Happy 2019 everyone – though I’m a bit late to the party. It’s my first post for the year and we’re already in February?? How did that happen? Well, this has been the first summer I’ve spent in New Zealand in years, and I’ve been sure to make the most of it. One of the highlights has been road tripping the Northland region of the country, which is basically everything north of Auckland. Driving from Auckland to Cape Reinga can seem quite daunting at a 5 hour drive. But there is so much to see along the way that breaking up your trip is easy. If you’re not sure what to see in New Zealand’s northernmost region, here is an ideal Northland road trip itinerary.
A Snapshot of the Auckland to Cape Reinga return – Northland – road trip
Total distance travelled: 900km
Total time spent travelling: 13 hours
Duration of trip: 4-5 days
Places you’ll go:
- Mount Manaia
- Whangarei Falls
- Matapouri Beach & Mermaid pools
- Bay of Islands
- Waitangi Treaty Grounds
- Cape Reinga Lighthouse
- Te Paki Sand Dunes
- Ninety Mile Beach
- Tane Mahuta (Kauri Tree)
Things to note:
There is a toll road which connects Northland with Auckland. The cost is $2.40 per vehicle each way, so it won’t really break the bank. However, there is a clearly signposted “alternative route” which at most will take you an extra 30 minutes. This route is also a bit more interesting and varied as it gets you off the highway. So if you’re not short on time, opt for that road and save yourself a few dollars.
New Zealand has some pricey petrol (generally at least $2 per litre) so it pays to plan ahead and figure out the best places to top up your car. Download the app Gaspy to check the cheapest petrol prices near you.
So with that said, here’s your Northland Road Trip itinerary:
northland road trip Day 1: Whangarei
Time: 2 hours
Cost: $2.40 if you take toll road
In the area:
– Mount Manaia (optional)
– Whangarei falls
– Mermaid pools at Matapouri Beach
Instead of going straight from Auckland to Cape Reinga, you should really make a few stops along the way. The first of these stops is Whangarei. But before you get there, you might want to make a detour and get to Mount Manaia for about a 3 hour hike. This will give you a great view of the area and show you what you are in for.
-> Want to road trip but don’t have a vehicle? Rent a caravan from Outdoorsy.
Whangarei is a popular destination among Aucklanders, not just because of its close proximity to the city, but also because of the stunning beaches and nature. Just a couple of hours north of Auckland, it leaves the rest of the day free for exploring. On the way, if you like hiking, you could take a detour to Mount Manaia for a 3 hour return climb. In Whangarei itself you will find some quite spectacular waterfalls at the Whangarei Falls.
If you drive on past Whangarei a little bit, you will get to Matapouri Beach, which is a stunning white sand beach. Follow the beach along to the far north end and you will find a steep walking track. If you’re up for the 20 minute work out, climb up and follow the track along to the mermaid pools. This place is stunning, no doubt, but can be very dangerous (as I have experienced first-hand when I was almost swept away by a huge wave the first time I was there). So be careful and make sure you only swim there if it is calm and the tide is low! Also, you can only really go there and come back in low tide due to water rising on the beach, so make sure you don’t get stuck. I’ll have a post out about these mermaid pools soon – subscribe so you don’t miss it.
northland road trip Day 2: Paihia
Time: 1 hour
In the area:
– Bay of Islands
– Waitangi treaty grounds
– Haruru Falls
This area is not only beautiful, but a fascinating little area in New Zealand’s history. This is where a lot of stuff went down when Europeans first started settling in the country back in the early 1800’s. You can take a ferry to visit Russel, New Zealand’s first capital city, or you can take a tour of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds to learn more about the historic treaty that was designed to bring Maori and Europeans together.
