Road Trip Guide – Northland, New Zealand

Friday, June 28th, 2019

Read about 'Road Trip Guide – Northland, New Zealand' on USAVE, the place for all things car rental.

Northland is the warmest region in New Zealand and one of the best places to plan an unforgettable road trip from Auckland. While most people hit the road with getting to the destination in mind, when touring Northland it’s all about enjoying the journey.

Slow it up a little, take your time, venture off the beaten track a bit – make it up as you go. There are dozens of small towns, bays, beaches and forest parks to explore. Sub-tropical temperatures in summer and extremely mild winters mean travelling through Northland is popular for visitors all year round.

1. Auckland To Whangaparoa Peninsula

40 minutes’ drive, 38 km

The Auckland to Whangarei leg of the trip is all about getting away from the city vibe and relaxing into the road trip. Taking State Highway 1 North from Auckland you follow the coast for a while, passing through Albany, for a beautiful little detour take the turnoff at Silverdale and head out around the Whangaparoa Peninsula.

Right out at the end of the Peninsula is the Shakespear Regional Park, a great little place to stop for a picnic lunch or to stretch the legs. There is even a little camp ground and a YMCA Lodge next to the beach if you want to stay a little longer. Don’t miss the Waterfall Gully Park walk while you are in the area.


  • Shakespear Regional Park. Explore the Shakespear Regional Park on foot and see rolling farmland and animals along with stunning views of the Hauranki Gulf, you can even stay the night at the local campground.
  • Waterfall Gully Walk. Stop by the area known as Waterfall Gully, entrance just off Whangaparaoa Road, and enjoy a stroll through the predator free bird sanctuary, don’t expect too much of the waterfall in the summer months as sometimes it is reduced to more of a trickle, but the walk is a lovely one nonetheless and a good way to stretch the legs.
  • Shakespeare Beach. Spend some time in the sand, soak up the sun or take a dip in the refreshing waters at Shakespeare Beach. Public toilets are available.
  • Te Haruhi Bay. Home to Shakespeare Beach and the Te Haruhi Bay camping ground.
  • Army Bay And The Pillbox Historic Landmark. Located over on the northern side of the Peninsula, the Pillbox structure and Army bay are near the Waterfall Gully walk.
  • The Whangaparaoa Golf Club. Feel like a round of golf? Then seek out the Whangaparoa Golf Club on Whangaparoa Road, in Army Bay.
  • Gulf Harbour Marina. Filled with beautiful boats and yachts, take a stroll along the waterfront and enjoy the views.
  • The Good Home Pub In Stanmore Bay. For the best Steak Pot Pie!

Whangaparoa Peninsula

2. Whangaparoa Peninsula To Goat Island Marine Reserve

1 hour drive, 60 km

Hitting the road again lets head further north along State Highway 1 keep an eye out for the small township of Warkworth. It’s time for another scenic detour – take the Matakana Road out through Matakana and choose to explore the inlets and bays around Little Omaha Bay or carry on travelling along Leigh Road towards the Goat Island Reserve.

The Goat Island Marine Reserve is known for its abundant sea life and beautiful clear waters. Kayaks, wetsuits and snorkel gear are available for hire at the beach, along with booking a seat on the famous Glass Bottom Boat Tours. Diving is extremely popular here along with fishing charters.


