As we head into winter in New Zealand, I cannot think of a better place to travel and explore than the so called ‘winterless’ Northland. As the name suggests this area comprises of the upper most region of the North Island mostly from Auckland north.
Sadly this area is overlooked by many tourists to New Zealand as either many fly in or out of Auckland, thinking there cant be that much to see up that skinny pointy part of the country could there…? How wrong they were.
So it is with great pleasure that I introduce you to my backyard, our playground, Northland.
Why should you even consider making the effort you may ask to drive or travel that extra 300 odd kms to the top of New Zealand to see where the 2 mighty currents meet, where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea…?
…To walk through densely covered ancient Kauri bush to discover our largest Kauri Tree, Tane Mahuta and bask in its awesome presence? Visit the Treaty Grounds where NZ’s Treaty of Waitangi was signed and visit the historic Bay of Islands where much of early New Zealand settlement started from? Go dolphin spotting off the coast or sit back and relax on many of the pure golden sand beaches that litter the East Coast?
I think the answer is pretty obvious…
Northland is one of the most rich, diverse, historic and breathtaking areas of New Zealand. From rolling farm land to stunning beaches to the magnificent Bay of Islands to the raw power of the West Coast beaches and long stretches of untamed coast where if you saw 10 people on the beach it would be a crowded day.
As you drive north from Auckland your first stops can be at Matakana where weekly there is one of the most comprehensive Farmers Market’s held in the country. Further on the coast there is Goat Island Marine reserve where you can dive with all sorts of species of fish in this protected area, where beach meets rocks and pohutakawa’s flourish overhead.
To the west there is the mighty Kaipara Harbour, the largest in the southern hemisphere which has 2 stunning ‘heads’ of land before the mouth to the sea where a deadly sand bar has taken many ships over the years as they try to enter the Kaipara and find passage to Helensville or Dargaville.
As you head north up the long and winding Bryderwynn Hills you flow down into one of the most stunning sweeps of coast in the country, Bream Bay. Out from here on the Waipu Straits is the settlement of Waipu, the landing point for many Scottish settlers in the 1800’s from Nova Scotia, where on a personal note my ancestors came to land on one of the boats to start a new life in NZ.
Whangarei is the largest settlement you are likely to come across next, nestled in a valley with a small quaint harbour it is an idyllic Northland town with its country charm. To the west Dargaville, which had much of its glory days in the Gum & Kauri trade now is another large town which is supported by many farming industry’s.
If you really want to get some kiwi experience into you, head out to the west coast from Dargaville to a place called Glinks Gully. This tiny wee settlement of old family batches or cribs as they are known down in the South has been the holiday point for many generations of kiwis. I used to come here as a kid with some friends who had a sea side batch. Nothing beats a setting sun, the smell of steaks and sausages on the BBQ, friends for company and entertainment, deck chairs, a few drinks for a perfect evening. No TV, No Radio, just plain on NZ summers like they have always been here since the 50’s. No flash homes here!
Dargaville is the gateway to the Waipoua Forrest where Tane Mahuta stands strong. Kauri ones thick across NZ and especially Northland is now a rare species. While many younger platings have been made in NZ in recent times, many of the large kauri like Tane Mahuta were cut down by pioneers for the wood. Kauri Gum was also an industry that boomed at the time, and a visit to the Kauri Museum in Maungaturoto is a must!
To the Bay of Islands many head and it is seen as Northland’s little tourist area and playground for the rich & famous. Certainly it does host its fair share of rich & famous but at the same time keeps a level head with all the locals in jandals, down to the shop to get some bait to get out for a fish!
In Kerikeri you can visit the original ‘Mission House’ the oldest wooden structure in NZ along with the Stone Store the oldest stone building in NZ!
Paihia & Russell are both equally important places of historical value to visit along with Waitangi, the home of the Treaty Grounds.
There are many accommodation options in these areas to suit anyones budget, from your backpackers to your high end luxury resorts, there is no doubt among any that any day you wake up you will be in awe of what you have at your doorstep.
You can take a dolphin or sailing trip with Sail NZ up here or you can go out to the famous Hole in the Rock where as the name says, you can drive a boat through a hole in a rock off shore.
Kaitaia is the most northern town in NZ. Fairly small and flat it is your last major settlement before your push right up to Cape Reinga.
To the west you have my favorite spot in NZ. Ahipara. This area at the bottom of 90 mile beach is a special place indeed. An area where winter hardly ever comes. The beach, if anyone is on it is always bare. My uncle who lived on the beach front used to go out each morning with his surfcaster and catch his fresh fish for breakfast….you cant get better than that for lifestyle! Its not uncommon to see 14 year olds or younger behind the wheel of a 4x4 on the beach. Up here, you are in a different world, but not one of hostility. One of openness so long as you have a sense of humor and a love of meeting new people and getting amongst it all.
To travel from Kaitaia to the Cape does not take long but its definitely worth while to see the northern most point of NZ and the colliding waters of the Pacific Ocean & the Tasman Sea.
All in all Northland is another factor to New Zealand that was not as heavily seen if at all in any of the Lord of the Rings movies which really gave NZ a boost overseas. Therefore this area of land is new, and different to the rest of New Zealand and for that It warrants being seen and it certainly does not disappoint.
Stray Bus do a great tour of Northland which takes in many places I speak of in this article especially focussing on the beautiful Bay of Islands where you can go snorkeling for free, see Ninety Mile Beach in all its long flat glory, go dune surfing (must do for Northland) and check out Parry Kauri Park.
Departing & Returning to Auckland daily this trip is highly recommended for those that cannot drive or spend long amounts of time roaming around the Far North (which is much more preferable if you can)
I hope you are able to slot some time in for Northland in your next trip, just jump in a car or throw a thumb out the road side and come visit the “Winterless North!”
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