Northland – 35 Best Places to Visit + Free Things To Do

This is your road trip guide to Northland, New Zealand. All beautiful places to visit, freedom camping, accommodation, practical information. All you need to know!

Northland is a beautiful New Zealand’s area, home of monumental Kauri forests, dramatic cliffs, as well as unique 90 Miles Beach. Let’s explore Northland’s magical glowworm caves, stunning waterfalls or Te Paki Giant Sand Dunes.

The Northernmost piece of New Zealand has a lot to offer. Because road tripping and traveling by van is the most popular way to travel across New Zealand, we have prepared a practical guide with detailed map and itinerary for you. So, let the adventure begin!

Northland: Top Places to Visit!

Let’s find out the best places you shouldn’t miss in Northland:

Cape Reinga

Cape Reinga is northernmost point of New Zealand with a beautiful lighthouse at the end. It is the place, where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea. You can take a nice walk from parking lot to the lighthouse or go more adventurous with a longer coastal walk. There is the Te Paki Coastal Track with stunning views of the dramatic coastline. Whole track takes about 3-4 days, but it’s worth it.

  • Duration: 45 minutes – Return walk to the Cape Reinga lighthouse
  • Location (Google Maps)
  • Facilities: There are toilets and drinking water at the parking lot

Where to stay at Cape Reinga

If you search an accommodation nearby Cape Reinga, there is well rated Tekao Lodge. It’s also the closest one to Cape Reinga. Nearest Campground is Tatotupotu Campsite.

Your road trip guide to Northland, New Zealand. All beautiful places to visit, freedom camping, accommodation, practical information. All you need to know!
Cape Reinga Lighthouse, place where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea.

Te Paki Giant Sand Dunes

These Giant Sand Dunes are a must stop for every adventurous soul! I promise you will be excited of a great sandboarding fun! Read our Complete Guide to Te Paki Giant Sand Dunes to find out where is best sandboarding spot and where to hire the best and cheapest sand boards. Te Paki Giant Sand Dunes definitely shouldn‘t be missed!

90 Miles Beach

The legendary Ninety Miles Beach is a great place, where you can drive your car/van! If you are lucky to have 4WD, you can easily drive the whole way. In case you don’t have 4wheeler, there is still a very nice part of the beach which can be enjoyed by driving the car. You can enter the beach at several places, the main ramp is the Waipapakauri ramp.

  • Enter the beach at low tide
  • You should try to drive on o wet sand, aproximately in between the dry sand and sea. The beach is wide so there is always enough space to drive in both directions!

Be aware:

Right behind the ramp, there will probably be a deeper sand area which is good to pass quickly. Once you get at wet sand, you will no longer have a problem. In case you would end up stucked in the deep sand, don’t worry too much because it seems that locals are used to help cars to get out of the deep sand.

Quick note for rented cars: many car rental companies exclude car insurance from riding on the beach, so be aware of it!

90 Miles Beach - driving on the beach is simply perfect! Northland, New Zealand
90 Miles Beach – driving on the beach is simply perfect!

Shipwreck Bay

Shipwreck Bay is located nearby Ahipara and it‘s a great surf location. It is not only a beautiful bay, but it is another place for driving your car on the beach. Shipwreck Bay can be reached from Ahipara by taking Foreshore Road and later Wreck Bay Road (gravel road).

Where to stay at 90 Miles Beach / Shipwreck Bay

If you want nice and affordable accommodation by the sea, look at Endless Summer Lodge or Ahipara Holiday Park.

View from Wreck Bay Road to Ahipara. Northland
View from Wreck Bay Road to Ahipara.

Glowworm Caves in Northland

New Zealand is an exceptional place for its fauna and flora. It’s the only country in the world, where we can witness an awesome natural phenomenon called the Glowworms. Glowworms or Arachnocamp Luminosa are a special kind of bioluminescent insect which lives only in New Zealand’s Caves. Adults are similar to mosquitoes. And why do they glow? The larva spins a nest out of silk and hangs down with small sticky droplets. They glow to attract prey into these threads. The more hungry they are, the more they shine.

Glowworms illuminating Waipu Cave.
Glowworms illuminating Waipu Cave.

It’s an unreal experience – it feels like standing in the middle of space or under the sky with thousands of stars!

