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Scenic short road trip Bay of Islands, Whangarei & Tutukaka Coast

Relish diverse scenic highlights from a reimagined Whangarei Quarry Garden to the gorgeous lush subtropical marine world of the Poor Knights Island. The scenic road trip focuses on Northland’s east coast and at the heart of this short break is Whangarei. Whangarei, a small city in Aotearoa New Zealand offers the charms of urban cafes and galleries alongside sandy beaches, verdant forest and a mix of urban meets rural vistas.

Scenic Whangarei and beyond road trip augments the Twin Coast Discovery Northland road trip. Scenic highlights, detours and hidden gems from the Twin Coast Discovery Northland road trip.

4 days
3 night

Trip Overview

Places to visit and where to go

Start Kerikeri (Auckland)
Finish Auckland (Kerikeri)

This route follows the classic Top of New Zealand road trip, Twin Coast Discovery, Northland. The trip is now divided into sections for ease of use.


November to mid-April (while the winterless North is unlikely to experience low temperatures and frost Northland can have periods of extensive rain in winter (April to September).


Approximately 255 km.


2 hours or less for each section (between 165 km – 195 km).

Start Kerikeri (Auckland)
Finish Auckland (Kerikeri)

Route map

Kerikeri to Auckland scenic highlights road trip map


In Northland there are a number of successful conservation projects welcoming visitors. These are highlighted in orange on the customised map.


Tutukaka Lighthouse coastal views, Northland, New Zealand
Tutukaka Lighthouse coastal views, Northland


  • AH Reed Memorial Park canopy walk is an unmissable opportunity to walk among the ancient forest trees of Aotearoa New Zealand, the kauri
  • Whangarei Quarry Garden showcases the transformation of a functional enormous quarry into peaceful garden spaces
  • Whangarei Botanica Garden fernery
  • Hikurangi Waro Karst Landscape located in a former coal mining site
  • Tutukaka coastal scenery


AH Reed Memorial Park is a remnant of the original Northland kauri forest. Visitors are privileged with views of kauri from the canopy walk where the giants of the forest are protected from kauri dieback disease and foot trafficking on their root system.

The canopy walk is over the Waikoromiko stream, is 14 metres above ground and over 70 metres long. The park is a local favourite with dogs on a leash, people enjoying the cool bush in the heat of summer. There are plaques throughout the park describing the flora and fauna.

AH Reed canopy walk, Whangarei public reserves, Whangarei, New Zealand.
AH Reed canopy walk, Whangarei public reserves, Whangarei
Quarry Gardens, Whangarei, New Zealand
Quarry Gardens, Whangarei


Whangarei Quarry Garden is sheer delight at the conversion of an industrial ugly quarry into a magical garden space with picnic areas, spectacular views of the repurposed gardens and the city beyond. The deep still waters of the quarry lake are backdropped by the rock face quarry cuts making a dramatic contrast. The garden is supported by the hard work of volunteers and dependent on koha (donations). Look for the sculptures interpreting the history of the site and the artful use of industrial remains as decorative pieces in the gardens. There is a cafe / restaurant as well as a gift shop.

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.


Whangarei is also home to Botanica Gardens which specialise in ferns and orchids. The Fernery boasts one of New Zealand’s largest collections of native ferns found in New Zealand and its offshore islands. It has three shade houses and a linking tunnel, ponds and a small waterfall and courtyard area. The central pond is home to three large eels which are fed every second or third day. Within the fernery is the Finn Bruce Filmy Fern House. This is a purpose-built adobe brick house that is home to a small collection of New Zealand native filmy ferns.

Whangarei Quarry Garden quarry walls effective statement of past life, New Zealand
Whangarei Quarry Garden quarry walls effective statement of past life

Whangarei is a convenient base to explore Bream Bay, Tutukaka and even further afield, Mangawhai Heads and Village.

Whangarei Tutukaka 29 km 32 minutes
Whangarei Hikurangi Waro Limestone Reserve 16 km, 18 minutes
Whangarei Ngunguru 27 km, 30 minutes
Whangarei Mangawhai Heads 60 km, 1 hour





Tutukaka Coastal Views, Northland NZ, New Zealand
Tutukaka Coastal Views


Lace up the hiking boots, and treat yourself to spectacular coastal views and beaches where mature native pohutukawa trees fringe small coves.


Find out more about Tutukaka coast, Poor Knights Island and what to do and see. Here are 10 reasons to linger on Tutukaka Coast.


Ngunguru or frying pan lookout is a great place for a photo.

Stop and soak up the views at Ngunguru, a well thought of visitor vantage point. The lookout, known as the Frying Pan, even has an elevated platform for people to climb for an enhanced panoramic view. You might strike a tour bus stop in which case chill out and wait fifteen minutes for the crowds to get back on their tour bus.

If your timing is right the sunset views are instagram moments. The views are of the Poor Knights to Mt Manaia. The timber lookout height and ramp are designed to be accessible. There is seating and picnic tables for your recently purchased fish n chips from the local shop in Ngunguru.

Tutukaka lookout past Ngunguru settlement, New Zealand
Tutukaka lookout past Ngunguru settlement

The Ngunguru frying pan lookout is part of the Twin Coast Discovery Road Trip Northland & Bay of Islands – Best Bits.

