It's quite a drive to go up to Paihia, Waitangi and further north, but you'll have lots of opportunity for very scenic and curious sightseeing breaks.
The top 10 things to see in Northland, according to my guidebook, included something I had to read twice to believe it: the Hundertwasser toilets in Kawakawa. Yep, public toilets as a tourist attraction. BUT, constructed by a star architect. I had no idea what to expect due to the lack of pictures in my book, so curiosity had us stop in Kawakawa. In hindsight I have to say it was the most enjoyable, colourful and stylish loo break I have ever had. The only structure ever built by the artist in the Southern hemisphere, the Hundertwasser toilets even feature on New Zealand’s AA list of 101 Kiwi must-sees!
An equally water-rich and picturesque experience can be had nearby at Whangarei Falls. They’re located just 5 km from Whangarei city centre and are easily accessible. From the parking lot, take a walk down the path leading to the foot of the falls to fully appreciate their splendour. It’s like a scene from a film, that’s how beautiful it is. So peaceful. There are many waterfalls on both South and North islands, but these are my absolute favourite. There are no toilets to be found around though, so if the noise of water gives you the urge to “go somewhere”, you know where to head!
And last but not least, if you’re cruising through Northland and need to stretch your legs for a while, stop in Puketi forest or Waipoua forest. There are plenty of tracks, walks and boardwalks leading through stands of gigantic kauri trees. Depending on where you stop, you’ll have the option of 15 minute boardwalks, hour-long walks or tracks that take a few days to complete.
Paihia was settled by Europeans as a mission station in 1823 is now the main centre for tourists to the Bay area. The area is abundant with of marine life, including the big Marlin, Whales, Penguins, Dolphins, Gannets and many other species. Take the 'Cream Trip' around some of the islands and to the famous Hole in the Rock where the boat will attempt to go through the narrow opening (depending on the weather) and out through the other side.
Paihia is now the main centre for the Bay of Islands. With its subtropical climate is a great area for many activities as well as just enjoying the cafes and great restaurants. The fishing is amazing and also divers can dive amongst wrecks in the area.
Bay of Islands
The Northland region of New Zealand is one of the most popular places to visit, particularly in the summer. There is a lot to see and do.
One of the highlights would be the Bay of Islands with its infamous Hole in the Rock boat trip (if you are lucky you will also see dolphins on this trip).
A little further north is Ninety Mile Beach where you can take a bus tour along the beach. Tane Mahuta - the large Kauri tree is also in this vicinity.
At the top of the North Island is Cape Reinga with its lighthouse and I suppose a cool place to go to say you've been there!
Heading back down from the top (or going up if you prefer) I recommend a drive on the Coastal Highway which will take you to a string of pretty beaches including Mangawhai, Laings Beach and Waipu.
Annie Rose Ltd is a glass bead making and pmc (precious metal clay) teaching studio and shop. The beads are absolutely gorgeous and there is always a good selection of handmade beads for sale plus a collection of award-winning beads to marvel at.
You can simply have a demonstration (takes about 10 minutes) of glass bead making but, if you have the time why not book a day class? The classes vary from a 3 hour afternoon or evening introductory class (all materials supplied and you take home what you create) to weekend workshops (2 full days).
Interesting for any one who likes beads but also a great way to learn a new skill and create a unique souvenir of your visit to NZ.
In addition to the previous there's a raft of things to see. They have an entire saw mill (pic 1),
amazing historical scenes in period costumes (pic 2), an extensive collection of historic photos that I found rivetting (pic 3), quality furniture pieces made from kauri and other native species (pic 4) and a huge log with the ring lines explained (pic 5).
So many other things are there that they are too numerous to list here but, suffice it to say that, if you are the slightest bit curious, this place should be high on your priorities of things to do in New Zealand.
"Allow two hours to see the museum." The words resonated in my ears; surely an hour would cover a museum about a tree.
How wrong was I. We walked in at 3.00pm and, when closing time arrived, we were nearly being ushered out the door and we still wanted to see more.
Having visited many a museum in my time I have to say this is one of the finest I have seen and is a credit to those whose vision brought it all together.
If there's one thing I remember clearly amongst many stand outs it was the dummies (pics 1,4,5,). They are made by Owen Yeoman from Napier and are so life like at times you have to double take to make sure they're not real.
At $15 per person it represents value for money and you will not only see every aspect of the tree but there's also stuff about the Boer War, trains and other totally unexpected items.
One of the features is the gum room. The resin from the sap leaking from a wounded tree was prized and a whole industry grew up around it so this part of the kauri has a room all its own and then some.
It was used for the finest varnish, paint and linoleum floor covering mainly, though also as marine glue, dressing for calico, sealing wax and candles, fire kindlers, cigar holders and pipes, wax matches, mouldings and butanol testing of oil products.
There were even sculptures (pic 2) and animals stuck in the gum (pic 3).
It is extraordinary to comtemplate people digging around in mud trying to unearth ancient trees and resin from the sodden earth, even more extraordinary that they could make a living out of doing such a thing.
We allocated one day as a let's-go-look-at-kauri-trees day. To that end we commenced at Manginangina, a small area set on a back road heading south out of Kaeo.
The road winds through pleasant forest scenery until you reach the reserve and then it's only a short board walk to reach an impressive stand of kauri. These trees are more in your hundreds of years old than the thousands we would see later but noteworthy nonetheless.
We pushed on through Kaikohe and off to Omapere on the west coast, seeking the biggie, Tane Mahuta. Again, this tree, rated the biggest in terms of timber available, is only a short walk in from highway 12 and is definitely large. With a total height of 51.5 metres and a girth of 13.8 it is believed to be around 2,000 years old.
