Northland, roughly the area north of Auckland all the way to the top of the North Island, is full of pristine beaches and sweeping coastal views, but with so many potential places to visit it can be a hard place to plan a trip to. Luckily you stumbled on this post! I’ll show you an awesome five-day Northland itinerary (which we used on our most recent trip) and also some ideas for shorter or longer trips. Enjoy!
Northland Itinerary: Leaving Auckland
Most Northland itineraries start and end in Auckland. Auckland is OK (definitely not my favourite city) but I’d recommend getting out as soon as possible, and Northland is a great option. Take the motorway north of Auckland, through Warkworth (you could take a detour out to Anchor Bay) and up to Whangarei.
It should take around two hours to travel between Auckland and Whangarei. If you want to do an awesome-looking hike I’d stop off at Mangawhai Heads on the way (we skipped it, I’ll get there eventually though). Whangarei is a decent place and there is an impressive waterfall right in town. Whangarei is a good place to stock up on food etc for the next few days, especially if you’re going to be camping.
The Tutukaka Peninsula is a short drive from Whangarei and is home to two of New Zealand’s best beaches. Matapouri Bay and Whale Bay are beautiful, and there’s an interesting hiking trail linking them. The beaches themselves feature clear blue water and bright white sand, and Whale Bay is backed by native bush. It’s a pretty exotic place and I’d rate both of these beaches in the top five beaches in New Zealand. A good start to this Northland itinerary! You can camp at Matapouri Bay or spend a few hours there and then continue to the Bay of Islands.
Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is one of the most famous tourist spots in New Zealand and is one place you don’t want to miss on your Northland itinerary. There are two small towns (Paihia and Russel) which are well set-up for tourists (lots of places to sleep, eat, drink and buy) but the real highlights are out on the water. You can do dolphin spotting tours, tours to the Hole in the Rock and Urupukapuka Island or kayak in the pristine water. If you’re short on funds you could do the short trip between Paihia and Russel and still have a great time looking around both towns.
This small town is a short drive from Paihia and features a nice waterfall as well as some historic buildings and a pleasant river area. You only need an hour or two to see the highlights but if you’re looking for somewhere to spend the night you could do a lot worse.
From Kerikeri you’ll want to keep heading north. There are a few options for places to visit. You could go to Whangaroa and places like Taupo Bay and Tauranga Bay, or head further north to Mangonui and Coopers Beach. We settled on Matai Bay on the Karikari Peninsula, as I’d heard it was one of the best beaches in New Zealand. We drove past Coopers Beach first, which was nice (stay near here if you’re taking it slowly and don’t want to camp) but Matai Beach is on another level. We only spent a few hours there and drove to Kaitaia that night, but if you have camping gear (or you’re sleeping in your vehicle) I reckon staying at Matai Bay would be a good option.
We only spent one night in Kaitaia and didn’t get to look around at all (except for a trip to the local Pak n Save supermarket), but if you’re looking for somewhere to spend the night in this region it’s a good option. There are heaps of places to stay (we stayed in an interesting Airbnb) and some good places to eat.
We stayed in Kaitaia the night before venturing up to Cape Reinga, which allowed us to get an early start. We arrived at Cape Reinga just before the tourist buses, meaning we pretty much had it to ourselves for a start. Cape Reinga is the most northern point on New Zealand’s North Island and is one of the more iconic places in the far north. The views are amazing too – it’s not just famous for its position! I’d recommend getting there early, spending an hour or two there in the morning (also visit Te Paki Sand Dunes before or after) and then heading back down with a detour to 90 Mile Beach.
90 Mile Beach
This beach apparently isn’t even 90 miles long (it’s close though), but it is definitely one of the longer stretches of beach I’ve seen. You obviously won’t see the whole thing, and it’d be pretty boring if you tried. It’s an OK beach but nothing you can’t see pretty much anywhere else in New Zealand. Do look out for wild horses on the forestry roads leading to the beach – we were excited when we saw some!
Hokianga / The Kauri Coast
You’ll have to travel back through Kaitaia on the way back towards Auckland, but you have some options once there. You could go back the way you came, which is quicker, or you could head down the West Coast to places like the Hokianga and Kai Iwi Lakes. We travelled quickly through this area but did stop in Opononi and really liked it. We’d love to return to this area sometime! We were short on time though, so after a quick stop at Tane Mahuta (one of the oldest Kauri trees in New Zealand) on the Kauri Coast we drove to Kai Iwi Lakes, the last stop on our Northland itinerary.
Kai Iwi Lakes
We couldn’t have planned the last night of our Northland trip any better. We arrived there in the early evening after a long day of driving (we were at Cape Reinga that morning) and were lucky enough to still have some sunlight. The Kai Iwi Lakes are beautiful (especially the main one) and are perfect for a relaxing swim. We camped there that night and explored some more in the morning before heading back to Auckland.
Northland Itinerary: The Details
We spent four nights / five days on this Northland itinerary, and we were happy with how it turned out. There as a fair bit of driving involved but we knew exactly how long we had and we tried to see as much as we could. If you can stretch this out to a week or more it’ll be more relaxing, but it’s definitely doable in a shorter time too (we spend two nights in the Bay of Islands due to heavy rain, which could be cut down to one if you’re short on time). We saw some of the best beaches in New Zealand, some impressive waterfalls and lovely coastal views throughout – if you’re on the fence about planning a road trip around Northland I hope my post helped to convince you it’s a good idea!
Are you planning a road-trip around New Zealand? Check out my one-month itinerary!
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