  • Glass Bottom Boat Tour. Explore the underwater world of the Goat Island Marine Reserve on a glass bottom boat tour. Tours are 45 minutes in duration and dependent on weather and sea conditions.
  • Goat Island Marine Discovery Centre. Open 10am to 4pm 7 days during December, January, February, March and April the Marine Discovery Centre is a great place to take the kids and offers a wealth of information about the marine environment.
  • Hauraki Gulf Lookout. Take a drive up Cape Rodney Road to the Hauraki Gulf Lookout to see stunning views out over the Hauraki Gulf including Great Barrier Island and Little Barrier Island.
  • Goat Island Camping And Accommodation. For friendly affordable camping with great views! Snorkeling gear is available for hire.
  • Fishing Off The Wharf At Leigh. Grab a rod and take the kids fishing off the main wharf at Leigh – great family fun.
  • Diving And Snorkeling. Guided dive tours and dive training along with snorkel tours and gear hire with the team at Goat Island Dive and Snorkel – what are you waiting for?
  • The Leigh Coastal Walkway. Take this short walk along the waterfront at the township of Leigh for a chance to stretch the legs and get some fresh air.
  • Clear Kayaking At Goat Island Reserve. Paddle through the clear waters of the Reserve on a clear kayak for the best up close views of the sea life right underneath you. 

3. Goat Island Marine Reserve To Whangarei

1 hour 45 minute drive, 114 km

After a wonderful afternoon of ocean exploration at Goat Island it’s time to get back on the road and get to Whangarei for the evening. As Northland’s largest town you will find a good selection of restaurants, accommodation, shops and nearby things to do.


  • Abby Caves. The Abby Caves are the perfect place for a bit of fun and exploration and entry is free! There are three caves altogether to discover, the Organ Cave, the Middle Cave and the Ivy Cave. Please take care and be well prepared when entering the caves, you will need a torch/flashlight, warm clothing and sturdy footwear.
  • Whangarei Falls. If you’re more into wildlife and nature, the Whangarei district offers a number of unique ecosystems with fascinating plant, fish and bird life. Whether it’s through the forests or along the beach, there are many stunning walks that reward you with breath taking views one of which is the beautiful Whangarei Falls.
  • Poor Knights Island Diving. One of the big drawcards to Whangarei is the chance to dive the shipwrecks off the Tutukaka Coast. Local company Dive! Tutukaka offer a good variety of dive trips Poor Knights Island including diving the HMNZS Tui and HMNZS Waikato (Both deep dives – experience is necessary).
  • Adventure Forest. Whangarei’s own tree top adventure park. Take on the challenge and conquer the high ropes course!
  • Kiwi North. Museum, Kiwi House and Heritage Park located at.500 State Highway 14. See New Zealand’s iconic Kiwi bird and other interesting wildlife.
  • Heads Up Adventure Park. For monster scooter rides, mountain biking and paintball.
  • Kauri Creations. For the perfect souvenir made from repurposed Ancient Swamp Kauri.

Whangarei Harbour

4. Whangarei To Paihia

1 hour drive, 70 km

This next part of your epic Northland Road trip is just a short drive which is good because there are a lot of things to do while in Paihia. In fact you are probably going to need two days, or more here!

Paihia is the place to be for a day of cultural and historic significance as well as access to the renowned Bay of Islands and its beautiful beaches, bays and water activities. A visit to the Waitangi Treaty grounds is a must along with taking part in a cruise around the bay, or get wet and try swimming with the local dolphins.


  • Scuba Diving And Snorkeling. Paihia Dive are the people to see for personalised diving experiences in Paihia including diving the Rainbow Warrior wreck and the HMNZS Canterbury.
  • Barefoot Sailing Adventures. Jump on board for a sailing trip you’ll never forget with Barefoot Sailing Adventures. Private charters available along with twilight trips and day tours.
  • Kayaking. Get out on the water with a kayak from team at Coastal Kayakers with half, full or multi day sea kayak tours.
  • Mountain Biking. Head on over to the Waitangi Mountain Bike Park for some of the best mountain biking terrain in Paihia.
  • Urupukapuka Island. Stay overnight or just visit for the day, Urupukapuka Island is the largest Island in the Bay of Islands and very popular with tourists and visitors to the famous Hole in the Rock.
  • Rainbow Falls. Just a short walk from the Rainbow Falls Road, the 27 metre high falls are a great spot for a picnic or just to get some fresh air.
  • The Old Packhouse Market. The Bay of Islands largest fresh, local produce market open every Saturday and Sunday.

