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Twin Coast Discovery Road Trip Northland & Bay of Islands

Explore well known tourist attractions, Waitangi and Kerikeri and find hidden corners. Delve into east coast towns and find out the charm of New Zealand’s second oldest pub and the town where kauri logs forever changed a harbour. From east to west coast explore Northland, both the familiar tourist places such as Kerikeri, Waitangi and Russell and the east coast Hokianga harbour and small settlements. You will visit quirky private museums and national heritage sites such as Waitangi. Visitors can indulge their senses in a luxurious hilltop vineyard chalet and spend the night in a holiday park nestled among a kiwi reserve. It is a journey of contrasts as you loop through Northland, the top of Aotearoa New Zealand.

5 days to 14 days
4 nights to 13 nights

Trip Overview

Follow roads less travelled and explore New Zealand’s sub-tropical heritage sites, beaches and places artists call home

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Tutukaka coast and Poor Knight Marine Reserve
  • Charming Victorian heritage Russell where whalers met the locals (18th century)
  • Quirky places from Totara North, Mangonui and Matauri Bay
  • Extraordinary landscapes from Cape Reinga, Koutu boulders, mountainous gold sand dunes and ancient Kauri trees
  • Hear the stories of migration and settlement at Footsteps of Mana (Kupe) and Matakohe Kauri Museum
  • Soak away the cares of the world in NZ best kept secret Ngawha Hot Pools
Start Auckland
Finish Auckland

Best time to visit

December to April, in winter, a number of attractions are closed.

Weather

Sub-tropical Northland temperatures range from 20c to low 30c

Occasional rain showers.

Start Auckland
Finish Auckland

Route map

This is an overview of the route, for detailed options check sections below. Auckland, Tutukaka Coast, Russell, Waitangi, Mangonui, Ahipara, Rawene, Dargaville, Auckland

Begin in Auckland

Ngunguru Sunrise, Tutukaka Coast, Whangarei, Northland, North Island, New Zealand @dougpearsonphotograph

Your journey starts with a thread of roads linked to the Pacific Ocean, waterfalls, native forests and panoramic ocean to sky views. The Tutukaka Coast is a maze of hidden gems down less travelled side roads leading to the lure of the sea in quiet coves and white sandy beaches. The Poor Knights Islands tempt the traveller to tarry a while, snorkel or dive the reefs or indulge in a horse ride along Sandy Bay. This is a journey of the two halves of Northland sharing a past and welcoming visitors both domestic and international with equal passion.

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Otuihau Whangarei Falls Loop Walk

Panoramic View of Whangarei Falls, Whangarei North Island New Zealand

Historically important as an traditional eeling location the Falls are a major tourist drawcard. The Hatea River is part of a collection of Whangarei city walks. The horseshoe falls are a spectacular steady flow forming an approximately 26.3 km drop over basalt cliffs creating a mist from the released water reaching the base pools. The landscaped surrounds are in excellent condition. The walk starts at the public car park and crosses the river above the waterfall via a metal bridge.

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Tutukaka Coast Wander

Tutukaka Lighthouse coastal views, Northland, New Zealand

From Whangarei you continue North and the signs for Tutukaka Coast. Tutukaka describe the area, ‘wild blue yonder’ with quiet beaches off the beaten track, a world renown Poor Knights Islands: Things To Do and See – Best Bits.

Spending time wandering around Hikurangi Waro Reserve where wind and rain have shaped vertically carved cliff faces. The reserve is a natural sculptural fantasy. Hikurangi’s former coal mining bush tram site is now a quiet reserve with farmer’s cows watching the occasional visitor wander past.

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Whananaki North – Side Road Exploration

Whananaki, New Zealand @rsfinlayson
Whananaki @rsfinlayson

At OPUAWHANGA you will follow the side road turnoff to Whananaki North Road. Your destination is the tiny, peaceful settlement of Whananaki North. There is a general grocery store, a school, a voluntary library and camping grounds. A few homes along with a stunning estuary and coastline are examples of the ‘kiwi bach’. It is noticeable that development is arriving in Whananaki with the iconic bach having the indignity of large modern beach houses popping up.

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Stay

Otamure Bay (Whananaki) campsite, New Zealand @DoC
Otamure Bay (Whananaki) campsite @DoC

You are camping in the remote Otamure Bay, a remote coastal retreat on the Tutukaka Coast. Whananaki North. In the peak season (December to March) it is recommended accommodation is booked before your journey starts. The motor camp is pet friendly and you need to check out New Zealand’s longest footbridge.The management is hospitable and the location is superb with direct access to the famed wooden footbridge, beach and the lone beach general store.

