Road Trip: Auckland to Cape Reinga 5-Days (Return)

Monday, August 10, 2020

A road trip from Auckland to Cape Reinga will bring you behold ancient kauri, gaze on endless untouched beaches, visit beautiful vineyards and olive groves, soak up some history and culture. It takes roughly five hours and 45 minutes of non-stop travel to drive to Cape Reinga from Auckland, which equates to approximately 420 kilometres of distance. This road trip itinerary can be compressed into three days, but 4-5 days is recommended to experience all highlights along the way.

 

Day 1: Auckland to Leigh

Matakana & Leigh Coast

Drive time from Auckland to Leigh: 1 hr and 15 min (85 km)

Start your Northland road trip to Cape Reinga on the weekend and linger awhile at Matakana’s riverside Saturday morning farmer’s market and village, an hour north of Auckland city.

Within fifteen minutes, there are stunning beaches to explore. Head for Omaha Beach if gentle and relaxing is your thing, Pakiri Beach for wild and untamed.

The Leigh Sawmill café is a bit of an institution – stop for lunch, a drink or a gig. Stay in their accommodation for the full experience before heading further north.

 

Day 2: Leigh Coast to Paihia

Tutukaka Coast

Drive time from Leigh: 2 hrs 10 mins (145 km)

Rated as one of the top ten coastal destinations by National Geographic Traveller, The Tutukaka coastline has pristine white sand beaches, rocky shores and provides stunning bush walks.

So many amazing beaches to choose from here. Try Matapouri or Whangaumu Bays. Sandy Bay is the local surf beach. Or take a cruise and discover the Poor Knights Marine Reserve.

Tutukaka is two hours north up the east coast from Leigh, rejoining State Highway 1. Stop off to get supplies in Whangarei, the largest city in the upper North Island.

 

Bay of Islands

Drive time from Tutukaka Coast to Paihia: 1 hrs 20 mins (90 km) via State Highway 1 or 2 hrs 45 mins (130 km) around the coast via Helen Bay and Rawhiti.

Russell

Part way up State Highway 1, you have a choice, take Russell Road and go off the beaten track around the coast and to Opua by car ferry, or stay on State Highway 1 and head for Opua, Paihia or Waitangi the more direct inland route.

Historic Russell was New Zealand’s first European settlement. Walking these streets is like walking back in time to colonial days. Visit the galleries, sit seaside at a café, and soak up the history. It’s home to some top-notch restaurants too.

Paihia

Paihia is a great place to stay while you explore the area. Book a cruise to see dolphins, a fishing charter or a sea kayak. End the day at one of Paihia’s many stellar dining options.

Waitangi

A short drive from Russell, don’t miss a visit to Waitangi. The Waitangi Treaty grounds and Tii Beach are right next to the park. The supermarket is handily close for supplies. Play golf, go for a bush walk, mountain bike the trails, or take a boat tour through the famous ‘hole in the rock’.

 

Day 3: Paihia to Karikari Peninsula

Kerikeri

Drive time from Paihia: 22 mins (24 km)

En route to Mangonui, stop for lunch in Kerikeri and visit two of New Zealand’s oldest buildings, the Old Stone Store (built-in 1832) and Kemp House.

Mangonui

Drive time from Kerikeri: 50 mins (60.5 km)

Once a whaling and trading centre, Mangonui is a historic fishing village an hour from Waitangi. At the southern end, is the main centre of Doubtless Bay. Popular beaches are nearby, and the Mangonui Fish and Chip shop is famous for being one of the best in New Zealand. Definitely worth stopping for! Sailing, diving and fishing trips run from Mangonui Harbour.

Karikari Peninsula

Drive time from Mangonui: 25 mins (31.5 km)

On the far end of Doubtless Bay is the spectacular Karikari Peninsula. Matai Bay is a beautiful spot. For campers, there’s the DOC Maitai Bay campsite, holiday homes to rent or the more high-end accommodation at Carrington Estate complete with restaurant cuisine, bar and golf onsite. Karikari Estate Winery has tours running in the summer.

