Auckland to Auckland via Northland
Auckland to Auckland
Est Driving Time3-7 days
Just pick up a motorhome rental from Auckland, get our New Zealand driving guide into your brain, and you're on your way. #LetsGoMotorhome!
Leg 1 Auckland to Karikari Peninsula
Est Driving Time5 hrs, 30 mins
Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city, home to a quarter of the country’s population and known for its boat-filled harbour. When you hire a motorhome from Auckland you’ll need at least a few days in the city to take a good look around before heading away. The iconic Sky Tower is a must-see, a 328-metre skyscraper which stands out on the Auckland skyline and offers panoramic 360-degree views from its viewing platform. You can even book in for a tour where you get strapped into a harness and take a stroll around the outside of the building - 192 metres above the ground. From there, wander down to the waterfront, where you can easily spend an afternoon admiring the boats, enjoying snacks and meals at the cafes and restaurants, and watching the endless activity of this busy port. If you like the look of the bridge - walk it. It’s not open to pedestrian access, but you can take a guided tour of the Auckland Harbour Bridge with the bridge climb, which gets you walking underneath and on top of this busy road for incredible views and a history lesson on Auckland and this bridge. Take a short drive along the coastline to Mission Bay, where you can relax on a beach with Kiwi favourite fish’n’chips and an ice cream. Remember that if you encounter rainy weather while you’re in town, you can always save these activities for the end of the trip!
The Puhoi Valley Cafe & Cheese Store is one of those hidden gems just out of Auckland that once you know about it, you’ll never pass by it without stopping ever again. To get there, you’ll have to take a quick detour off the main route north, driving through the tiny town of Puhoi and on to this cafe along Ahuroa Road. If you’ve spent much time in New Zealand, you’ll already know about the multi-award-winning Puhoi Valley brand, a name synonymous with decadent cheeses, ice creams and yoghurts. At the cafe & cheese store, you’ll get to taste more of these delicious treats, and enjoy a fantastic brunch or lunch on the sun-drenched patio by the river. The meals as just as good as the dairy produce, and you can walk away loaded up with more cheeses and snacks for the rest of your trip.
Get back on State Highway 1 heading north to make your way to Whangarei, a quirky northern town with a number of quintessentially Kiwi attractions. The Claphams Clock Museum is one such stop, and it’s where you’ll realise that clocks are actually pretty fascinating. This collection is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, and it holds a history of all forms of time-keepers from sand and water clocks to the most bizarre and fantastic designs you’ve ever seen. The Quarry Gardens are also worth a look, as they have the unique history of being planted across a swathe of old quarry land. And of course, one of the city’s most popular attractions is the Whangarei Falls, a 26-metre high cascade that’s surrounded by lush forestland, walking tracks and picnic areas.
Continue further north until you come to the coastal towns of Paihia and Waitangi. The Haruru Falls are one of the region’s big scenic spots, as even though they aren’t high, they are impressively wide and make for a great stop along the way. The real reason to visit Waitangi in particular is due to its huge importance in New Zealand’s history. This is where, on February 6 1840, more than 500 Maori chiefs signed an agreement with the British Crown that would help found the New Zealand that exists today. In fact, the event is still marked by an annual public holiday on February 6. When you visit this small township, you can spend time on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds learning about the history of the document and those who signed it. The grounds include 18.5 hectares of gorgeous scenery with boardwalk tracks to lead the way, as well as a new Museum of Waitangi, gift shop and cafe.
Kerikeri, just off the main highway north, is your last little stop before reaching the Karikari Peninsula. The Kerikeri Mission Station is an enchanting and historic place just out of the town centre, and is home to two of the country’s oldest surviving buildings. Kemp House is the country’s oldest building, while the Stone Store next door is almost as old. You can tour Kemp House and drop in at the store, which has been operating as a general store for more than 100 years. The station itself was established in 1819 and was one of the first places in the country where European settlers were invited to live amongst the local Maori population. Another popular spot in this northern town is Rainbow Falls, just a 400-metre walk from the carpark. These stunning falls are yet another example of New Zealand’s effortless beauty, and they’re surrounded by birds such as tui and fantails, as well as native trees such as totara, manuka and puriri. And before you leave Kerikeri, take a stroll around the Manginangina Kauri Walk, a quick 350-metre boardwalk that follows a route beneath the towering kauri trees - some of which are almost 50 metres in height!