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Whananaki North Footbridge

Whananka North footbridge 375m in length, New Zealand

Whananaki South is only accessible over the pedestrian footbridge from Whananaki North. The only primary school in the district is located in Whananaki North. As children had to row across the sometimes dangerous tides of Otamure Bay a footbridge was built. The wooden footbridge is the longest in the Southern hemisphere.  Next your journey to the abandoned remains of one of New Zealand’s largest whaling stations,  finishing the day in Russell. And a highlight is a stop at a great art gallery, perhaps some more objects for the home in the interests of encouraging local artists to keep on being artists.

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Follow the Coast to Russell

Russell foreshore, New Zealand

Whananaki North to Helena Bay to Oakura Fish, Dive & Cruises, Russell. From Whananaki North your journey is following the coast past quiet settlements and holiday beaches to the historic village, Russell.

Route map

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Helena Bay

Helena Bay, New Zealand @Stuff
Helena Bay @Stuff

Helena Bay is the home of Helena Bay Gallery and Artworks. The Gallery has a wide-ranging collection of art by established and emerging New Zealand artists, many of which are Northland based – this includes contemporary Maori and Pacific artists. There is an outstanding selection of paintings, wood art, handmade furniture, sculpture, jewellery, glass and ceramics. This is a must do stop for art collectors, gallery browsing as well as the spectacular views from the cafe.

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Oakura

@Oakura Village Taranaki
@Oakura Village Taranaki

Oakura, similar to Whananaki North, is an eclectic mix of traditional baches with newer luxury beach towns. Oakura is close to a number of glorious beaches: Teal Bay, Ngawhai Bay, Ngahau Bay, Mimiiwhangatu Marine and Coastal Reserve. From rocky bays to sheltered beaches, swimming holes and sand beaches perfect for building sand castles.

Oakura, as a hub for a beach holiday, has nurtured a creative spirit with a number of artists, jewellers and craftspeople working from home studios in and around the district.

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Whale Bay

Whale Bay Raglan District, New Zealand

Check out What’s so great about Whale Bay for a day exploring New Zealand’s whaling past.

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Rawhiti

Rawhiti, Kaingahoa Bay, New Zealand @Mapio.net
Rawhiti, Kaingahoa Bay @Mapio.net

Rawhiti is a quiet haven fluttering the Flag of Independence from its Marae flagpole. Rāwhiti or Te Rāwhiti is a small beachfront town about 27&km from Russell in the Bay of Islands of New Zealand. Most of the land in the area continues under traditional ownership. There are two marae — Kaingahoa and Te Rāwhiti. There are powered camp sites, bathroom and cooking facilities at Kaingahoa marae located in Rawhiti.

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Russell

Russell Museum sculpture park, New Zealand

The Bay of Island is 144 islands between Cape Brett and Purerua Peninsula. Holiday towns include Opua, Paihia, Russell, Kerikeri and Mangonui at the northern tip. The legal and cultural heart of the country is centred around Waitangi and its swath of grass dipping into the Bay of Islands inlets. The beginnings of contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand’s story is in Northland.

Check out Russell, Bay of Islands travel guide for more things to do and see in Russell.

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Stay options in Russell

@ParoaBayWinery
@ParoaBayWinery

Options range from luxury, family friendly campgrounds or the historic Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell.

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Russell to Paihia (Waitangi) Car Ferry

Ferry to Russell, New Zealand

The day starts with a ferry crossing from Russell Ferry Terminal to Opua then onto Paihia and Waitangi. A ferry ride from Russell to Opua is a must do for visitors. Opua Ferry terminal / Russell Ferry Terminal in peak season has a considerable queue of cars. As the ferry does not take forward bookings an early start is recommended in the busy summer months. People watch, enjoy the ambiance of a bustling transport link between the holiday vibe of Russell and the road towards Waitangi.

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Waitangi

@Waitangi Treaty Ground
@Waitangi Treaty Ground

Waitangi Treaty grounds Waitangi: Home deserves half to a full day exploration. Depending on your interest you might consider extending your stay to include an in depth Waitangi exploration. The sweep of grass to the beach makes for a counterpoint to the heritage buildings, the museum complex and the surrounding native grass. Nearby Pahia is a vibrant tourist destination geared to support the mass tourism market with numerous motels, hotels and other accommodation providers.

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Waitangi Holiday Park

Stay

@waitangiholidaypark
@waitangiholidaypark

The campgrounds and caravan park is conveniently located with a short flat walk along the Te Ti Bay shoreline to Paihia town and is central to all tourist attractions. Waitangi Treaty Grounds, Tii Beach and a boat ramp are adjacent to the Park. The campsite is large and flat, located on the banks of the Waitangi River and perfect for pitching a tent for a spot of camping or for those with a motorhome there are powered sites.

