I can’t believe it took me years to finally visit Northland – the most northern region of New Zealand.
Quite possibly as far as I could physically get from where I live in Wanaka and still be in New Zealand, Northland is a wild place that still has managed to stay off the radar. While many tourists go up there to sail the famed Bay of Islands, dive the Poor Knights, drive 90 Mile Beach or tick Cape Reinga, the top of North Island off their bucketlists, I still haven’t done any of that.
Instead I opted to keep it local, hanging out on the Kauri Coast and around Whangarei. On both trips I hid away, opting to hike the coastal forests and get a bit lost in the wilderness. I was really keen to see what made Northland tick.
If one thing stood out to me the most about Northland, and left the best impression, it’d have to be the lushness of it. It’s so green!
Central Otago where I live is dry. We don’t get a lot of rain here. And I shamelessly love rainy days. Northland, however, gets a lot more rain, a subtropical paradise. To me it seemed to be a perfect green rainbow, every shade imaginable.
In fact, sometimes it was so brightly green that it didn’t look real in my photos, like the landscape itself was oversaturated and photoshopped. How can such a place exist?
From wonderful people to great views to stunning coastlines and dense ancient forests filled with some of New Zealand’s best wildlife, Northland to me seemed to be true New Zealand, a place I didn’t know I was missing. And with each visit I leave wanting more and already ready to come back.
While hard to chose, here are some of my favorite spots, walks, views and moments from my trips to Northland (so far…) enjoy!
1. Spend the day walking the Te Whara Track
Living in Wanaka, most of our hikes here are either along the lake or in the mountains. But what I loved about Northland was the sheer variety of tracks. So many of them go along stunning rugged coastline or through ancient forests like I’d never seen before.
Also, humidity, my old friend, I hadn’t missed you. Somethings come along with subtropical climates I suppose.
Just outside of Whangarei is the incredible Whangarei Heads area which weaves out along the coastline and is home to some cute baches, great beaches, and wonderful walks that have epic views, WWII history and go by ancient Māori sites.
In the same area you’ll find the Bream Head Scenic Reserve which is home to some of the same beautiful walks, including the Te Whara Track, which follows an ancient Māori trail from Urquharts Bay to Ocean Beach.
If you’re looking to do a challenging but rewarding hike steeped in history and culture, this one’s for you!
It goes along some of the best coastal forest in Northland and has amazing views dotted along the whole way, making it one of the best day hikes in New Zealand.
2. Join the whanau with Tu Tika Tours for an authentic Māori experience
Northland is a place that is incredibly rich in Māori culture, both ancient and modern, but as a curious outsider like me from rural Virginia, how can you experience it in a respectful and authentic way?
This is a question I’ve been asking myself for years. Through chatting and getting to know NZ Māori Tourism over the years – they’ve helped me finally pursue learnings on my travels that I had been putting off.
If you’re visiting New Zealand and want to learn more about Māori culture and history in a special way, head straight up to Whangarei and book in with Mervyn and Rangimarie of Tu Tika Tours. Locals who are passionate about their culture and want to share their story with others, you join them for a few hours at their home with their family doing all sorts of fun interactive things, and get the perfect introduction to the Māori world.
I don’t want to give too much away just yet but I will say it was really special for me, and really moving and powerful, and it was exactly the kind of shared experience I needed to really get the ball rolling on my own learnings here.
You may arrive as a stranger, but you will leave Aotearoa (New Zealand) as members of the whānau (family).
3. Greet Tāne Mahuta, the Lord of the Forest
Tāne Mahuta, the largest known living kauri tree, is a must-visit on any trip to Northland. He’s estimated to be up to 2,500 years old. Let that sink in for a minute.
A born treehugger, I don’t know how I went so long without meeting this wonder. Tucked away not far off the road in the Waipoua Forest on the Kauri Coast, it’s a short and easy walk to meet this wonder.
Tāne Mahuta means “Lord of the Forest” in Māori. In Māori stories, Tāne is the son of Papatuanuku (Earth Mother) and Ranginui (Sky Father), and split his parents apart, cloaking his mother in the clothing of the forest. Everything that lives in the forest now are considered to be Tāne’s children.
4. Fall in love with glamping
I shamelessly love glamping. Don’t get me wrong, I love camping too, especially when I’m on a big mission hiking in the mountains here.
But there is something equally lovely about fancy camping. The best of both world’s, really, and the Highfield River Retreat on the Kauri Coast in Northland is no exception. This place is delightful!
Tucked away in incredible native forest on a farm in the middle of nowhere you’ll fall asleep listening to the rain tap tap tap on the canvas roof or relax with a book in the outdoor bath as kiwi call in the distance. I could have stayed forever.
5. Dig in with the locals at Stumpys
Ok, so this isn’t really a walk or any way nature related, but Stumpys in Whangarei is a really tasty spot for fish and chips.
Like really good. Recommended by locals. You’re welcome.
6. Soak in the epic views from Mount Manaia
Just outside of Whangarei are some of the best and most accessible walking tracks in all of Northland.
You’ll be rewarded with some of the best views of the surrounding coastline, surrounded by some of the best native bush in the area.
7. Marvel at the views at Whangarei Falls
Just outside of Whangarei are the aptly named Whangarei Falls, an incredible 26 meter waterfall in a beautiful park and scenic reserve with lots of walks and viewpoints.
One thing I love about New Zealand are how many green spaces there are in the cities, and Whangarei was no exception. I was lucky enough to visit here with Tu Tika Tours, making it all the more memorable.
8. Meet kiwi and tuatara at Kiwi North
Northland is one of the few places in New Zealand where you actually have a decent chance of seeing (if not at least hearing) wild kiwi at night, though it will take some skill and dedication on your part.
The Northland Brown Kiwi is one species of kiwi mainly found in Northland, all endangered on in decline, it’s really important to do what we can for these special birds.
If you’re visiting New Zealand, I definitely recommend checking out Kiwi North, a Whangarei museum and heritage park that sits on a big piece of volcanic farmland land and has captive kiwi and tuatara and is a great place to learn about New Zealand’ unique story.
9.Visit the rest of the giants in the Waipoua Forest
Tāne Mahuta isn’t the only giant hanging out in the Waipoua Forest in Northland.
Along with Mataraua and Waima, the Waipoua Forst makes up the biggest area of native forest left in Northland, and it is stunning. The drive through on SH12 weaves its way through these magical trails, and it becomes very obvious when you enter the forest, everything is denser, more gnarled and ancient looking. It’s very powerful and even eerie, especially on a rainy day in winter like on my first visit.
Giant kauri trees, rata and rimu, aer all hidden amongst the other trees, and there are plenty of walks out to see them. Along with Tāne Mahuta there are other notably large kauri trees with paths to them, though it’s really important to be aware of kauri dieback, a disease that’s currently killing the native kauri trees, and to follow the steps about cleaning your boots and not walking on their special roots.
10. Go for a stroll along the Mangawhai Cliffs
Ok guys, saving the best for last.
An hour south of Whangarei, the track begins along the most stunning beach before climbing up and carrying along the cliffs overlooking offshore islands and rugged rocks. What a place! The first time I visited, it poured with rain for the first hour before setting down and I didn’t mind one bit.
That’s the power of tropical Northland!
Have you ever been to Northland? Do you enjoy getting off the beaten path when you travel? Have you done any of these experiences in New Zealand? Share!