 

Day 4: Karikari Peninsula to Kai Iwi Lakes

Cape Reinga and Spirits Bay

Drive time from Karikari Peninsula: 1 hr 45 mins (133 km)

The Cape is the northernmost point of New Zealand, reachable by road. It’s a wild landscape of sea, cliffs, massive sand dunes and unspoilt golden sand beaches for miles. An hour and a half from Maitai Bay, its landmarks are an ancient pohutukawa tree and the lighthouse. It’s a place of great spiritual significance to Māori, whose spirits, after death, travel up the coast to that majestic tree and out over this windswept place to the afterlife. You can see the meeting of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean from the Cape Reinga lighthouse.

Te Paki sand dunes are five minutes from the lighthouse. It’s easy to imagine being in the desert here. Rent a sand board and spend a few hours surfing the sand dunes.

 

90 Mile Beach, Kaitaia and Ahipara

Drive time from Cape Reinga to Ahipara: 1 hr 45 mins (125 km)

On the right, heading back down the west coast on State Highway 1 is the 90-mile beach. Stretching from Scott Point to Ahipara, it’s known for its wicked left-hand surf break, stunning sunsets, and many miles of pristine white sandy beach. Surfcast, swim, surf, dig for Tua Tuas at low tide, slide down a sand dune or get a sweat up walking for miles. Aupouri Forest runs along the beach if you need respite from the sun. If you are making this road trip with your 4WD car, you can drive it, but only at specific times of the tide. Check the tide forecast before travel is essential. You can check tide forecasts at the Tide4Fishing website.

Continuing down State Highway is Kaitaia, a small town. The real gem here is Ahipara, five kilometres away on the coast. It’s an hour and a half from Cape Reinga to Ahipara. Pop into Waitapu Estate for a local vino. Cape Reinga to Kaitaia is an hour and a half drive direct.

 

Tane Mahuta and Waipoua Forest

Drive time from Cape Reinga to Ahipara: 2 hr 30 mins (154 km)

Tane Mahuta, the God of the Forest, is an ancient kauri tree in the Waipoua Forest. Estimated to be between 1,250 and 2,500 years old, it’s the tallest known living kauri in New Zealand. The Tāne Mahuta Walk is signposted from SH12, which runs through the Waipoua Forest. It’s an accessible track taking about five minutes to walk, and there’s a wooden bench to sit awhile and appreciate this ancient beauty.

 

Kai Iwi Lakes

Drive time from Ahipara: 50 mins (51 km)

From Tane Mahuta, get back on SH 12 and continue south to Kai Iwi Lakes. It’s a fifty-minute drive through the forest. The Taharoa domain is a 538-hectare recreation reserve with three crystal clear freshwater lakes known as the Kai Iwi Lakes.

This is a favourite down-to-earth summer holiday camping spot for many kiwis. Pull up the campervan or pitch the tent, kick back on the incredible white sand beach and relax. Swimming, waterskiing, and kayaking are all popular here. Or set off on one of the extensive walking tracks.

 

Day 5: Kai Iwi Lakes to Auckland

Mangawhai

Drive time from Kai Iwi lakes: 1 hr 46 mins (130 km)

Mangawhai has to offer more magnificent scenery. This seaside settlement is home to great surf, wineries, artists and creatives, a range of watersports, 18 holes of golf and reputable eateries.

Visit Bennetts of Mangawhai to taste their handcrafted chocolates and pick up some treats to take away. There are at least four olive oil producers in Mangawhai, those wanting to extend their road trip might like to stay at olive grove Divinity’s AirBnB. There’s a vineyard next door!

 

Returning to Auckland

It’s an hour and a half drive to Auckland city from Mangawhai. The memories and scenery from this Auckland to Cape Reinga itinerary will stay with you forever. Happy travels from the ___Mode team.

Updated on August 30, 2022.

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