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Kerikeri

Kerikeri Kemp Mission Gardens, New Zealand

A full day exploration of heritage Kerikeri, New Zealand.  Kerikeri is the largest town in the district supporting a well established citrus orchard economy, dairy production as well as a vibrant town for arts and crafts.  Due to the subtropical climate Kerikeri is home to wineries specialising in warm climates, of course has the requisite chocolate factory and cafes.

Read more Kerikeri Things To Do and See – Kerikeri Travel Guide

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Haruru Waterfalls

Haruru Waterfall in New Zealand

On the way to Kerikeri you will pass Haruru Falls. Haruru Falls are horseshoe shaped and located five minutes from Pahia. Haruru Falls are well signposted. The best views are from the walking track Haruru waterfalls to Waitangi Treaty grounds. You get to appreciate the power of the Waitangi River as it spills over the falls. Haruru Falls walking track follows the water as it ebbs towards the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and out into the bay.

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Kororipo Pā

Kororipo Heritage Park, New Zealand @Chris McLennan
Kororipo Heritage Park @Chris McLennan

Kororipo Heritage Park is at the end of Kerikeri Inlet. The precinct is home to Stone Store, Kemp House, Kororipo Pa and Rewa’s Village.  Aotearoa’s modern identity was forged in this area, it is where Maori and Europeans interacted and lived together.

  • Stone Store is the oldest stone building in the country. It has been continuously trading since 1833, on the upper floor is a small museum
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Paihia to Totara North & Mangonui

Matauri Bay, Northland, New Zealand @𝚂𝚄𝙼𝙼𝙴𝚁𝙱𝙾𝙾
Matauri Bay @𝚂ummerboo

Departing Kerikeri your journey continues following coastal roads with temptations to divert to Matauri Bay and Rainbow Warrior memorial. Check out What’s so great about Matauri Bay for ideas. Perhaps a day or two exploring quiet coves and bays…

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Totara North

Te Mama Museum Totora North, New Zealand

Totara North is a heritage settlement without an official designation making the visit either an opportunity to view the past before it deteriorates or before the area becomes a tourist magnet. A short history of the area  with its massive abandoned boat building yard and quirky museums explains the enduring fascination with the visible records of the past slowly returning to the landscape that created them.

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Mangonui

Mangonui art gallery, former courthouse, Northland, NZ

Whatever the time of day it is a kiwi culinary treat awaits in Mangonui with  the fish n chip shop open until late.  Mangonui is a historic fishing and whaling settlement with cafes, a well known art gallery and a collection of 150 year old buildings. Mangonui continues its fishing tradition as well as being a hub for holiday makers visiting popular nearby beaches.  Mangonui is the main settlement for picturesque Doubtless Bay.

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Butler Point Whaling Museum

@butlerpointwhalingmuseum
@butlerpointwhalingmuseum

For heritage fans the Butler Point Whaling Museum located in a restored 1840s homestead is a highlight. The museum is part of a recognised Garden of Significance, magnificent pohutukawas and surrounds include a Pa site. The Whaling Museum has a restored fully equipped kauri whaleboat. Here is an opportunity to delve into a forgotten history. The Whaling Museum and 1840’s Historic House and gardens located In an arm of Doubtless Bay.

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Paihia to Totara North to Mangonui to Ahipara

@TotaraNorth
@TotaraNorth

This is a journey to the tip of Northern Aotearoa New Zealand.

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Ninety mile beach & Cape Reinga

Cape Reinga Lighthouse at Cape Reinga, the northernmost point of the North Island of New Zealand1

Ninety mile beach to Cape Reinga is where land meets sky and sea.  You are aware of the immense ocean and the spit of land you are standing on. While the beach is officially a road, the packed sand is not suitable for a motorhome or standard 2WD vehicle. If you want to experience a drive along the beach join a tour. For the peak summer season forward bookings are strongly recommended to avoid disappointment.

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Ahipara holiday park

Stay

@ahiparaholidaypark
@ahiparaholidaypark

Ahipara holiday park is an excellent location for beach access, perhaps for golf fans to check out the adjoining golf links or plan for your Ninety Mile Beach excursion. It is recommended visitors join one of the many tour operators escorting visitors to explore Ninety Mile Beach and Cape Reinga. For visitors planning a trip to Cape Reinga allow two nights in Ahipara.

