Towering trees and beautiful beaches - that’s essentially what you can expect from the final leg of this Auckland round trip itinerary, so prepare to have your finger glued to the shutter button on your camera. You’ll start out at the biggest kauri forest in the country, then continue on to learn more about these ancient giants at a hidden gem of a museum. Stop off and spend an afternoon, a day or a weekend at one of New Zealand’s best outdoor playgrounds, then finish the tour with stops at a couple of the country’s most striking and famous beaches.
By now, you’ll have seen many of New Zealand’s forest giants on your Northland road trip. None of them are quite so big, however, as the one you’ll find in the Waipoua Kauri Forest. It’s known as Tane Mahuta - Lord of the Forest - and is the largest kauri tree in the country. It’s estimated to be roughly 2,000 years old, and is around 51 metres tall with a diameter of 4.4 metres. Here, you can also visit Te Matua Ngahere - Father of the Forest - which has a 5-metre diametre, making it the widest of any known surviving kauri. All together, the park is the largest kauri forest in New Zealand, and is an incredible place to take a tour, drive through, or get out and enjoy the walking trails. If you take a tour with Footprints Waipoua, a local Maori guide will teach you all about the flora and fauna, as well as local legends and songs, as you visit two of these incredible living giants.
As you continue driving back down towards Auckland, you’ll pass through a number of of small New Zealand towns. Matakohe is one of them (population 400), and is one that you could easily pass through as well - if it wasn’t for the Kauri Museum. This attraction has been voted as one of the country’s 101 ‘must-do’s, as it take you on a journey back in time to the pioneering days of New Zealand’s early settlers. You’ll be able to see antique kauri furniture, restored machinery, the country’s earliest tractor and the largest collection of kauri gum in the world. There’s also a boarding house, pioneer school and old post office for a glimpse at what life would have been like. The museum is open from 9am to 5pm every day of the year apart from Christmas.
Woodhill and the West Coast beaches
Woodhill Forest is reached by a detour off State Highway 16, but it’s well worth the extra time behind the wheel. Consider it a massive 12,500-hectare outdoor playground that’s as full of beauty as it is of exciting adventures and things to do. It’s one of New Zealand’s favourite mountain biking destinations, with more than 100 kilometres of tracks and jumps to follow, and if you don’t have a bike with you, you can hire one on site. You could also try out a 4WD safari in a Jeep, go horseback riding or take a motorbike on a tour through the forest. Then there’s the massive tree adventure park, where you take a tree-tops course and get the adrenalin going on 18 flying foxes and sky-high ropes courses. If you’ve got a group of people or want to meet others, try out the paintballing arena to settle some old scores and smother each other in paint. Of course, you can also take serene strolls beneath the canopies and check out the local wildlife in this wondrous nature reserve.
Muriwai Beach is a local favourite for Aucklanders, and is a fantastic spot for a walk or a picnic. One of the most special features of this beach is the resident gannet colony that stops by from August to March every year. There are approximately 1,200 pairs that keep nests across the nooks and crannies of the rocks, and it’s an incredible sight as they dart in and out - all somehow without running into one another. The beach is also known for its crashing waves that make for an ideal surfing destination, and even if you don’t surf yourself, it’s always a good show watching those who do. Of course, before you notice the birds or the surfers, you’ll likely notice the colour of the sand. Instead of creamy gold, the sands here are black, a hue caused by the iron content from the same ancient volcanoes that helped shaped the entire region. Bring a picnic, a camera and your walking shoes and make the most of this stunning location.
Finally, your Northland RV itinerary will take you to one of the most popular beaches in New Zealand. Piha is an incredibly wild and windswept place, with more of the black sand that’s common along this west coast and a reality television show, ‘Piha Rescue’, dedicated to capturing some of the most intense moments out on the surf. Surfers flock to these waves despite the sometimes-treacherous conditions, and travellers come from around the country and the world to see the beach, the waves, and the shoreline that makes it so famous. The most iconic landmark here is Lion Rock, a massive landmark that resembles a lion resting on the shore. Here you can take a surf lesson out on the waves, then wait until sunset for an incredible sight to end your Northland tour.
From here, it’s just a short drive back to Auckland, where you can spend a little more time exploring its sights before handing the keys back.
Northland is just one of those New Zealand gems that proves just how much you can see and do in such a small amount of time and such a small corner of the world. In less than 1,200 kilometres, you’ll go from the country’s biggest, busiest city to some of the smallest towns and wildest landscapes. From clashing oceans to gigantic sand dunes, this is one road trip that will stay with you forever.