The pace of life slows down considerably once you escape the Auckland rat race. Venture up to the Far North of the North Island of New Zealand and you will discover a side of State Highway 1 that you’ve not seen before i.e. the side with no cars for miles.
No travel to New Zealand is complete without a visit to its most northerly point. On the way, stop at Brick Bay Wines on your way north for a vino and some art appreciation. Discover New Zealand’s best fish and chips at Mangonui Fish Shop in Doubtless Bay. And embrace the weird and wonderful at Clapham’s Clock Museum in Whangarei.
Day One: Auckland to Cape Reinga
From Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, it’s an approximate drive time of five hours to reach the Cape Reinga lighthouse at the tip of the North Island. However, there’s no need to drive it non-stop. Arm yourself with a New Zealand travel map, and you’ll discover plenty of places to stop along the way.
Take a detour to Brick Bay Wines for some lunch, wine tasting, or both. The Brick Bay Vineyard is part of the Matakana Wine Trail. Wine trails are popular additions to many New Zealand tours. After lunch, take a walk of the grounds to view the 40+ sculptures on display. If you’ve had wine, you’ll no doubt come up with some imaginative interpretations of your own.
If you have a choice, choose to make the drive to the Far North on a Sunday. Not only will you miss all the road works, the lengthy delays of which are the bane of weekday driving north of Auckland, but you might just find that once you reach Cape Reinga, you’ll have it all to yourself
Arrive around five p.m. and there won’t be a single tour bus in sight which is no mean feat. Cape Reinga is included on most tours of New Zealand.
Don’t forget to pick up some fish and chips for dinner from the Waitiki Pub, the first pit stop after you leave the Cape. If you can resist the tantalizing smell in the car, drive to the beach at Henderson Bay and enjoy your fish and chips on the beach or on the bonnet of the car. Fish and chips are a favorite kiwi food, and are considered a must-try amongst many sources of New Zealand travel information.
Accommodation options are limited this far north. Pukenui has a motel and Henderson Bay has some bed and breakfast options and a backpackers. Stay at the White Sands accommodation at Henderson Bay, which is only a five-minute stroll from one of the many gorgeous east coast beaches in the Far North.
Day Two: Henderson Bay to the Bay of Islands
As you head back towards Kaitaia, the main town in the Far North, notice the huge blackened piles of twisted and burned remnants of old trees. 45,000 years ago, this area was covered in Kauri forest, all of which has since been cleared to make way for farmland. Farmers often uncover the remains of these ancient giants of the forest when they are digging new structures.
Stop in at the Gumdiggers Buried Forest to find out more about the logging and gum digging history of the area. And you can’t drive past the Ancient Kauri Kingdom without stopping to climb the internal staircase carved into the largest intact kauri trunk ever unearthed. It’s spectacular. The chocolate brownie at the café isn’t bad either.
Pass through Kaitaia on your way to Ahipara, a small beachside settlement at the start of New Zealand’s picturesque Ninety Mile Beach. The surf doesn’t reach past your knees so it’s a great place to snorkel around the rocks or take the kids boogie boarding. Visit midweek in late February and you’ll have the beach largely to yourself.
Leave the west coast behind and head east towards the heart of the scenic Bay of Islands. Don’t forget to stop at Mangonui Fish Shop in Doubtless Bay for a taste of New Zealand’s best fish and chips. They also do a wicked raw fish dish if you’re a fan of Fijian Kokoda or Pacific Island-style raw fish. Wash both dishes down with a shandy from the licensed bar whilst you ogle the gorgeous view of the harbour.
Continue on to Paihia and stay at the Copthorne, the largest hotel in the area. For something more boutique-style and on the main strip, try the Waterfront Suites managed by Heritage. Pop along to Kava for dinner. With a sophisticated Pacific-style menu unequalled anywhere in New Zealand, you’ll feel right at home in this family owned and operated restaurant.
Day Three: Paihia to Auckland
Paihia is a popular stop amongst visitors on New Zealand tours. So before you leave Paihia, don’t forget to peruse the stores for the artsy and crafty type jewelry produced in the local area. You won’t find the same back in Auckland.
Stop in at the marina side tourist development in Whangarei for lunch and some quick shopping. If you feel like something a little different, visit the Clapham’s Clock Museum to peruse the largest clock collection in the southern hemisphere. There is cuckoo through to plain quirky.
If you are looking for more New Zealand travel information or in case you are thinking of extending your mini stay or looking for other activities in the area, there is an I-Site Visitors Centre next door.
Far North Mini Break in New Zealand
For those planning travel to New Zealand or contemplating doing tours of New Zealand, a visit to the Far North shouldn’t be left off of the itinerary. If you’re a local and you’ve not been to the Far North of New Zealand, arm yourself with a New Zealand travel map and consider a visit well overdue. You’ll find the people more laid back and the food and wine, as delectable as ever. Feel time slow down the further north you go. Enjoy the history and the beaches that you’ll often have all to yourself.