Leg 2 Karikari Peninsula to Waipoua Kauri Forest
Est Driving Time6 hrs, 30 mins
It might not have taken long to reach the Karikari Peninsula, but you could easily spend a couple of days here. The area is known for its stretches of white sand that make you feel as though you’ve stepped off mainland New Zealand and onto a tropical island paradise. As well as untouched beaches, there are a number of walking tracks here such as 1.5-hour Maitai Bay Headland Track and the 3-hour Fig Tree Track. No matter where you walk, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous views warm water for swimming in. While you’re here, keep an eye out for the rare banded rail, Australasian bittern and dotterel, all species of coastal birds. And for vino lovers, make a stop at the country’s most northern winery at Karikari Estate, where you can enjoy a wine tasting, lunch at the cafe, and unbeatable views of the surrounding farmland.
After the peninsula, head north - and don’t stop driving until you run out of road. Cape Reinga is New Zealand’s northernmost point on the mainland, and it’s one that’s an iconic destination for both Kiwis and visitors alike. You’ll park your motorhome and take a short walk along a scenic pathway right to the very top of the country, where you’ll snap photos with the small lighthouse and direction signs, then stand and watch as two oceans meet before you. The Pacific Ocean (on your right) and the Tasman Sea (to your left) visibly meet in a swirl of colours and currents. Here is also where you will find an extremely historically and culturally significant pohutukawa tree, which is believed to be more than 800 years old. Legend has it that this is where the spirits of Maori leave the mainland and head back out to see to seek out Hawaiki - their ancestral homeland. As you stand and watch the waves crash in front of you, you’ll see why it came to be such as meaningful location. This site receives more than 150,000 visitors each year, so aim for an early morning or late evening visit to avoid the crowds.
Don’t worry - the incredible sights aren’t over yet. When you get back on the road and drive south, it won’t be long before you reach Giant Te Paki - the mammoth sand dunes at the top of Northland. They will make you feel like you’re in a great desert, as these epic dunes are seemingly endless. You can simply walk and wander up and over the dunes, or for a little more exhilaration, hire a boogie board and cruise down these natural slides at a breath-taking pace. This is a perfect experience for kids and grown up kids alike, so be sure to bring your sunscreen, camera and a packed lunch for a picnic in one of New Zealand’s most surreal landscapes.
Ninety Mile Beach
Next stop: Ninety Mile Beach (which is actually just 55 miles long). Even though the name is a touch misleading, this beach is still one of the most stunning and famous in New Zealand. Technically speaking, the beach is actually a highway, as the sand is so soft and straight that you can easily drive down it in a 4WD - and many locals do. However, note that you will not be allowed to drive your New Zealand motorhome rental along the sand due to rental conditions, so if you want to try this experience you’ll be best off taking a tour. Otherwise, you can simply pull into a carpark just about anywhere along the 55 miles (there are a number of signposts) and walk a couple of minutes to the beach. Be wary of the tour buses that barrel down the sands at speed, and see if you can make it there for a spectacular sunset. It’s a great swimming spot when the water is warm, and there is a five-day fishing competition held here in summer every year as anglers try to catch the biggest snapper around.
Back in Kaitaia, you’ll have a chance to restock supplies, as this is the first town you’ll have come by since your drive up the peninsula. Take the chance to grab an ice cream and wander around this small town before driving the campervan down to your next stop at the Waipoua Kauri Forest.
Leg 3 Waipoua Kauri Forest to Auckland
Est Driving Time7 hrs
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.
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