@Ngunguru Sandspit Protection Society
@Ngunguru Sandspit Protection Society


The Ngunguru sandspit is one of the surviving unmodified sand spits with rare bird species, access is by boat.

A special moment is forged between you and the landscape as the Sandspit is an excellent example of an unmodified sand barrier beach and dune field developed between a tidal estuary and a broad open bay. Then the road winds its way to Tutukaka marina and access to the Poor Knight Islands, a mecca for divers and deep sea fishing fans.


The Poor Knights Islands is usually in the top five places to dive in the world. This is due to the proximity of the continental shelf, warm ocean currents and the excellent visibility. And then there are choices about where to dive from artfully placed shipwrecks to naturally formed caves and coves.

Enjoy lingering on the Tutukaka coast and go Eco cruises to Poor Knight Island explore Riko Riko Cave (world’s largest sea cave). This is a great option for visitors who are not interested in getting their toes wet diving. Tour operators will entertain guests with snippets of local history and facts about Poor Knights. Cruises are often accompanied by dolphins, orca and whales. Usually cruises offer guests the opportunity to swim or kayak in the vicinity of a moored vessel. A river cruise also operates on request along the historic Ngunguru River.

Poor Knights Islands, New Zealand
Poor Knights Islands
Whananaki North footbridge 375m in length, New Zealand
Whananaki North footbridge 375m in length


Another family fun activity is a visit to Whananaki. Check out the longest footbridge in the southern hemisphere built to get kids to school.

There are campgrounds for an impromptu picnic, a general store for supplies and a coastal walkway. The Whananaki Coastal Walkway (2 hours one way) has stunning coastal views and quiet shallow bays for a day at the beach.

… read about 10 reasons to linger in Tutukaka Coast and take the slow lane returning or departing from Auckland.




Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway

The Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway is considered one of the most beautiful walks in New Zealand. Combining New Zealand’s rugged coastal beauty with spectacular elevated ocean views, it makes for a truly awe-inspiring journey. The unique terrain and low difficulty of the 2-3 hour round trip means it’s a walk everyone can enjoy. Starting from the beach, the track begins by climbing its way up to a lookout point. It then weaves along the coastal cliff face, past ancient pohutukawa trees and back down to the beach below. Note that some of the return trip (an 8km beach walk) can be cut off at high tide, so make sure to time it right. Check DOC resource for up to date information.

… READ MORE Mangawhai & Mangawhai Heads Walks – Best Bits

Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway @DOC / Fraser Clements
Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway @DOC / Fraser Clements


North is where Auckland locals go for the summer.

Mansion House, Kawau Island, Hauraki Gulf, North Island New Zealand
Mansion House, Kawau Island

Amazing Auckland, Puhoi, Warkworth, Matakana and beyond, beaches and parks – Best Bits are home to several glorious regional parks as well as sheltered sandy beaches for a summer fix away from the crowds. From the donkeys of Algiers Bay to Snells Beach esplanade and mangrove boardwalks to walks through bush to quiet beaches where the crowds are few and far between. From Mahurangi Peninsula to Tawharanui Peninsula and beyond are a series of eastern facing sandy shallow beaches that have been welcoming visitors for over a hundred years.


  • Kawau Island and Mansion House
  • Algiers Bay donkeys
  • Snells Beach cafes and boardwalk
  • Sailing regattas & diving pontoons
  • Regional parks and camping grounds
  • Wineries and sculpture trails at their backdoor
  • Weekend markets in Matakana and Warkworth
Mansion House, Kawau Island, Auckland, New Zealand
Mansion House, Kawau Island
Puhoi Museum housed in former Convent School, Auckland, New Zealand
Puhoi Museum housed in former Convent School

Mahurangi Peninsula is home to the well known Snells Beach, an Auckland favourite however there are several more locations worth exploring. Consider taking a cruise to Kawau Island to find out why Sir George Grey (colonial governor) fell in love with the area. Warkworth situated on the  River offers visitors a chance to enjoy a rural town with an urban vibe.

Towns from heritage Puhoi with its bohemian culture, luscious foodie treats and river to Warkworth a rural community offering visitors plenty to do and see. Then there is the vibrant hospitality town of Matakana, home to a well known weekend market, gift shops, artisan stores and restaurants. The village is a holiday magnet with its markets, shops and artisan stores, cafes and restaurants. Matakana is a gateway to both the Mahurangi and Tawharanui peninsula beaches and regional parks. The seaside community of Snells Beach supports visitors with a general grocery store.

As you sweep over the Auckland harbour bridge the passengers are greeted by the sight of Auckland’s iconic Sky Tower (home of Auckland adventures and bungee jumping), the maze of yacht masts and the Waitemata waterways.

For visitors wanting to make a difference Auckland offers tangible places to visit where the reward is knowing you’ve made a difference.

Want a holiday that is sustainable and supports conservation? Auckland has places to visit where visitors will feel positive about the impact of people on the environment. It’s a holiday, from your routine with a difference. Give nature a helping hand. Donate, visit and support people who care

… READ MORE Wildlife, conservation, responsible holidays in Auckland, Hauraki Gulf – Best Bits

Auckland sky tower, New Zealand
Auckland sky tower

This road trip is part of the scenic journeys beyond Auckland to the far north of Aotearoa New Zealand exploring both the west and east coast of scenic Northland.


Best Bits travel guide is published by Owned and managed by PacificJane Ltd.


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