Travel Story | Roadtrip through Northland, New Zealand

by Flip Flop Wanderers

Northland: a beautiful sub-tropical and the most northern area of New Zealand. It has gorgeous beaches, green rolling fields, waterfalls, caves and massive trees. As said in our previous story we explored this area for 2 weeks in our newly bought van, after arranging a lot of stuff in Auckland. We loved it! Especially just simply roadtrippin’ and seeing all the beautiful nature.

Read our travel story about our first week in New Zealand!

It is actually our second time visiting the Northland area, but during our first time in New Zealand (in 2014) we only had around 2 days for the whole area and it was raining during those days! So we definitely wanted to see it better this time! In this blog, we’ll tell you what we’ve been up to in these 2 weeks.

Chillin’ in our van

Dutch shop

In our last story, we ended up in Orewa, a place north of Auckland. We were finally feeling the freedom of roadtrippin’ and were really looking forward to driving around. That Tuesday (14-11) we started the day with a visit to the Dutch Shop! Haha, when we discovered there was a shop like that in Orewa we of course had to visit! 

After buying our favourite food we drove via the Wenderholm Regional Park, Puhoi, Mahurangi Regional Park and Warkworth to Scandrett Regional Park, where the views were beautiful!

Goat Island Marine Reserve

Next stop was Goat Island Marine Reserve. The island is named like this because according to former inhabitants only goats could live on the island and no other cattle. Why? I have no idea haha. The reserve is famous for its good snorkelling but the weather was too cold and rainy for us to go swimming in the water! So we decided to walk a bit on the beach and afterwards checked in at a campground.

Route to Whangarei

The next morning we continued our route to Whangarei. First we came through Pakiri where we visited Pakiri beach. The road continued through beautiful green hills,

before we arrived at Mangawhai Heads. Here we had some great views over gorgeous beaches and there was also a beautiful surf beach, which we explored a bit further.

Magical Caves

Our next destination was pretty cool. We arrived in Waipu where you can visit the Waipu Caves. What cool is about these caves is that you can go in these caves yourself, without a tour guide. Plus they have glowworms! Afterwards we realised that this was actually the only glowworm cave in the whole of New Zealand we could visit without a guide! Pretty unique. The entrance of the caves are already super beautiful, as you can see:

Inside the caves we had to take a short walk over slippery rocks and through some water, but after that it was pitch dark and we saw literally thousands of glow worms above our heads! Although we have seen glowworms during our first time in New Zealand in Waitomo, this was still such a magical experience! I mean: look at all those tiny creatures that look like millions of stars! 

Exploring Whangarei

The day after we decided to explore Whangarei and the area. But first we went to do some grocery shopping and bought a bit more stuff for our van because Whangarei was the last big town where we could do some real shopping, before we hit the remoteness of Northland. A supermarket we really recommend in New Zealand is Pak ‘n Save, often cheaper than the rest!
After buying all our essentials for the next weeks, we went to the quarry gardens, beautiful gardens made in an old quarry. 

After this we went on to drive a loop in the direction of the Whangarei Heads, past all the must sees in the area. We visited Parihaka Reserve, which had a gorgeous view over Whangarei Harbour, the Abbey Caves, which are not as spectacular as the Waipu Caves, Parua Bay, Mount Manaia and Smugglers Bay. All really beautiful spots in the area! 

At the end of the day we visited the famous Whangarei Falls, which were really beautiful! That night we drive through to Tutukaka where we stay the night.

The beautiful Tutukaka Coast of Northland

The Tutukaka Coast is in our opinion one of the most beautiful coastlines of New Zealand. It has spectacular beaches, world-class diving and some great hiking trails. Yet, it doesn’t get as much visitors as its neighbouring Bay of Islands, which makes it still a unique, quiet holiday destination. One of the great walks to see the gorgeous coastline for yourself is the Tutukaka Head Walkway, which we did that very next morning after arriving here. What unique was about this walk, was that we could only visit it during low tide because during that time you can cross a small beach to Kukutauwhao Island. 

And on that island is where the beauty of the walk really starts! It was a pretty steep and hard climb to get to the top of the small island, but once we got there, the view was just incredible! You can see all the rocky islands in the bay and the water is so blue! We definitely recommend this walk!