Whangarei Falls

5. Paihia To Doubtless Bay

1 hour 30 minutes, 110 km

The final leg it quite a long drive so make sure you fuel up both yourself and the car before hitting the road for this one as there aren’t many shops along the way. The drive from Paihia starts out by heading inland for a bit where you have two choices – taking SH1 on the more direct route or sticking with SH 10 and taking a more coastal route.

Taking the State Highway 10 route allows you to explore the remote beaches of Doubtless Bay and the Karikari Peninsula. Matai Bay and Waikato Bay are just beautiful for swimming and snorkeling if you have the time; there is even a basic campsite suitable for tents and campervans.


  • Matai Bay Campsite. Stay a while and soak up the remote and beautiful surroundings in Matai Bay. Toilets available, suitable for tents, caravans and campervans, booking in advance is not necessary however in the busy season it is advised to avoid disappointment..
  • Matai Bay. Nestled deep in the Karikari Peninsula, Matai Bay is one of those secluded and remote spots that you just have to visit – but be careful you may never want to leave!
  • Waikato Bay. Right next door to Matai Bay, Waikato bay is just as beautiful!
  • Waipapa Bay. Right at the tip of the Karikari Peninsula you will find Waipapa Bay. It really is a hidden paradise and will leave you with that world away from anywhere feel.
  • Whatuwhiwhi TOP 10 Holiday Park. Easy affordable accommodation in Doubtless Bay. Choose from cabins, chalets, motel units and tent sites.
  • Tokerau Beach Motor Camp. Nestled near the northern end of Tokerau Beach on the Karikari Peninsula, the Tokerau Beach Motor Camp is literally right on the beach front and is just the perfect place for the whole family to relax and unwind.
  • Reef Lodge Motel. Boutique beach front accommodation, safe swimming and picturesque vistas – what more could you want?

Paihia Wharf

6. Doubtless Bay To Cape Reinga And 90 Mile Beach

1 hour 45 minutes, 130 km

Although 90 Mile Beach is officially a New Zealand road, it is really only suitable for driving on at certain times coinciding with specific tidal variations and for 4WD vehicles only. If you are driving a rental vehicle it is usually counted as one of the places you are not allowed to drive in New Zealand so do check this with your car rental company before setting out.

5 Best Tours Of 90 Mile Beach

Cape Reinga, the most northern point in New Zealand is your ultimate destination here, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the ride! Choose to make the drive on your own or there are plenty of day tours to help make the trip easier – here are 5 of the best tours of the 90 Mile Beach area up to Cape Reinga.

  1. Great Sights Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach Day Tour
  2. Dune Rider Unique Tours
  3. Intercity Cape Reinga & 90 Mile Beach Tour
  4. Harrison’s Cape Runner 4×4 Tours
  5. Sand Safaris Cape Reinga 90 Mile Beach Tours


Take to the water, slide down the sand dunes or get in some fishing – however you choose to spend it your time at 90 Mile Beach will be one of your most treasured moments of your Northland  road trip.

  • The Aupouri Forest. Providing a rugged backdrop to the windswept sands of 90 Mile Beach, the Aupouri Forest is the perfect green escape from the hot sun.
  • Fishing. Surfcasting right off the beach is a great option, or look into surfing charters or day trips. If you are around during March keep an eye out for the Snapper Bonanza 5 day Fishing Competition – there is some serious prize money to be one for the largest Snapper.  
  • Surfing. Said to have one of the world’s best left hand breaks, 90 Mile Beach is always popular with surfers. Shipwreck Bay at the very beginning of the beach is the best place to start.
  • Sand Boarding. At the far end of 90 Mile Beach you can grab the chance to take to the giant sand dunes on body boards and do a spot of sand surfing with the team at Ahikaa Adventures. Sand boards are available for hire at $15 each.
  • Beach Tours. There are plenty of 90 Mile Beach tours available to choose form see above for our top 5 and take to the sand dunes and along Ninety Mile Beach in air conditioned comfort – with plenty of fun and interesting stops along the way! These are the best way to safely enjoy the drive up the 90 mile Beach Road.
  • Horse Riding. Enjoy 1 or 2 hour horse riding adventures up 90 mile Beach with the team at Ahipara Horse Treks.
  • Eco Kayak Tours. The team at Ahikaa Adventures are the people to see for this unique take on a guided tour. Immerse yourself in the local history, cultural significance and conservational aspects of the area while enjoying guided kayak and fishing tours.

