New Zealand: Our TOP TEN summer highlights.

Why New Zealand?

NZ’s our home country!  We could write for days about it, with potential for family adventure WHEREVER you are in New Zealand… 
Here’s our TOP TEN from this summer:
  1. Cape Reinga and the far far North
  2. Te Rāwhiti and the back roads of Russell
  3. Tāne Mahuta and the North West Coast
  4. Bay of Islands
  5. Waitangi Treaty Grounds
  6. Paihia/Ōpua/Haruru bush walks
  7. Russell
  8. Kerikeri
  9. Ngāwha Hot Springs
  10. Waikato: Te Waihou Walkway

Cape Reinga and the far far North…

Cape Reinga is geographically the most northern point of the north island of New Zealand; 100km north of the nearest town of Kaitaia. At the cape you can see the spectacular swirl of ocean currents where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. As you look down the coastline you can see a gnarled, old pohutukawa tree, believed to be over 800 years old. This tree holds particular significance to Maori, as according to legend, the spirits of their deceased descend from this tree into the ocean to return to their ancestral homeland of Hawaiki.

There are two ways to get right up to the Cape: by bus with a tour company, or with a rental car. We would recommend hiring a car, because there are a lot of spots that are worth more than a short stop as you make your way north. We spent two full days road tripping in the Far North, starting with a morning stop at the small fishing town of Mangonui to stock up for the road…

  • Fish bait ✔️ 
  • Jandals ✔️ 
  • Sandwich bread ✔️ 
  • Crisps (for sandwiches) ✔️

Mangonui Four Square; an iconic NZ supermarket, and this one juts out over the sea!

We drove ALL over both coasts of Northland, but found Henderson Bay on the East Coast topped it off as the most beautiful for a spot we had never been before! 

The boys (all three) headed straight for the water… following the locals out onto the rocky rises just past the shore line, where the waves were breaking gently and the water was so incredibly clear!

Fresh kina (sea urchin) eaten on the beach, given to us by some local fishermen at Henderson Bay.

If the timing works out for fish and chips at the famous Mangonui Fish Shop, then you are in luck!


Te Rāwhiti and the back roads of Russell

The Old Russell Road (land access before the car ferry was put in at Opua) winds out to the Rawhiti Peninsula, about an hours drive from Russell township. We spent the day raodtripping and completed an entire loop from Opua to Russell and Rawhiti, and right down the coast to Oakura and Whangarei.

The old roads are gravel, and windy, but make up for it with secluded beach spots and stunning scenic tastes of Northland.

Stopped for an ice cream in Oakura.

Tāne Mahuta and the North West Coast

Visit New Zealand’s largest living kauri tree, Tāne Mahuta, also called Lord of the Forest. This majestic tree towers over 50m tall, creating an impressive rooftop canopy in the Waipoua Forest, about 30 minutes drive south of Opononi.

Tāne is named after the Maori forest god and, in the myth, broke apart the embrace of Ranginui, the “sky father” and Papatūānuku, the “Earth mother,” allowing the space and light for life to flourish.

Opononi and Omapere are dual beach settlements overlooking the Hokianga Harbour and impressive sand dunes, with Opononi renowned for the famous ‘friendly dolphin’, Opo, who made the harbour his home in the 1950’s.

A compulsory ice cream stop on Opononi Wharf

 Rawene is New Zealand’s third oldest town – at first it was a timber centre, before a mill and shipyards were established in the 1800’s. Now it is a sunny little town on the south side of the Hokianga Harbour and can be reached by road as you head north in a little over an hour from the Bay of Islands.

How cool is the Hokianga Vehicle Ferry as a foot passenger, when you’re a kid?! 😁 [And, as adults for providing such an adventure for $4 return!]. We enjoyed taking a ride over the harbour on foot, parking our car at Rawene until we returned in perfect timing for a beachfront picnic.

Bay of Islands

We are (admittedly) bias, because this is home for us(!). If you come to the Bay of Islands then definitely grab the opportunity to get out on the water!

