 144 of the region’s islands, launch yourself from an aircraft above them! See the earth’s curvature as you plummet down towards the ocean with Skydive Bay of Islands in perhaps your most exhilarating experience of NZ. Choose from four skydive heights – 9,000ft, 12,000ft, 16,000 ft or the incredibly high 20,000ft with 85 seconds of freefall. They offer a complimentary drop off and pick up service from the Bay of Islands Airport in Kerikeri.
Skydive Bay of Islands
Last but not least, Russell is a quaint little town that can be reached by foot-ferry from Paihia. A one-time whaling station – and briefly, in 1840 – New Zealand’s capital, it’s maintained an old-timey feel, with boutique shops and a number of little restaurants boasting superb sunset views.
Further afield you’ll come across award-winning fish and chips in Mangonui, the most creative toilets (perhaps in the world!) in Kawakawa and the friendly, down-to-earth farming town of Dargaville, to name a few.
Waterfront dining, Paihia
Whangarei is the region’s largest city, with a scenic marina and busy little arts scene. Here you’ll also find plenty of eateries, nightlife and shopping.
*Header image: Cape Reinga Lighthouse *