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Northland: A wonderland of places to see, experience & enjoy

North Island
Jason Granville
Jason Granville
Tour Guide
March 28, 2023
minute read

Soak up Northland’s ancient kauri forests, stunning marine life, vibrant culture & history

Northland (Taitokerau) is Aotearoa’s northernmost, least urbanised and only subtropical region. 

As you journey along its spectacular wild west coast beaches to the tranquil golden bays of the east coast, you’ll discover a unique culture that seeps from vibrant seaside towns, rich in history and natural wonders.

If you’re leaving from Auckland, get in the holiday groove and explore New Zealand’s first marine reserve, Goat Island, by glass bottom boat. Its rocky shore, sandflats and reefs support a diverse marine ecosystem, including snapper, blue maomao, red moki, eagle rays, and stingrays. Keep an eye out for dolphins, orcas, whales, seals, and sharks, who also frequent the area on this 45-minute eco-tour. 

The laid-back city of Whangarei, with its vibrant arts community, was once the site of New Zealand’s largest Māori Pā and is NZ’s northernmost city. Wander along the City Centre Street Art walk, marvel at 15 large-scale art murals, and visit the incredible Hundertwasser Art Centre and Wairua Maori Art Gallery. Soak up views of boats and bay from delicious eateries along its international yachting marina. Venture to Bream Head Scenic Reserve for panoramic coastal and harbour views. One of our best examples of coastal forest, this area is recognised as a wahi tapu (sacred place) by Māori. Finally, visit Whangarei Falls, the ‘most photogenic waterfall in New Zealand’.

Travelling north, Kawakawa is a great place to stop on your way to or from Paihia. Here you’ll find the only NZ working railway, ‘Bay of Islands Vintage Railway’, running through the middle of this colourful town. It is also home to the world-famous Hundertwasser toilets. This final artwork by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser is full of his signature multi-coloured tile collages. The centre of the toilets has a living tree growing up through the roof and blends with the native grasses on the top. 

Before reaching Kawakawa, detour to the Kawiti Glowworm Caves in the Waiomio Valley. Thousands of glow worms light this breathtaking network of stalactites, stalagmites and hidden chambers. They were established in the 1950s by Te Tawai Kawiti, the Great grandson of the famous Maori Chief, Kawiti. Today Te Tawai’s descendants bring history to life with their entertaining commentary and extensive local knowledge.

Paihia is a perfect base from which to explore the Bay of Islands. Enjoy a scenic helicopter flight to appreciate the exceptional beauty of this area, or enjoy it by boat. What could be better than day sailing through some of New Zealand’s most beautiful parts on the gaff-rigged schooner R Tucker Thompson? Or jump on board the famous Cream Trip cruise. Since the 1920s, this historical shipping route has transported goods, including cream, to and from farms. Experience the stunning sights of Cape Brett’s ‘Hole in the Rock’, see dolphins and enjoy the thrill of boom-netting -  hanging onto a large net while gliding through the water, it's a bit like being in a human washing machine!

Urupukapuka Island is the largest of all 140 islands and the only one accessible to the public. This stunning island overflows with history and wildlife and is perfect for a day trip. Explore its white sand and deserted beaches by foot or kayak, and cool off in crystal clear turquoise water. Visit ancient Māori Pā sites and gently climb to enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding islands. Or sit back and soak up the hospitality on the beautiful beach of Otehei Bay. 

Renowned as the birthplace of New Zealand, where Kupe, the Polynesian explorer of Aotearoa, landed and where we find the oldest traces of Māori kāinga (fishing villages). European traders, whalers and sealers also landed on Northland’s shores. By booking a Russell Mini Tour, discover the chequered past of the now quaint Russell, NZ’s first permanent European settlement in the Bay of Islands. Visit places of significance to learn why this small town played a pivotal role in our history.


The nearby settlement of Waitangi was the signing place of NZ's founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi between the Māori tribes and the British Crown, on 6 February 1840. Take time on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds to enjoy stunning views of the bay, its interactive museums, Māori cultural performances, art gallery and carving studio. 

Kerikeri has a long, colourful history and many historic buildings, including the Stone Store dating back to 1832. Other key sights are the protected terraced pa site, Kororipo, above Kerikeri basin and Kerikeri Mission Station (Kemp House), our oldest European building built in 1821. With its boutique wineries, eateries, shopping, and galleries, Kerikeri attracts visitors from near and far.

Forty minutes drive further north is Butler Point. The house, built for Captain William Butler in 1847, is of national heritage status. Its exquisite exotic and native flora gardens, including extensive stands of ancient Pohutukawa trees, are also recognised. On the grounds, you will also find a comprehensive Whaling Museum with artefacts from a bygone era.

Ninety Mile Beach stretches from Ahipara to Scott Point, five kilometres south of Cape Maria van Diemen - the westernmost point of the North Island. At the northern end of this stunning golden beach, you find the iconic giant Te Paki dunes which have become renowned for sandboarding. The beach is also popular with anglers surfcasting for a feed of snapper. 

Ninety Mile Beach

Travel along the western coast to Hokianga Harbour, where two delightful townships, Opononi and Omapere, provide a slice of beachside heaven. Made famous in the mid-1950s by the tame dolphin Opo, who let children ride on his back, a glorious white sand beach stretches to the Opononi Wharf, where you can catch a water taxi to the giant dunes on the opposite side of the harbour. Dune surfing on boogie boards is a sandy thrill for all ages. Take time to retrace the Manea Footprints of Kupe at the Māori cultural centre and learn his story through a 4D sensory experience.

Further south, you come across Waipoua, the largest tract of native forest in Northland. Here walk amongst ancient green giants to Tāne Mahuta, our largest kauri tree. Approximately 2,000 years old, nearly 18m to the first branch and 4.4m in diameter, Tāne Mahuta is rightly called 'The Lord of the Forest'. 

With so much to see and do in Northland, this wonderful subtropical place will keep you returning for more. For more information or to discover, Take it Easy’s incredible bespoke journey north, taking in the best the area has to offer, go to our website.