Feeling like a mermaid in the mermaid pools

After this amazing walk, we continued our way to Matapouri Bay. While Matapouri Bay itself is a nice beach, a real secret instagram-worthy spot is hidden behind the rocks on the left side. It wasn’t the easiest spot to find and it was a bit of climbing up and down, but after our effort, we arrived at the gorgeous mermaid pools! These natural pools looked really beautiful. Problem was that it was only like 18 degrees that day and very windy and cloudy, which made it not really comfortable to go in there haha. But Manon really wanted to have some great pictures so she decided to go in the really cold (17 degrees) water. Everything for the photos right!;) Brrr it was super cold, but the pictures were worth it! And the very moment Manon got out of the water, rain started pouring down. Quickly back to our warm van!

Another beautiful beach in the area was Whale Bay. Unfortunately it was still raining so we just had a quick look. The beach looked absolutely amazing! It was a shame we couldn’t lay on the beach though!

Cows on the road

On the way to our stop for that night, we had to drive over a gravel road according to Google Maps. This was supposed to be the fastest way, but it wasn’t really. Two times we had to stop because farmers let their herd of cows cross the road haha. That night we ended up at a beautiful campground right at the beach. They even had a few cute goats!

Rainy days in Northland

The next few days it was unfortunately raining, so we couldn’t really do much. Via a scenic road, we drove to Russell, part of the Bay of Islands region. It was a cute town and there were some nice things to see, but with all the rain we couldn’t really see it. That’s why we quickly got on the ferry to the other side of the water, to Opua, which is much faster than driving all the way around the water. When arriving in Paihia (the main town of the Bay of Islands) we decided to work on the blog and arranged some other stuff. Also the day after it was raining the whole day, so besides visiting the Haruru Falls, we couldn’t do much that day either. It’s quite a coincidence that it was raining now that we were in the Bay of Islands because the first time we were in New Zealand it was also raining when we’re in this area! So while this was the second we’ve been here, we still haven’t really seen it haha. 

Haruru Falls

Cruising Bay of Islands

That Monday the weather was fortunately much better! That was good because it was our last day here and we booked a boat cruise that went past the islands of Bay of Islands. Finally we could see what all the fuss of this area was about! When we were on the boat we saw the beauty of the blue waters over here and the bay dotted with many small islands. We immediately loved it! We even spotted some dolphins along the way! Cruising past all these beautiful islands, we ended up at the famous Hole in the Rock, which is just a small island with a hole in it (duhh) :P It looked pretty cool though! When the sea is calm you can even sail through the hole, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case today.

After this sight the cruise sailed past some other gorgeous islands and eventually we stopped at Motuarohia Island. This time we could leave the boat for a while and with a smaller boat we went ashore. The island was really beautiful with a white beach, but what was the most beautiful was the walk to the top of the island. We went up really quickly to make sure we were the first ones on the top to make some good photos. The view from up there was just amazing! You could see over the whole island and a big part of the Bay of Islands and you could see some other islands and beautiful beaches in the distant.

Around 1pm we were back in the harbour of Paihia, where we drove with our van to a nice spot along the beach to make some photos from our driving home. We loved doing this!

Campground right at the beach

After maaaany photos, we drove further to Kerikeri, which is the northern town of the Bay of Islands. Here we found New Zealand’s oldest stone building, the Stone Store. Close to here were the Rainbow Falls. It’s named like that because when the sun is shining you can see a rainbow in the waterfall, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case with us. Bram did go for a short climb to get behind the waterfall. It was beautiful there and cool to see!

We continued our way to Matauri Bay, where we stayed at a beautiful campground. It was right at the beach and we parked our van almost on the sand haha. Especially during sunset the colours of the sky were amazing!

Best view ever over Whangaroa Harbour

After falling asleep to the sound of the waves, we drove further north again. First, there was a beautiful view over Matauri Bay and on our way we saw even more beautiful views. The beach that followed was Tauranga Bay, where the sand had a bit of a pink colour. Pretty special to see!

The following we were going to do is also one of the most beautiful walks we ever did in New Zealand! For this walk we had to climb to the top of the St Pauls Rock, which was pretty steep. At the end you even had to climb over rocks with only a chain to hold onto.

But when we got at the top, the view was just fantastic over Whangaroa Harbour! We just couldn’t believe how blue the water was and the small boats dotted around the bay made it perfect. We could see many small islands in the distance and the other side of the harbour was pretty close with cute sheltered bays. It’s doesn’t get better than this! The following photos speak for themselves, we guess!