Important things before entering the caves:

  • Never go caving alone
  • Take a good headlamp + extra batteries
  • Don’t go caving after or during the rain

Abbey Caves

  • No entry fee is collected in Abbey Caves
  • Duration: We recommend a minimum of 2 hours, but you may spend there longer
  • Location (Google Maps)

What to prepare and how to dress for caving?

It is only a few minutes to Abbey Caves from the parking on the edge of the road. Marked trail leads to Abbey Caves. Prepare to get wet! We recommend wearing good boots for caving. Despite the safety, there are still some people who go caving in their flip flops. How deep is the water? It depends how far in the cave you go. The deepest parts are about the waist water level. The nearest parts of the caves are doable with almost dry feet.

It's like watching the sky with millions of stars. Abbey Caves, New Zealand.
It’s like watching the sky with millions of stars. Abbey Caves, New Zealand.

Abbey Caves consists of 3 caves:

The Organ Cave

The largest cave got its name after the stalactites reminiscent the musical instrument of the organ. The entrance is on the left side of the trail (it is easy to miss it!). You can also recognize it because the creek is flowing out of the cave. There are some huge boulders at the beginning, fist part of the cave can be done without getting wet, but later you will need to follow the tunnel, which is half full of water. The Organ cave is really long! You can see the spectacular glowworm show at the beginning of the tunnel, but if you go deeper you have a chance to see more and more glowworms! So, turn the lights off and watch the fairytail above you!

The Middle Cave

The central cave is about 5 minutes’ walk from the first cave. In the beginning, there are several big boulders, that you have to climb down. There is less water in the Middle cave and noticeably higher ceilings. The stalactites and thousands of tiny lights over your heads are truly magical!

The Ivy Cave

Smaller caves with some light access from above. This visit takes only a few minutes. The stream comes through, and water is very clear, so you might see some eel in the cave.

Where to stay nearby Abbey Caves?

Lovely accommodation, which is really not far away from caves is the Little Earth Lodge. There are also several campgrounds at Whangarei town.

Waipu Caves

  • No entry fee to Waipu Caves
  • Duration: Count for at least 0.5 – 1 hour, so you can spend more time here.
  • Waipu Caves Location

Waipu Caves are the largest cave system in Northland. You can find there literary the Glowworms Galaxy! Waipu Caves are spacier compared to the Abbey Caves and you should also count that you will get a little wet. The best place to watch glowworms is right before the beginning of the lower ceiling tunnel. There is a shower at the parking lot, right next to the toilet, so you can remove the mud from your shoes after caving.

Photo TIP: If you plan to take a long exposure shot of the cave and glowworms, come to camp in the evening and plan your visit to the next day early morning. Otherwise, you will be distracted by other visitor’s lights. You need ideally 5 minutes exposure for nice pictures and it’s quite difficult to have these 5 minutes of darkness during the day because it is quite busy there (even at 11 pm).

Read also our complete guide to Waipu Caves.

Where to stay at Waipu Caves?

There is a campsite right at the Waipu caves car park – only 50 meters from the cave entrance. If you prefer some nice coastal accommodation, there is a Camp Waipu Cove.

Whangarei

Whangarei has a lot of things to offer. There are beautiful waterfalls, coastal tracks as well as Abbey caves full of shining glowworms. You won’t have a problem to find campground or classic accommodation in Whangarei town.

Whangarei Falls

A short walk to impressive Whangarei Falls can be a nice stop on your road trip. Definitely walk down to the lagoon to catch some nice pictures or have lunch at a perfect placed picnic table.

Duration: 15-20 minutes

Whangarei falls, Northland, New Zealand.
Whangarei falls, Northland

Whangarei falls, Northland

Whangarei heads

This area offers beautiful beaches and popular tracks. Grab your surf to enjoy good waves or head to the nearest track.

Te Whara Track (Bream Head Track)

Te Whara Track is ideal for a hot day because most of the trek leads in the shade of the forest. It is a one-way track and it can be started both from Urquharts Bay and Ocean Beach. But we recommend starting from Urquharts Bay (to get the best views at the final part of the track). If you want to skip hitchhiking back to your car, park at the Ocean Beach and climb to the TOP of Te Whara mountain. There are the best views from the whole track (you can still do a Te Whara loop if you want to avoid going the same track up and down).

