Auckland to Cape Reinga return – 5 days
Behold ancient kauri, gaze on endless untouched beaches, visit beautiful vineyards and olive groves, soak up some history and culture and eat some of the best fish and chips in the country. This road trip itinerary can be compressed into two nights, but 4-5 days is recommended.
Start your North Island road trip on a weekend and linger awhile at Matakana’s river side 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.
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
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- about an hour and a half.
Paihia is a great place to stay while you explore the area. Book a cruise to see dolphins, a fishing charter or sea kayak. End the day at one of Paihia’s many stellar dining options.
Historic Russell was NZ’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.
A short drive from Russell, don’t miss a visit to Waitangi. The Waitangi Holiday Park is an ideal place to stay for those camping or travelling in a ___Mode campervan. 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’.
Mangonui and Karikari peninsula
Enroute 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.
Once a whaling and trading centre, Mangonui is an historic fishing village an hour from Waitangi. At the southern end, this is the main centre of Doubtless Bay. Popular beaches are nearby and the Mangonui Fish and Chip shop is famous for being the best in the land. Definitely worth stopping for! Sailing, diving and fishing trips run from Mangonui Harbour.
On the far end of Doubtless Bay is the spectacular Karikari Peninsula. Matai Bay is an exquisite spot. For campers there’s the DOC Matai 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 summer.
Cape Reinga / Spirits Bay
The Cape is the most northernmost point of NZ reachable by road. It’s a wild landscape of sea, cliffs, massive sand dunes and unspoilt golden sand beaches for miles. An hour and half from Matai Bay, its landmarks are an ancient pohutakawa 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 get a few hours of surfing the sand dunes in.
Kaitaia / Ahipara / 90 Mile Beach
Heading back down the west coast on State Highway 1, on the right, is 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 tuatuas 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.
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 / Waipoua Forest
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
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.
Boasting yet 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 test their handcrafted chocolates and pick up some treats to take away. There are at least four olive oil producers in Mangawhai too, those wanting to extend their road trip might like to stay at olive grove Divinity's AirBnB. There’s a vineyard next door!
It’s an hour and a half easy driving to Auckland city from Mangawhai. The memories and scenery from this North Island road trip are ones to be treasured for a lifetime. Happy travels from the ___Mode team.