However, someone had told us that there is another walk a little further south that is more rewarding and we aimed for that. Our informant was correct. If you want to see only one kauri tree then I would recommend Te Matua Ngahere. Though this tree is nowhere near as tall (only 29.9 metres), its massive girth of 16.41 metres happens to be where you see the tree and it not only is big, it looks big.
Of course, not even these monsters are free from drama and, just two weeks before we were there a severe storm brought down a rata, one of several epiphytes (things that grow on trees but don't hurt them) and it dragged down a large branch. Thus there was much debris at the base and it had been roped off to protect the fragile roots from interlopers.
Despite this, this 3,000 year old monster was unforgettable and, en route there are other big trees to see such as the Four Sisters.
As explained in the previous tip, I came seeking a wild coastline. I wasn't disappointed. After the bush walk we went to the lookout indicated at the end of a peninsula. It promised much and delivered.
Looking inland (pic 1) was a splendid bay where people come to holiday yet, turn around 180 degrees and the fury of the ocean is immediately apparent. Uncertain sandbars lashed by the sea driven by stiff onshore winds (pic 2) leave a lasting impression of a place for humans to avoid.
The weather (pic 3) looked like it could turn into anything within half an hour and, while fascinated, it's a place I loved to look at but wouldn't tarry for long.
Omapere is on the western side of the North Island. For some reason I wanted to go there. I think it had a lot to do with Hokitika on the South Island where I'd ventured a couple of times and was amazed by the surf and treacherous seas I'd seen there. I wondered if it might be the same here.
After a picturesque drive through the lush countryside I was almost at Omapere when I noticed a sign pointing to a bush walk. Mmm, sounds like me I thought.
So, when I reached the tourist information centre I asked them about it and they told me enough to make me want to go and investigate.
After parking the car in the small carpark I ventured into the rainforest and was only a couple of minutes into the walk when I came across a lovely small waterfall beside a picnic spot (pic 1).
Pushing on about 10 minutes further I came to the main falls (pic 2) which, although being much larger, weren't as pretty as the downstream ones.
The forest (pic 3) was tertiary and old growth with lots of fallen timber here and there, no doubt victims of stormy weather that would not be uncommon in this part of New Zealand.
On the way from Tongariro National Park to Waitomo Caves you will find these falls in the middle and at the bottom of the rainforest.
If you are driving towards it it might seem you lost your way because the roads won't be paved after a while but just keep on driving and you will get there.
Ninety Mile Beach is a beach located on the western coast of the far north of the North Island of New Zealand.
The name Ninety Mile Beach is a misnomer—it is actually 88 km (55 miles) long.
The beach stretches from just west of Kaitaia towards Cape Reinga along the Aupouri Peninsula. It begins close to the headland of Reef Point, to the west of Ahipara Bay, sweeping briefly northeast before turning northwest for the majority of its length. It ends at Scott Point, five kilometres south of Cape Maria van Diemen.
Its a great place for Birdspotting and there are wild horses that roam the grassland and forests at the back of the beach.
Driving is'nt really allowed on the beach so its best to join a tour, they run from Pahia and Kaitaia and are really informative of the History, Geology and wildlife of the area.
The Waitangi National Trust Reserve is an exception area which is spread of 506 hectares (1000 acres) and has been preserved for its historical significance. The land was gifted to New Zealanders for them to enjoy both for recreation and as an education into New Zealand’s past.
Waitangi looks across the water to Russell and out past Cape Brett to the open Pacific Ocean. Whare Rununga (a Maori Meeting House) is a national monument to the people of New Zealand and their ancestors.
There is strong advice in the guidebooks not to drive your car on ninety mile beach because of shifting quicksand and strong tides. Well here is one idiot who did not heed the advice. Our guide said it had only happened the previous week.
Fortunately the people got out unhurt but what a waste of a Mercedes. Bet they felt a bit of an idiot filling out their insurance forms!
The forests of Waipoua are situated in Northland along SH 12 from Dargaville to Hokianga Harbour (Omapere and Opononi). It is an unique spot with native forest and it is famous for its huge kauri trees.
Most impressive is the tree called: Tane Mahuta (God of the Forest). It is one of the most ancient trees in the world with an age of about 2000 years. You feel so tiny in front of a trunk with a girth of 14 metres. Incredible and very impressive !!!
But there is more to see and do in the park. There are many walks: for instance to four kauris together: called the Four Sisters, the Lookout Track, or just make one of the other walks in this typical New Zealand forest (for maps and more information visit the DOC Information Centre, about 1 km from SH 12 along the Waipoua River).
The SH 12 through Waipoua Forest, although just 18 km's long, is for us one of the most beautiful road sections to drive in New Zealand. The native forest with all these kauri's, ferntrees and many many other green plants and bushes. It seems if the road is getting narrower each time we visit this part of New Zealand.
More information and pics: see my Northland page.
From Auckland you can travel up to Northland and the Bay of Islands. An amazing place it is up there. I stayed a few nights in Paihia and did some sailing there for a day and another day went up to Cape Reinga with Awesome Adventures. This is a full day trip and absolutely awesome...
In the morning you stop at a Kauri forest and then you move on to Cape Reinga and make few stops along the way. After the visit to this almost most northern part of New Zealand we went to a very nice beach for a swim. The best thing of the day was sandboarding. There are some huge sand dunes of 120 metres high which we had to climb with a body board. From the top we then went all the way down, reaching almost 50 km/h. Amazing adventure I can tell you!!! From there we drove back to Mongonui for some fresh fish and chips via 90 Mile Beach, which is in fact just 90 kilometres. What a great day and I would recoommend it for everyone who's in for a bit of an adventure!!