The Bay is made up of 144 islands (with sights such as the beautiful lagoons of Robertson Island below) and is the ultimate marine playground; perfect for swimming, boating, fishing, diving and kayaking.


Waitangi Treaty Grounds

The Bay of Islands is regarded as the ‘birthplace of New Zealand’, and a visit to Waitangi offers visitors the opportunity to learn about the the history of early European settlement and Maori culture; a must-do on any New Zealand itinerary. The historic Treaty of Waitangi was signed here in 1840, and is generally considered the founding document of New Zealand as a nation, and a symbol of the coming together of two diverse cultures – Māori and Pākehā.

Carved wake (canoe) paddles on the beach at Waitangi.

At the Treaty Grounds you can visit the beautifully carved Maori meeting house, Te Whare Runanga, and see the largest of Maori war canoes, Ngatokimatawhaorua. We recommend everyone visit the Museum of Waitangi, Te Kōngahu, with exhibits about our national’s history that will interest all ages.


Paihia/Ōpua/Haruru bush walks

This area of Northland is surrounded by pristine bush and stunning coastal walkways, with all kinds of levels and lengths to suit. A few of our favourites are:

Coastal Walkway: Paihia to Opua
START POINT: Paihia
LENGTH: 5.5km
TIME: 2 hours one way

Coastal Walkway Loop: Paihia to Opua to Russell to Paihia
START POINT: Paihia, Opua or any point in between
LENGTH: Approximately 14km total
TIME: 5.5 to 6 hours total

Paihia to Opua: 2 hours (see above).
Opua to Okiato via vehicle ferry
Okiato to Russell: Four stages totalling approximately 3.5 hours. Steep in places.
Russell to Paihia via passenger ferry

We started in Opua and took the car ferry to Okiato as a foot passenger and walked the bush and beach tracks to Russell, before getting the passenger ferry back across the channel to Paihia.

Haruru Falls Walkway
START POINT: Waitangi Treaty Grounds
LENGTH: 6km
TIME: 2.5 hours one way

Oramahoe Forest Track, Opua
START POINT: 5km along Oramahoe Road
LENGTH: 1.5km return
TIME: 30 minutes one way

Washing our shoes before entering the forest at Oramahoe.

Russell

Home to the first of New Zealand’s 19th century whaling ports, Russell (and the smaller port of Okiato) was the site of the country’s first capital. Today it is a beautiful small town to wander on foot; check out the whaling museum, stroll the waterfront promenade, get fish and chips to eat on the beach, or have a beer at the Duke of Marlborough – New Zealand’s first tavern.

Check out Christ Church, built in 1835. This was the first church in the country, oiginally holding services in both English and Māori. You can still see the musket holes from the Battle of Kororareka in 1845.


Kerikeri

Only 30 minutes drive from Paihia; Kerikeri is another historic town of Northland, with the Old Stone Store (NZ’s oldest European building), Rainbow Falls, and Kororipo Pā (an early Māori settlement known for the fearsome Maori chief Hongi Hika, who terrorised many tribes throughout the North Island in the early 1800s).

The Rainbow Falls track is a great option for walking with children, with several options for different track lengths. The full track takes about 1.5 hours to complete the 3.5km path one way, or you can opt for a shorter version at only 20 minutes from the Stone Store basin.


Ngāwha Hot Springs

Have you heard of Ngawha Hot Springs?

It’s a small geothermal area just east of Kaikohe with natural hot springs bubbling from the ground into different mud pools, and known in Northland for their healing properties (*and recognisable aroma!). It’s an awesome experience! Each pool has its own individual spring and so has a different colour, temperature, and name to the next one… 

[We keep going back to ‘Kotahitanga’ and ‘Favourite’ which sit at about 40-41 °C; only Gavin has made it into the ‘Doctor’ at 45 °C!].


Waikato: Te Waihou Walkway

It’s been over a decade of me visiting the Waikato as a Northland girl, but I have just discovered/[been shown!] Te Waihou!

The Blue Springs walk is an easy 4.7km (one way) walk along the Waihou River to the Blue Springs that will take you around 3 hours there and back

We travel the world to see sights like these!

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