Northland Area Guide
Spirits Bay, Cape Reinga - © Naturespic.com
As a peninsula, beaches and coastline dominate the region. Throw in a warm climate and rural population, and Northland provides its own contrast to the cooler and more mountainous South Island or the more developed areas around Auckland, Wellington and all places inbetween.
Most visitors explore the region via one of the two Twin Coast Discovery routes, which take you up the east or west coastlines before meeting just north of Kaitaia.
The west discovery route takes you to Dargaville and the Kauri Coast, named after the huge and ancient trees that still survive in various protected areas. The road then goes on through the Hokianga, an unkempt and unspoiled stretch of waterways and forest where you'll need a ferry to make further progress north.
The east route is more popular and draws you up through Mangawhai to Whangarei, which is the region's capital, largest town and perhaps the true gateway to Northland proper.
Whangarei has a flourishing marina and gallery culture, but is also an urban base for exploring the coastline around Oakura Bay to the north, Bream Bay to the south and Tutukaka to the northeast. The latter is home to the Poor Knights Islands marine reserve, considered one of the world's greatest diving spots.
Further on lies Northland's crown jewels, the Bay of Islands; a sub-tropical sailing and fishing paradise flanked by the small towns of Kerikeri, Paihia, Opua and picturesque Russell. Paihia is also home to the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi, where the British Crown and the Maori people first established New Zealand as a nation state in an 1840 agreement.
Beyond the Bay of Islands are the beaches and small settlements of Doubtless Bay, including the fishing village of Mangonui where some say you can find the best fish and chips in the country.
The route then curves west to merge with its twin above the Hokianga. This marks the lower edge of the Aupouri Peninsula, whose entire west coast is dominated by Ninety Mile Beach, beginning at Ahipara, a favorite destination for surfers.
Here it's worth taking the isolated route further North to the very end of Northland at Cape Reinga, where the lighthouse looks out over the vastness of the Pacific. This is also the sacred place where the spirits of the Maori depart the shores of New Zealand for the afterlife.