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Ahipara, Kohukohu, Rawene to Opononi

Shipwreck Bay looking towards Ahipara

From the tip of Northland you are now following the path of pre-European Maori as they navigated their way from East Polynesia to their new homeland approximately 900 years ago. Unspoiled coastline, a warm welcome from the locals and an area of immense significance as one of the first areas for human occupation in Aotearoa New Zealand approximately 900 years ago. You will travel through sub-tropical rural communities and sleepy hamlets.

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Kohukohu

Kohukohu, New Zealand

Kohukohu is a historic settlement on the Hokianga harbour now home to a creative community of artists and craftspeople. The town buildings are bright, cheerful and festooned with window flower boxes, gardens full of oaks, willows and laden lemon trees.  There are three galleries for opening hours you will need to check several days before your intended arrival. In the peak season the galleries are usually open between 10.00am to 3.00pm otherwise by appointment.

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Hokianga Harbour Ferry

The Hokianga Ferry, New Zealand @Getting Lost
The Hokianga Ferry @Getting Lost

From Kohokohu it is a ten minute drive to the Hokianga harbour ferry terminal.

Hokianga Ferry Services,  Fullers GreatSights operates the Hokianga vehicle ferry between Rawene and Kohukohu. The short crossing on the Kohu Ra Tuarua ferry links the two sides of the remote Hokianga Harbour on Northland’s west coast. The ferry does not take bookings.

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Rawene

Exploring Rawene, Hokianga, New Zealand @Fullers GreatSights
Exploring Rawene @Fullers GreatSights

Quirky Rawene, departure point for Hokianga ferry and home of The Boat Shed Cafe.  Allow several hours to amble around Rawene, popping into the local cafe / art gallery, the puzzle shop and simply walking around the town absorbing the sense of community.  There is a wetland mangrove boardwalk just a short walk from Clendon House well worth a detour. Rawene is home to Clendon House, a pretty cottage, built in the bustling 1860s by James Clendon, a trader, shipowner and magistrate.

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Koutu Boulders - The Hokianga

Concretions on Koutu Beach at Hokianga Harbour, Northland, in the North Island of New Zealand

Cyclindal natural sculptured rock forms make for a great photo moment. It has been estimated that the largest of the boulders may have taken 5 million years to grow. The boulders are concretions, or hardened nodules formed within sedimentary rocks. Moeraki boulders are the poster rock boys for this type of rock formation. Hokianga Harbour does it one better with hundreds of them and an isolated beach for you to stroll on.

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Copthorne Hotel and Resort Hokianga

Hokianga Harbour Stay

@millenniumhotels
@millenniumhotels

STAY – SUPERIOR OPTION

Copthorne Hotel and Resort Hokianga By the quiet water’s edge of the harbour, the Copthorne Hotel and Resort Hokianga, and its 33 rooms and suites have beachfront views.

STAY – BUDGET OPTION

Rawene Holiday Park is situated on a hilltop, sheltered by native bush with  views over the Hokianga Harbour and impressive sunsets. Rawene Holiday

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Awesome Adventures Hokianga

Awesome Adventures Hokianga – Jetski Tours @Northland, New Zealand
Awesome Adventures Hokianga – Jetski Tours @Northland, New Zealand

A guided tour with Awesome Adventures Hokianga will provide an exhilitering start to the day as you will explore the harbour on jet skis. Either join a standard tour or arrange a private tour with owner operator Len and discover Len’s ancestral home.  The  three and half hour jet ski tour goes to Horeke, views Koutu Boulders, Mangungu Mission House with a final stop at the Boat Shed Cafe, Rawene. Longer tours can be arranged on request.

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Hokianga Harbour: What to see and do

Beautiful nature of Northland, Mangrove trees, Hokianga Harbour

Arai-te-uru Recreation Reserve – a nature reserve in Opononi.  Absolutely spectacular views over the harbour and the wild west coast.  A short walk leads to the site of an old signal station built to assist ships making the treacherous passage into the Hokianga. It closed in 1951 due to a decline in ships entering the harbour. A track also heads down to picturesque little Martin’s Bay. Arai Te Uru is the name of the Taniwha which guards the harbour entrance with its sister Taniwha Niwa who stands guard on the opposite shore.

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Hokianga to Waipoua Forest, Trounson Kauri Park, Dargaville Kauri Museum and Auckland

Swamp kauri ready for the saw, New Zealand

The forest giants are on view today. DOC describes,” Waipoua, and the adjoining forests of Mataraua and Waima, make up the largest remaining tract of native forest in Northland. Most of Northland’s ancient forest cover has been lost to saw and fire, plundered for the precious timber of the kauri tree or cleared for farmland. However the forests are now under the protection of the Department of Conservation.

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