When you travel all the way to the Land of the Long White Cloud, you should also go all the way to the tip of the North Island. New Zealand’s Northland, also referred to as the Far North by New Zealanders, is a place of cultural significance, boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in the country with a subtropical climate and lots of sunshine.
Let’s look at some of the places in Northland that should be on your list of must-see Kiwi destinations. Get ready for wild beaches, quaint towns, enchanting Maori legends, endless lush forests filled with Kauri trees and waterfalls, and probably more sheep than people. You might even see an endangered Kiwi in these parts!
Start at the top of the North Island in Cape Reinga, where the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea join, and the Maori believe that deceased spirits of their people jump from an 800-year-old pohutukawa tree (a tree covered in red blossoms referred to as the New Zealand Christmas tree or bush) into the sea to return to Hawaiki, their ancestral home. This spiritual place is as far north as you can travel and is an inspiring place to be.
Visit the lighthouse where the ocean views are spectacular and if you catch the sunrise or sunset, you might crown Cape Reinga your favorite place on earth.
Ninety Mile Beach
Technically the beach is less than 90 miles long, but who is counting when the sandy shores are so gorgeous? You can see waves and sand for as far as the eye can see and perhaps a lone farmer walking his dog or brave surfer with seagulls for company. If you want to explore this remote beach on the western coast, the town of Kaitaia makes a charming base. Fresh mussels and fish from the Kaitaia Fish Shop should not be missed because you’ll be hungry after all that sea air and walking around the beach and its dunes.
Known for its farmer’s market, Kerikeri is the largest town in Northland and a vibrant little place to visit. Rainbow Falls, where you can take a dip in the water hole, is blissfully photogenic. You will find many gorgeous walking tracks through forested areas lined by quaint streams and rivers here and all around Northland.
Step back into the fairly young colonial history of the country by visiting The Kerikeri Mission Station, also called Kemp House. Under the protection of a scary Maori chief, this house built in 1821 for missionaries, to whom he was kind, stands as the oldest surviving European building in the country.
Hokianga Harbour is where the first war canoe landed when Kupe, a Polynesian leader, arrived in New Zealand by using the stars and ocean to guide the waka hourua (large double-hulles oceangoing canoes) from Hawaiki (the original home of Polynesians) to Hokianga. Many people believe taniwha (sea monsters) protect the entrance to the harbor.
Hokianga is a beautiful spot with little settlements like Omapere and Opononi to explore. Enjoy a lunch of fish and chips at a cafe in Rawene, then catch a ferry to the seaside town of Kohukohu where you can see historical buildings from the kauri gum (fossilized resin of the kauri tree used in crafts and jewelry) mining days.
Walk through the scenic Waipoua Forest and see Tane Mahuta, called the God of the Forest, the biggest kauri tree in NZ, with an estimated age of 2,000 years old. Stop to see rare rock formations at Wairere Boulders, a geologic phenomenon created by acidic erosion. The trails are easy to walk and you can kayak the Waipoua River that cuts thru the park.
Heading south, you will discover the town of Dargaville, where you can take a rail and river tour which is run by locals who give you the real low down on farm life in rural NZ. It’s an adventure through farmland and tunnels, over old railway tracks and bridges. Hot cheese scones and tea are part of the package.
Bay of Islands
In 1840 over 500 Maori leaders and British Crown representatives gathered to sign the Treaty of Waitangi. When you visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds’ sacred site, you can see a Maori meeting house, war canoes, carvings, and a traditional haka performance (traditional Maori war dance). You can also view a replica of the treaty (the real one is archived in Wellington). As the most important historical site in New Zealand, understanding the importance of the treaty and the events leading to the treaty reveal so much about the culture of the country.
By spending time in Northland, you gain a perspective on the entire country, while enjoying its warm temperatures, sunshine-filled days, and uniquely quaint small towns. Kiwis enjoy life at a much slower pace. Visiting the Northlands provides time to adjust to this slower pace while learning about the culture and history surrounded by beautiful scenery!