We loved the area so much over here that we also drove a bit around the Whangaroa Harbour after the walk. There were so many boats in the water, it even made us a bit jealous :P A bit after the Whangaroa Harbour was Taupo Bay. Again a beautiful white beach.

Karikari Peninsula

We quickly visited Doubtless Bay, where you had some beautiful beaches and also the Rangikapiti Pa Historic Reserve. A Pa is a former Maori fortified village, which were of course placed on strategic places, like on a hill. That’s why most of the time you have amazing views at these places.

The following stop was Karikari Peninsula, where we visited the Coca Cola Lake. This lake was supposed to have a cola colour, but we couldn’t really see it haha. So quickly after we visited Matai Bay. A gorgeous spot with 2 bigger beaches split by a headland. Walking over this headland you end up at a secluded hidden beach, which was just the best.

The most northern point of New Zealand

Now that we were already in Karikari Peninsula we were close to Cape Reinga. Or well, it was still 2 hours. So after a night at the peninsula, we first drove all the way to the top the next morning, the most northern point of New Zealand. The most northern point is called Cape Reinga and there is a gorgeous lighthouse: the Cape Reinga Lighthouse. But you’ll also find Cape Maria van Diemen here and huge sand dunes. When we arrived at the top we first decided to walk to the lighthouse. 3 years ago we have also been here, but because of dense fog we couldn’t see anything! This time we had blue skies so we were much luckier! The views from up a hill were just the best!

We walked down to the lighthouse to the point where two oceans meet: the Tasman Sea in the west and the Pacific Ocean in the east. This makes for interesting sea currents which you can watch from the lighthouse. You really feel at the end of the world at this place, which it actually is!

Huge sand dunes

Because we were now at the most northern point, we, of course, had to drive back south again. Here we went to the Te Paki Sand Dunes, huge sand dunes on which you can sandboard! We hired a board at a stall at the dunes and went sliding! It was seriously so much fun! The dunes were really high and steep though, so Manon didn’t go all the way from the top :P Instead, she just slid somewhere halfway, which still went pretty fast! Of course, Bram is really cool so he did go from the top. This made for some funny photos and videos haha.

Sunset and camping on Ninety Mile Beach

After an hour rolling in the sand, we drove further to Ninety Mile Beach. Ninety Mile Beach is a reaaaally long beach which stretches from a bit south of Cape Reinga all the way to Ahipara. Although it is not exactly 90 miles long, it is actually 88 kilometers! Bit weird yes.. It still is a really cool beach and it is officially a highway, so you can drive on the beach! While it is best suitable for 4WD vehicles and only safe to drive during low tide, we still wanted to try it with our van :P But for now it was already too late, so we decided to go camping on a free campground right on Ninety Mile Beach. To get there, we had to drive over a private road through some logging grounds, where you can drive on for 1 dollar haha. The campground itself was a beautiful small grass field right next to the beach. There were some other people here, mainly people with tents who came here walking! Most of them were doing the Te Araroa trail: a tramping trail stretching around 3000 km along the length of the country’s two main islands! Wow, so much respect for them!
After dinner we drove the van onto the beach and enjoyed the sun setting behind the van while taking hundreds of photos. We even decided to make a little dance on the roof of our van :)

Driving on Ninety Mile Beach

Early the next morning it was finally time to ride with our van on Ninety Mile Beach. It was low tide now, so the timing was perfect. Through the campsite we were staying it was really easy to get onto the beach and the driving on the beach itself was also really easy! We didn’t really understand why it was 4WD only. Driving on the beach was super cool! It also made for some great photos with our GoPro.

We knew there were a few places where it was easy to get off the beach with a 2WD, but we couldn’t really find it, and suddenly we were already at the end of Ninety Mile Beach in Ahipara! Here the sand was really soft to get off the beach what doesn’t make it easy, but we tried it anyway. A few times even :P Haha, the first time we got stuck very quickly. Fortunately, there was a woman with a 4WD that pulled us out of the sand. We tried it two more times with her help, without success. The sand was just way too soft! Aha, so that’s why they say it’s best to only drive this with a 4WD!

