New Zealand Road Trip: Northland’s beaches

Northland is so close to those who live or visit Auckland, but for some reason few people really scratch the surface. It’s such a shame, as it’s a region with so much to offer and lots of hidden gems. Over the New Year break a few years ago, a group of us decided to do a Northland road trip. Shaun and I were in our trusty campervan Bessie, and the others camped in tents.

Our first stop was Kai Iwi Lakes, just inland from the west coast of Northland near Dargaville and only a couple of hours north of Auckland. It was crappy weather so we didn’t do much (except play on the playground), but it was a nice place to spend our first night. The only bummer was that all the pine trees that used to grow around the campsite and along the lakeshore were no longer there (I had visited a few years before) so it was pretty exposed to the weather.

Kai Iwi Lakes Campsite [CS]

Kai Iwi Lakes Campsite [CS]

Being silly in the playground [CS]

Being silly in the playground [CS]

Swings! [CS]

Swings! [CS]

The following day we headed north along the western side of Northland, through the Waipoua Forest. The forest is magnificent – here live some of the biggest trees in the world, the mighty Kauri. These trees are so massive that it’s hard to comprehend that it’s actually a living thing!

The king of the forest - Tane Mahuta

The king of the forest – Tane Mahuta [CS]

 We carried on north until we reached the Hokianga Harbour, where there are huge sand dunes on the northern shore. As a kid I visited the Hokianga on many occasions, and sometimes we went sand boarding down these dunes right into the harbour! Such fun!

Hokianga Harbour, New Zealand

Hokianga Harbour, New Zealand [CS]

 After lunching at a lovely waterfront cafe in Rawene, we caught the car ferry across the harbour and continued north through Kaitaia (the biggest town in the Far North, and the last decent supermarket for a while) to our next campsite at Rarawa Beach, on the east coast. This campsite is managed by the Department of Conservation, and is a steal at only $6 per person, per night. The beach is stunning – pure white sand and sparkling turquoise water.

The following day we headed to the top of the North Island, to one of our favourite places in the whole country: Spirits Bay. Yet another DOC campsite is located here, and the best thing about this place is that there is no development for as far as you can see. The beach is about 9 km long and the water is lovely and clear and warm (for New Zealand standards!). You can often see dolphins just off the beach! It’s quite honestly like paradise.

Spirits Bay, New Zealand

Spirits Bay, New Zealand [CS]

Spirits Bay New Zealand

Spirits Bay New Zealand [CS]

Spirit's Bay, Northland, NZ

Spirits Bay, New Zealand

We had a couple of great nights at Spirits, and on one of the days we headed to Cape Reinga. Most people think that it’s New Zealand’s most northern point, but it’s actually not – that honour goes to North Cape, which is further east and inaccessible by road. Cape Reinga is a big tourist attraction so there were heaps of people there, but there are amazing views down the west coast and across to Spirits Bay, so it’s a must-do for anyone visiting this part of the country.

Cape Reinga, New Zealand [CS]

Cape Reinga, New Zealand [CS]

Cape Reinga, New Zealand [CS]

Cape Reinga, New Zealand [CS] 

Cape Reinga, New Zealand

Cape Reinga, New Zealand [CS]

 For New Year’s Eve we headed south to Tokerau Bay, where our friends Pia and Mike were staying. On the way our dear campervan Bessie had a mishap – the power steering belt shredded! So we limped our way from Spirits to Tokerau Bay with poor Shaun wrestling with the steering wheel. Thank goodness it was nothing more serious!

Bessie broken down

Bessie broken down [CS]

 It was a fun New Year’s Eve at Tokerau Bay, and lovely to spend time with good friends. We spent a day at Matai Bay (yet another one of our favourite NZ beaches) – if you’re lucky enough to get a campsite at this extremely popular spot over the New Zealand summer, do it! The beach is just stunning. Another great beach to visit is Puheke Beach, only about ten minute’s drive from Matai Bay. This beach is a lot quieter (no campsite or houses here!) and has amazing white sand and nice dunes. Beautiful!

Matai Bay, New Zealand

Matai Bay, New Zealand [CS]

Puheke Beach, New Zealand

Puheke Beach, New Zealand [CS]

 A large group of us enjoyed a yummy wine tasting and lunch at one of the few wineries in the area – Karekare Estate.

734293_10151470582846328_1416457280_n

Karekare Estate [CS]

Karekare Estate [CS]

Tokerau Beach, New Zealand

Tokerau Beach, New Zealand [CS]

After Tokerau Beach, the rest of the group headed southwards back to Auckland, and Shaun and I drove to the Bay of Islands where my parents own a bach (holiday home). I’ve been going there my whole life for summer holidays – so lucky I know! – and in the last seven years Shaun has spent a lot of time there too! We love it so much, and it’s hands down my favourite place in New Zealand.

Bay of Islands, New Zealand

The view from our family holiday home, Bay of Islands, New Zealand

While we were there it was a significant birthday for my Mum so we gave her a helicopter flight over the Bay of Islands to celebrate. To my surprise, my Dad booked me on the flight too! It was an amazing experience, one that I will never forget. Having spent so many years on the water and the beaches of the Bay of Islands it was certainly something else seeing it from the air!

Waewaetoria Island, New Zealand

Waewaetoria Island, New Zealand

Piercy Island (the famous Hole in the Rock), New Zealand

Piercy Island (the famous Hole in the Rock), New Zealand

Urupukapuka Island, New Zealand

Urupukapuka Island, New Zealand

Seriously, how could you not love this part of New Zealand?! Northland is amazing. The beaches are so beautiful it blows my mind, and there are so many little-known spots where you can escape from the summer crowds. Northland will always hold a special place in our hearts!

See our other New Zealand campervan road trip posts here!

Thanks to Claire Scofield for allowing the use of her beautiful photos of Northland in this post (CS in the captions) – my camera was out of action.

P&S xx

10 comments

    • Petra
      Author

      Thanks Emily! The helicopter flight was incredible – so lucky that we got a beautiful day for it too!
      PS. your blog looks great, hope you’re having fun in India!

  1. Wow what beautiful pictures. The most northerly point looks beeathtaking and the water so clear and blue. New Zealand I have always wanted to visit Lucy

    • Petra
      Author

      Thanks Lucy! I must give credit to my friend Claire for most of the pics in this post as my camera was broken 🙂 It is such a stunning part of New Zealand – I hope you get there some day!

  2. Yes! Totally agree, this is one underrated part of New Zealand. Spent 3 months there and loved every bit of it! Best beaches in NZ (in my opinion at least), such a great relaxed atmosphere in all the towns, nice weather, lots of things to see and do. My favorite part of Aotearoa 🙂

    • Petra
      Author

      Thanks Stephen! We absolutely love Northland, and have been lucky to spend so much time there over the years. Good on you spending 3 months there when there are many more popular places to go in NZ for travellers. Northland definitely has the best beaches! 🙂

  3. WOW! The places are drop-dead gorgeous! 😮 It makes me miss travelling around New Zealand as I’ve only been down to Wanganui and Wellington once or twice.

  4. Pingback: Summer snaps by the New Zealand seaside - The Global Couple

  5. Pingback: Blogs we read: New Zealand edition - Breathe With Us

We love comments... leave one here!