Start your road trip in Auckland and travel through subtropical Northland. The conveniently self-contained peninsula is full of gorgeous beaches, ancient forests, and Maori culture.

After enjoying the boutiques, bars and restaurants of Auckland, drive west through the Waitakere Ranges to Piha, a stretch of black-sand coastline with good surfing.

From Piha and Muriwai, drive north-east to Northland’s largest city, Whangarei to spend a day or two exploring its underrated attractions before heading to the Bay of Islands.

After a couple of days soaking in the Bay, continue north-west to Kaitaia, stopping for a fish-and-chip lunch before heading up to Cape Reinga the following day.

From Cape Reinga, the small town of Rawene, on the Hokianga Harbour, is a three-hour drive south. The huge harbour is surrounded by ancient kauri tree forests.

From there, loop back down to Auckland.

Key information

Destinations New Zealand
Activity Beach, Family, Adventure, Hiking & Trekking, Water Sports, Kayaking, Canoeing, Active, Camping, Swimming, Nature & Wildlife, Birdwatching, National Parks, Culture, Cities, Museums & Galleries, Indigenous Tourism
Physical Level Easy
Season Season January - December

Suggested itinerary

Auckland

Day 1

Forget the city’s high-rise centre; the beauty of Auckland is the scenery surrounding it. From surf beaches to the islands of Hauraki Gulf, volcanic peaks to fertile farmland, it’s no surprise that the greater Auckland region features high in lists of the world’s most liveable places. This is the perfect introduction to New Zealand.

Explore Black-sand Piha and the Waitakere Ranges

Explore Black-sand Piha and the Waitakere Ranges

Day 2 in West Coast Auckland

Black-sand Piha is separated from Auckland city by the Waitakere Ranges. The famous surf beach has large waves, so care and skill are required. In summer, lifeguards patrol the beach. Muriwai is up the same stretch of coast; between August and March, a large colony of gannets nests on the high cliffs.

City break in Whangarei

City break in Whangarei

Day 3–4 in Whangarei

Northland’s only city, Whangarei, offers fine dining at the Town Basin marina area, quick hikes to volcanic outcrops overlooking the city (Mt. Parihaka and Mt. Manaia), and white-sand beaches at Ocean Beach and along the Tutukaka Coast.

Hiking and camping at Bay of Islands

Hiking and camping at Bay of Islands

Day 5–6 in Bay of Islands

With a subtropical climate, idyllic beaches, forests, islands, waterfalls, sites associated with New Zealand’s early colonial history (Russell and Waitangi), and dolphin-watching cruises, there’s nothing overrated about the popular Bay of Islands.

The two-day Cape Brett Walkway offers a moderate trek, ending at a point overlooking the Hole in the Rock. Outside Paihia and Russell, it’s relatively easy to find secluded places to camp. Drive the Old Russell Road all the way to the Rawhiti or Waikare Inlets for peaceful bays and island-studded views.

Cape Reinga

Day 7

At the top of the Aupori Peninsula — the narrow tombola that extends from Northland—Cape Reinga is the northernmost point of New Zealand.

Maori believe the spirits of the deceased leave the land here, bound for their spiritual homeland, Hawaiki. There’s a lighthouse overlooking the crashing Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean, and well-marked hiking trails lead down steep cliffs to otherwise cut-off bays and beaches.

Hokianga Harbour and Kauri Forests

Hokianga Harbour and Kauri Forests

Day 8 in Hokianga Harbour

With slower road access from Auckland than the Bay of Islands, the Hokianga Harbour is relatively undeveloped and provides a real insight into Northland Maori life. Sandboarding down the huge sand dunes at the mouth of the harbour is fun—but put away any ideas of surfing or swimming in the treacherous waters here. The kauri forests around the Hokianga were once logged extensively, but are now protected: in the Waipoua Forest, don’t miss Tane Mahuta, God of the Forest, believed to be between 1000 and 2000 years old. Trounson Kauri Park is just south of Waipoua.

Back to Auckland

Back to Auckland

Day 9 in Auckland

Loop back down to Auckland on different roads from your journey north to finish your trip.

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