  • Duration: 5-6 hours
  • Location: Between Urquharts Bay and Ocean Beach (track map)
  • Terrain: forest footpath, stairs
Trek views from Te Whara, Northland.
Trek views from Te Whara, Northland.

Mount Manaia

There is a very interesting rock formation at the top of this track. Be prepared for many steps as well as beautiful ocean views.

Duration: 1.5 hours (return trip)

Ocean beach

Beautiful sandy beach and popular surf location. Even if you skip Te Whara Hill, Ocean Beach is well worth visiting.

Where to stay at Whangarei?

Budget option would be Whangarei Falls Holiday Park, located by Whangarei Falls. One of the best accommodations in Whangarei is Discovery Settlers Hotel with swimming pool. There are also several campsites around the town.

Ocean Beach View from Te Whara Track, New Zealand.
Ocean Beach View from Te Whara Track

Waitakere Ranges Regional Park

Waitakere Ranges is an area known for its famous surf beaches, Kauri forests and waterfalls. This park offers 250 km of trails, including the well-known Hillary Trail. Which places in Waitakere Ranges shouldn’t be missed?

Arataki Visitor Center

The Arataki Visitor Center is the ideal gateway to this park. You get updated maps there as well as latest information. There is a small museum with a beautiful lookout terrace and mini skywalk too. You can head to the first track – The Arataki Nature Trail, which takes about 75 minutes.

Piha Beach, Northland

Piha is not only a beautiful beach well known for its gorgeous views but it’s a perfect surf location. I am sure you will meet a lot of surfers there. The Lion Rock is the Piha Beach dominant landmark, you can climb up to the top – there is a quite a nice path. If you would like to try surfing, you can arrange a surfing lesson directly at Piha beach or at the campground.

TIP: Do not miss the most beautiful viewpoint on the way to Piha Beach: location can be found here.

  • Facilities: There are toilets and shower by the beach as well as nice campgrounds

Where to stay at Piha?

Piha is simply an amazing place! Very nice is Piha Beachstay Accommodation.

Monumental Lion Rock, Piha Beach.
Monumental Lion Rock, Piha Beach.

Kitekite Falls

The Kitekite Falls are less than 10 minutes’ drive from Piha Beach. It’s a nice walk through the forest, and if you go out at night, you might see some glowworms on the way.

Duration: 1.5 h (return trip)

KareKare Falls and Karekare Beach

Karekare is another nice waterfall and Karakare Beach is interesting for its black sand. The waterfalls are about 5-10 minutes’ walk from the carpark.

Statue along the way to Karekare beach, Northland, New Zealand.
Statue along the way to Karekare beach, Northland

Hillary Trail

If you plan to enjoy hiking through the Waitakere Ranges, then there is a 4-day track named after Edmund Hillary. Hillary Trail is 76 km long. It begins at the Arataki Visitor Center, later on, it nearly copies the coast, so beautiful views await. Campgrounds for overnight stays have to be booked in advance.

Note: Some parts of the Hillary Trail are currently closed due to the Kauri Dieback, you can check the current situation at the Auckland Council website.

Lake Kaiiwi and Taharoa

These lakes are a popular weekend destination – for families, friends, fishermen or kayakers. Their turquoise blue water and sandy bottom gave them their charm! The water temperature is ideal for swimming, during the summer season.

Where to stay at Kaiiwi and Taharoa lake?

There are 2 different (paid) camps, each on different side of the lake. There is also a classic accommodation at Wai Hou Oma Lodge.

Waipoua Kauri Forest

Waipoua Forest is a beautiful native forest, full of original New Zealand’s Kauri trees (Agathis Australis). These massive trees measure up to 50 meters and can be 2000 years old. A person feels so small in comparison to these giants!

Recently, there is a problem with the disease called “Kauri Dieback”, which spreads through the soil movement (e.g. on your shoes) and it’s killing these precious trees. That’s why some trails are closed, but the Auckland Council is building new cleaning stations in order to open these trails again. So please, be responsible !!! and clean your shoes properly before entering any trail leading to Kauri area. If there is a cleaning station, clean your shoes (brush and disinfect your shoes) and never leave the trail!

Cleaning station, entrance to Kauri Walks, Waipoua Forest.
Cleaning station, entrance to Kauri Walks, Waipoua Forest.

Please visit the Department of Conservation website to find out which trails and walks are currently open.