If you’re not that interested in history and culture, you can instead hit up some of the most picturesque beaches and islands in the country. You can do some island hopping tours to see as many as possible. There is also a stunning waterfall called Haruru Falls which is well worth a visit (it’s also where my fiance proposed to me so I might be a little biased!). This area is very popular and full of things to do so it simply can’t be missed out of your Northland road trip.
northland road trip Day 3: Cape Reinga & Kaitaia
Paihia to Cape Reinga:
Time: 3 hours
In the area:
– Cape Reinga lighthouse
– Ninety Mile Beach
– Te Paki Sand dunes
So you’ve finally made it from Auckland to Cape Reinga – but what makes it so special?
Cape Reinga Lighthouse is a renowned landmark which represents the northernmost point of New Zealand that can be accessed by road. It’s a long straight road that leads right to the lighthouse. The surroundings of the lighthouse are also absolutely beautiful – tall sand dunes, yellow sand beaches, sharp cliff edges and wild surf. It’s such a raw and wild landscape. At this site you can also physically see the point where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet.
The western side of the road up to the lighthouse is lined by an enormous beach named Ninety Mile Beach. The length isn’t quite ninety miles – it is in fact about ninety kilometres! But it is still a seemingly endless stretch of beach. On the way to Cape Reinga or back you will see a number of roads at different points which lead to the beach. Any of those roads will lead to glorious yellow sand, pristine water, tall sand dunes, and very likely openings for cars. The beach is most suitable for 4WD and buses, but any cars are technically allowed to drive there.
Te Paki sand dunes are a popular attraction not 5 minutes south of Cape Reinga. These sand dunes will make you feel as though you’re in the desert – tall hills of sand stretch as far as the eye can see. You can rent a sand board here for about $10 and make a full day of flying down the dunes again and again – but don’t forget you’ll have to walk up to the top again.
Tip: Bring water and a packed lunch or at least some snacks to this area. There are no food establishments at Cape Reinga and very few on the road leading up to it – so as you can imagine the food outlets that are there are incredibly pricey.
Cape Reinga to Kaitaia:
Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
The drive up to Cape Reinga is almost 3 hours so this will be your heaviest driving day no matter which way you swing it. That’s why I recommend staying in the town of Kaitaia for the night after, so you have as much time as possible to enjoy your time in the far north.
northland road trip Day 4: Opononi
Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Cost: $25-$45 (Car ferry: about $20 per vehicle and $5 per passenger)
In the area:
- Big Kauri Tree
- Opononi sand dunes
- Opononi and Omapere Beach
Omapere and Opononi are two glorious beach towns located right next to each other. In my opinion, this little area on the west coast is one of the most underrated spots in Northland. It is pristine, clean and breathtakingly beautiful – the landscape is similar to that of Ninety Mile Beach. But the kicker is that it’s nowhere near as tourism saturated as Ninety Mile Beach is nowadays. There is even a sand duning area here which can be accessed by boat – the boat ride over and board rental come to $25 per person. Unlike the Te Paki ones, these sand dunes will take you straight down into the sea water below.
This area also boasts the largest and oldest living kauri tree in the world – located on the outskirts of Waipoua forest, a few minutes’ walk from the roadside. It is a spectacular sight, and the Maori legends surrounding it are also fascinating.
northland road trip Day 5: Back to Auckland
Time: 4 hours
Cost: $2.40 if you take toll road
This is the heaviest driving day of the itinerary so make sure you leave plenty of time for the drive back. If you have time, you could pass through Parakai or the northwestern beaches of Auckland, all of which I talk about in more detail in this post.
Make it a 4 day itinerary
If you have less time but still want to make it from Auckland to Cape Reinga, you can shorten the trip by taking out one of the overnight stops, such as Whangarei, Paihia or Kaitaia. You’ll still be able to follow the Northland road trip itinerary and see most of the things mentioned in this post, but you’ll just have to skim over some areas rather quickly!
You could also make it longer by staying more than one night in each place and taking more time to explore those areas.
This has been my suggestion for the best itinerary to go from Auckland to Cape Reinga and back, while seeing what the rest of Northland has to offer.
> What do you think of my Northland road trip itinerary? If you’ve been to the area, is there anything you would add or take out?
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