To be honest, when I first arrived in New Zealand a few months ago (yes, it’s been a few months!), I almost wrote off the northern tip of this beautiful country. I thought I’d focus my sights on mountain ranges of the South Island. Luckily, I had a few extra days before I headed to the South Island so I decided to go to the Bay of Islands and also check out the very top of New Zealand. Even though I didn’t get to explore the entire region, I’m very glad I got a glimpse of it.
Often referred to as the “winterless north”, this part of the country has a subtropical climate. And since this is the warmest part of the country, it’s very busy during the summer months with most people flocking to the warm beaches of the area. Besides its natural wonders, Northland also has a long and important Maori history – the first Maori canoe landed in Northland. This is also where the first European settlers arrived. Hence, Northland is known as the birthplace of New Zealand.
Although Northland is unquestionably a big region and there are a lot of sights and activities to do here, these are the five highlights I believe you must not miss:
While Cape Reinga is not the northernmost point of New Zealand, this is where the road ends (North Cape is further north, but not it’s not open to the public). Here, you’ll see the spectacular meeting of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. For the Maori, this is the most significant spiritual place in the country. According to the Maori mythology, Cape Reinga is the “place of leaping”; it is where the spirits of the deceased begin their final journey of descending into the underworld (reinga).
Ninety Mile Beach
This stretch of surreal beach sure feels endless. Yes, this beach is an official highway. No, it’s not really 90 miles long; it’s actually only 60 miles long. On one side, you’ll see continuous barren sand dunes and on the other you’re faced with the wide-open Tasman Sea. Unless you’re driving a 4WD vehicle, it’s advisable to visit this beach with a guided tour company, or you run the risk of getting stuck on soft wet sand (car rental companies also won’t allow you to drive on the sand).
Sandboarding the Dunes
Speaking of sand dunes, not too far from the Ninety Mile Beach is the Te Paki Stream Sand Dunes. Here, you’ll feel like you’re not even in New Zealand but in a desert somewhere else. You can easily rent sandboards from one of the stands in the area. Once you’re ready, I’d suggest start at one of the smaller hills until you get used to the speed. The sand is really smooth so you’ll go down really fast. If you go with a tour, they will provide you with sandboards. It can be terrifying at first, but you have to try this! It’s worth the climb and the initial jitters.
Kauri trees are some of the world’s largest and oldest trees and they thrive in this area. It’s so mesmerizing looking up as you go near the bases of these giant trees. Waipoua Forest is the most famous in the area as is it the home of “Tane Mahuta”, the country's largest kauri tree, which is approximately 2,000 years old. Another tree called “Te Matua Ngahere” is believed to be between 2,500 – 3,000 years old. I didn’t get to go to Waipoua Forest on this trip, but instead we visited the Puketi Kauri Forest, which also contains 1,000-year-old kauri trees.
Explore the Bay of Islands
After exploring the Far North, it’s time to head to the Bay of Islands (also part of New Zealand’s Northland). As I’ve posted before, I enjoyed exploring this subtropical paradise. This area alone will keep you busy. Check out my last photo diary to get an idea of what the Bay of Islands is all about.
Don’t forget to explore the Maori culture while you’re in the Bay of Islands. The Treaty of Waitangi, which is New Zealand’s founding document, was signed in the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Here, you can join a guided tour and attend a cultural performance.
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