Visitor Center and Te Roroa camp site

Te Roroa camp is very nice place in the middle of the forest. You can find current information about open tracks at Visitor Center. There is also Wi-Fi available at the café.

Kauri Walks

These trails will take you to see the magnificent giants. These are the most famous ones:

  • Yakas – Cathedral Grove
  • Four Sisters
  • Te Matua Ngahere

Te Mahuta – the most famous tree of New Zealand

The mass of this Kauri tree is incredible: 516.7 m³ and its age is estimated to 2500 years. Again, there is a cleaning station and you have to come through the cleaning process. If you want coffee or a little snack, there is a mobile Café as well as toilets at the beginning of this trail.  

Where to stay at Waipoua Kauri Forest, Northland?

You might stay at Te Roroa campsite or in Kauri Coast TOP 10 Holiday Park which is nearby the Kauri forest.

The monumental Te Mahuta tree.
The monumental Te Mahuta tree.

More places to visit in Northland:

Tokatoka Peak

Tokatoka peak is the only rocky peak miles and miles around in this “flat” land. It can be a short stop on the way through the Northland.

  • Duration: 45 minutes (return trip)
  • Location

St. Paul’s Rock

Hike to the St. Paul’s Rock is another beautiful stop on the way through the Northland. When the weather is nice there are gorgeous views of the surrounding bays, which reminds fjords.

  • Duration: 50 minutes (return trip)
  • Location
St. Paul 'Rock - A view of the ocean, Northland, New Zealand.
St. Paul ‘Rock – A view of the ocean

KeriKeri

This town is historically very important to New Zealand. European missionaries and Maoris met for the first time in history in Kerikeri town. In addition, there are beautiful waterfalls or wineries nearby.

Rainbow Falls

You can admire Rainbow Falls from several different viewing platforms. It’s only a 2-minute walk from the parking lot to the upper viewpoint. But if you really want to see a rainbow, you must walk down and swim to the waterfall. There is a space (overhang) behind the waterfall from where you can see the rainbow.

You can swim by the Rainbow Falls, Kerikeri.
You can swim by the Rainbow Falls, Kerikeri.

Rewa’s village and Stone Store

The village of Rewa is an open-air museum of the original Maori settlement. There is an entrance fee to Rewa’s village, but you can have a free walk around the beautiful park and historical buildings across the river. Very nice is the historic Stone Store. You can walk to the original settlement of Kororipo Pa (historic place, where you can read about the Maori history of the place). If you want to have a longer walk, you can head to the Wharepuke falls.

Stone Store from Rewa's village, Kerikeri, New Zealand
Stone Store from Rewa’s village, Kerikeri

WharePuke falls

A pleasant walk by the river. There is an old water turbine along the way. You can also swim by WharePuke falls. We recommend not forgetting the bug spray (there are mosquitoes in the forest).

  • Duration: 35 minutes (return trip from Rewa’s village)
  • Location

There are four waterfalls in total and they are connected by walking trails called Kerikeri Walks.

Aroha Island – Wild Kiwi Reserve

Nearby Kerikeri is the Aroha Island – despite the name, it’s only a peninsula. During the night you still have a chance to see some wild Kiwis. You can stay right at Aroha Island Reserve. One night at camp costs around $ 21-23 or you can go for a classic accommodation.

Kiwi TIP: You need a red light (for example on your headlamp) to be able to see Kiwi bird. That’s the only way you can see them because they are not afraid of the red light.

Where to stay at KeriKeri?

If you are not staying at Aroha Island, Woodlands Motel is a popular and affordable option. If you want something special, try Wharepuke Subtropical Accommodation.

Russell and Bay of Islands

Russell offers a wide range of water activities. You can book many different trips from diving to sightseeing and swimming with the dolphins.

Things to do in Russell

We enjoyed especially these three following things in Russell:

A short trek to Tapeka peninsula

Short Tapeka track offers beautiful views along the way. You can park your car at the end of the “Du Fresne Pl.” road. The beginning of the trek leads across the meadow. If you are lucky enough, you can see even dolphins swimming in the sea. We saw dolphins jumping out of the water nearby Fraser Rock.

  • Duration: 40 minutes (return trip)
Bay of Islands from Tapeka Peninsula, Northland
Bay of Islands from Tapeka Peninsula, Northland

Waihtiti Beach (Oneroa Bay)

Nice beach where you can have a nice swim and potentially see dolphins too. Toilets and the showers are right next to the parking lot.