90 Mile Beach

7. Cape Reinga To Kaitaia

1 hour 30 minutes drive, 110 km

After your epic trip up to New Zealand’s northern most point it’s time to refresh, revive and refuel and Kaitaia is the perfect place to do it. Now is the time to find that perfect little Bed and Breakfast or boutique Motel for some pampering – and to wash all the sound off from your sand boarding adventures!


  • Gumdiggers Park. Learn about the history of the ancient buried Kauri trees and the historic practice of ‘gumdigging’ that sustained many early settlers to the area over a hundred years ago. Don’t miss Gumdiggers Park as you make you way back to Kaitaia, turn off at Kaimaumau Road just after Waiharara, then take the first right onto Heath Road.
  • ASURE Wayfarer Motel. A lovely motel offering comfortable reasonably priced rooms, outdoor pool and free WiFi.
  • Fern Ridge Hideaway. The perfect retreat for couples, Fern Ridge is just 15 minutes south of Kaitaia and set among beautiful native forest – peaceful and quiet.
  • Te Ahu Centre. Museum, cafe, cinema and information centre all in one, worth a visit if you are interested in learning about the region or just want to find out what to do while in Kaitaia.
  • Kaitaia Walkway. Feel like a walk? Then get your outdoor gear on and enjoy a stroll through the native forest of Kaitaia including its famous Kauri trees on the Kaitaia Walkway.

Cape Reinga Lighthouse

8. Kaitaia To Dargaville

2 hours 30 minutes’ drive, 160 km

Dargaville is a great little example of Northland’s welcoming atmosphere and hospitality. Like many smaller New Zealand towns Dargaville is home to local artisans and foodies, so you can enjoy a spot of culture and great dining options while you are here or head down main Street for a sprinkling of cafes and grab a hearty breakfast and fuel up for the day’s activities.


  • Dargaville Museum. See an authentic Maori Waka, replica gumdiggers camp, shipwreck relics and the mast of the famous Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior ship at the Dargaville Museum.
  • Dargaville Rail & River Tours. See the historic Northern Wairoa River railway lines of Dargaville in a self-drive rail converted golf cart with Dargaville Rail & River Tours. Rail Carting tour prices range from $80 to $180.
  • The Kumara Box. Tour a local kumara farm with your host ‘Ernie the kumara king’ and enjoy an afternoon of fun and laughs as well as some home baking and a ride on the “kumara train”.

9. Dargaville To Auckland

2 hours 45 minutes, 190 km

From Dargaville it’s a reasonable drive back to Auckland after you epic tour of Northland. We recommend taking the more scenic State Highway 16 (turnoff at Wellsford) instead of returning via the same route taken on the way up. This means a welcome change of scenery but also the chance to explore the Woodhill Forest and Riverhead Forest areas if you wish.

Take it slow and drive safe as you wind down and make your way back to Auckland – traffic flow can reduce as you near the City depending on the time of day.

Auckland Car Rental Options

Getting around Northland and the top of the North Island is easy with a rental car and there are plenty of options for you to choose from. 

USAVE has a range of affordable hire car options, allowing you to explore the region’s beautiful beaches and charming towns at your leisure. You can pick up a vehicle from either our Auckland City Car Rental branch or our Auckland Airport Car Rental branch. 

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