We decided to drive back to an earlier exit, where it would be easier to get off. This was around 10km back. When we got there it was indeed a bit easier to get off although we still got stuck the first time haha. But at least we made it off the beach the second time! Now that we got off here, we had to drive half an hour back to Ahipara again, which was a bit a waste of time but oh well.. we have another adventure to tell haha. At Ahipara we drove to Ahipara Viewpoint where we had a nice view over Shipwreck Bay. 

After this whole adventure we continued driving south through quiet places Horeke and Omapere (where there was again a beautiful lookout) before we arrived in the Waipoua Kauri Forest.

Lookout Omapere

Huge Kauri Trees

That Friday we went to explore the Waipoua Kauri Forest. This forest is famous for its huge kauri trees and it preserves some of the last kauri forests remaining in New Zealand. It has two of largest living kauri trees, which we also visited.
The first of these trees that we visited was the Tane Mahute: Lord of the forest. It is a super impressive tree of 51.2m high! Its age is unknown but is estimated to be between 1,250 and 2,500 years. It is the largest Kauri known to stand today. Quite impressive right?! We took some great photos, but first we had to wait before a big tour group had left haha. It certainly isn’t a hidden place anymore!

Our next walk were the Kauri Walks. There are two walks here, and we decided to first go to another mighty tree: the Te Matua Ngahere: Father of the Forest. While the Tane Mahute is the largest kauri tree, this is the fattest tree. And yes, it was a really fat tree! The girth of this tree is over 16 meters! This is the second largest living kauri tree.

Our last walk through the Waipoua Kauri Forest was to the Four Sisters. This are four kauri trees that have grown together at the trunk. Also pretty cool to see!

The road through the whole forest was actually also really pretty! Driving straight through thick bush and hundreds of fern trees.

The end of our Northland trip

This forest also marked the end of our road trip through Northland. It was now time to drive back to Auckland and tomorrow further to Hot Water Beach because we were expected there the next day. As we told in our previous story we were going to work there for a few months on the Top 10 Campground, and we were supposed to start work that Sunday. So we still had a few more kilometers to go!
One the way we stopped for a while at the Kai Iwi Lakes, which are three lakes that look beautiful.

Some more Dutchness

When we arrived in Auckland that night we decided to eat at Dutch Delight. Yes, this really is a Dutch ‘friettent’ / restaurant in the middle of Auckland! How cool is that?! While traveling we really miss Dutch food and it’s great that we can have our ‘friet met’ and ‘frikandel speciaal’ over here! Although it tastes different than at home, it is still good to eat!

After a night at a campground in Auckland, our last day of our trip arrived. We didn’t have enough Dutchness the night before, so we again went to the Dutch shop to stock up on some more stuff! Bram also went to the hairdresser, because this was already 3 months ago! What?! So it really was necessary! We also stocked up on food at the Countdown and after that we drove straight to Hot Water Beach, which was still a 2,5 hours drive.

Fern tree up close

Arrived at Hot Water Beach

When we arrived at the Top 10 Campground we were welcomed by the staff manager, which was a very lovely woman. Because we are working on the campground, we can stay for free on the campground on a powered site! Really nice, because that saves us a lot of costs. Campgrounds are normally really expensive in New Zealand.
We filled in all the necessary papers, got a work shirt and an explanation of what we are going to do. We are both going to work as housekeepers, which means that mainly we’re going to clean the cabins on the campground when people have checked out: making the beds, cleaning the kitchen and bathroom etc. We also sometimes need to clean the ablution blocks, but that’s mainly the job of other people. After the cleaning, we are also going to help out in laundry, because of course all those sheets need to be washed! Work is for 6 days a week, around 6-7 hour work per day. So we will have a good amount of hours per week :) The housekeeping team is pretty small, which we like. While we are not the biggest fans of cleaning haha, we are looking forward to having a job and to stay on one campground for a while. We are curious how the work will go! Tomorrow we start at 8 o’clock in the morning!

Our van on the road

And so our two-week road trip came to an end. We loved every second of it and realised we missed the van and camping life really bad after living for one year in an apartment in Perth. Luckily that life isn’t over already, because of course, we would still be living in our van on the campground at Hot Water Beach. But for now we had to work really hard for a few months in order to save enough money to travel further! Because after working we, of course, wanted to discover much more of New Zealand in our van! How was the work like in Hot Water Beach? We’ll tell you all about it in our next story!

See you then!

Love from us

We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls


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