Flagstaff Hill Historic Reserve

You can drive by a car almost to its very top. There is a nice view of the bay as well as information about historical events.

Where to stay at Russell and Bay of Islands?

Nice location directly in Russell offers Motel Russell, across the bay there is plenty of accommodation in Paihia, great not only for backpackers is Bay Adventurer Backpackers & Apartments, beautiful view and great reviews are at Changing Tides BnB.

Omaha Beach

A popular white-sand beach just an hour’s drive north of Auckland. Great for surfers, swimmers, and even windsurfers. There is a surf rescue/bay watch during the season.

You can check this guide to Omaha Beach for more information.

Other Nice Tracks of Northland

Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway

Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway is a very nice coastal trek. It starts on the beach, which is again the favorite destination for surfers or bodyboard enthusiasts. You can arrange a surfing lesson directly at the car park. To find more information about the trek, check out the Department of Conservation website.

Duration: 2-3 hours

Mangawhai Beach is the beginning of the Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway.
Mangawhai Beach is the beginning of the Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway.

Cape Brett track

Cape Brett track is another coastal hike. It’s 16 km long (one-way) and you can plan overnight stay at Cape Brett Hut. You need to make a reservation in advance. More information about this track can be found at the Department of Conservation website. Beware, there is a $40 fee collected for private land crossing between Rawhiti and Deep Water Cove.

Duration: 1-2 days

Practical info for your Northland road trip

Camping grounds in Northland – campsites and freedom camping

In Northland, there is quite enough freedom camping places and DOC campsites. The handiest apps that save you money on your road trip are these:

CamperMate – The handiest app for all travelers traveling by campervan. You will find there not only campsites and Freedom Camping areas, but you can search also for showers, toilets, Wi-Fi or drinking water nearby. There is always detailed information about each place or campsite. You will find out whether the camp is paid and what facilities you can expect there.

WikiCamps – Similar app to CamperMate, it’s good to have both because sometimes happens, that one app is missing some campsite and vice versa.

Gaspy – A mobile app for finding the cheapest gas stations

Northland by campervan

Traveling New Zealand by van is a very popular way to explore both islands. You can either hire it or buy it.

Buying a van in New Zealand

If you are staying in New Zealand for more than a month, you will probably think about buying your own car. There is a large market every Sunday in Auckland (Ellerslie Car fair), where you can find all types of cars and sizes. If you have only limited time in Zealand, you have to take into consideration that you might not sell it after the end of your trip for the same money you purchase it.

Good offers have the TravelCars.nz, where you can book the car online in advance and buy it straight after you arrive (they will pick you up from the airport). We were happy with their service and we have arranged a special discount for you: $100 OFF. To claim your discount, show them this coupon.

Travel Cars New Zealand Discount Coupon Code

Renting/hiring campervan in New Zealand

If you choose the option of renting car or van for your New Zealand travels, then you don’t need to worry about anything. Usually the insurance and assistance is included. Simply choose the right car / campervan and hit the road. Car rentals often offer possibility of taking a car from one place and returning it elsewhere.

Hit the road and explore the Northland.
Hit the road and explore the Northland.

The best offers of car rentals can be found here.

Hitchhiking in Northland

Hitchhiking works very well in New Zealand! Average waiting time can be less than 15 minutes. Kiwis are very nice and open people and it might even happen that they invite you for dinner to their home. Other travelers are also taking hitchhikers. We did it in Northland as well.

Pluses and minuses of hitchhiking:

+ It saves you money

+ More adventure and meetin interesting people

– You can’t plan everything 100% in advance

Northland by bus tour from Auckland

If you don’t want to rent a car or hitchhike, you can also find some organized bus tours from Auckland.

Things to do in Auckland

You will probably begin your New Zealand trip in Auckland, which is also worth exploring. Check this comprehensive guide to the best things to do in Auckland.

Map with all places to visit in Northland

We prepared for you a detailed map with all important places to visit in Northland.

You can export this map and import it to your mobile application such as Maps.me or Locus Map.

Map Northland

Check this beautiful video about Northland:

Weekly itinerary for your road trip

Northland roadtrip itinerary

Discover more beautiful places to visit on New Zealand’s North Island:

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