Heading North in New Zealand: from Bay of Islands to Cape Reinga

Most people have to traverse the whole planet to get to New Zealand. Once they arrive, they don't have much time, so they often head straight to the South Island. I was lucky to be in that country for an undefined period, so I had time to explore deeply and to discover some true gems. Starting with the north of the North Island, with a beautiful road trip from Bay of Islands to Cape Reinga.

Heading North in New Zealand: Itinerary of a road trip from Bay of Islands to Cape Reinga

I got to New Zealand without any plans. At that time, I had just quit my job and my apartment in Paris, it was my first solo trip, the beginning of a long and beautiful adventure. I stayed with the locals and followed their advices on where to go, what to see and what to do in New Zealand -rather than reading a travel guide. During my exploration of Auckland region, people told me to head north and go see the Cape. A few weeks later, I had bought my very first car, and was ready to hit the road.

As the slow traveler that I was, it took me two wonderful weeks to get to Cape Reinga. I took the time to enjoy every minute of the journey, following the coastline, walking on sand dunes and getting lost in gigantic forests.

A road trip in New Zealand Northland :
from Bay of Islands to Cape Reinga

  • Bay of Islands : Paihia & Russell

I remember the first person who told me about the Bay of Islands. She was an Aucklander, her eyes were sparkling. "You simply MUST go there. This region is very... special. You'll see". On the road, I crossed some authentic ranches, gorgeous villas and dreamy beaches. Then I got to Paihia, this quaint little village on the seaside, where everyone is so relaxed, people kayak on the harbor, kids jump from the pier, and live music resonates from the bars. It is unique indeed. 

After a magical stay in Paihia, I took my dear old car on the ferry boat to cross over to Russell, another of Bay of Islands' beautiful little towns. This tiny little village has an incredible charm.

The best way to enjoy the Bay of Islands is to take your time, soak up the atmosphere, get on a boat for the day, take a nap under the trees' shade, get a coffee on a terrace, go fishing, live with the locals... Same story as the Catlins: I got there thinking I would stay 3 to 4 days, to end up staying 10 and having the hardest time leaving this little piece of paradise.

  • the rainbow Falls in kerikeri

After a week by the beach, I decided to go inland, into the bush, for a scenic hike. After an hour among exotic birds and colorful water lilies, there they were. Twenty-seven meters high, the stately Rainbow Falls are stunning. The spot is perfect for a cool swim and a picnic in nature.

Heading North in New Zealand: Itinerary of a road trip from Bay of Islands to Cape Reinga

This country is amazing. The more I get to discover New Zealand, the more I fall in love with it. Am I just being very lucky with the weather, the people I meet, the wildlife and the overall atmosphere or is this place truly extraordinary?

  • Matauri Bay & The Rainbow warrior memorial

Heading north, the road takes me to Matauri Bay, where the shipwreck of the famous Rainbow Warrior has been moved. A lovely walk to the top of a hill brings me to the memorial, where an incredible panoramic view of the surroundings awaits. 

Then the road continues on a ridge, offering breathtaking vistas over the bay. There's no such a thing as a highway here in Northland. EVERY route is scenic. And when you need to stop for a snack or a nap, that's on the beach instead of the usual busy rest stop. Not bad.  

  • St Paul's Rock in whangaroa

During one of my many naps on a beach, I discover reading my friend's notes that there's a scenic hike to do nearby. So I drive to Whangaroa, and challenge myself to run all the way to the top of St Paul's Rock. I don't know what took my breath away -the steep run or the view. Once again, this is just me and the nature. The ocean and the islands, with no sign of human life around. 

Heading North in New Zealand: Itinerary of a road trip from Bay of Islands to Cape Reinga
  • giant te paki Sand Dunes

This is the first time I've got the chance to be lost in a desert of sand dunes. There's only sand, with nothing else in sight. The wind blows the poor vegetation that struggles to survive in this hostile environment. The sand burns my feet. It flies, creating waves of sand. It's spectacular.

Heading North in New Zealand: Itinerary of a road trip from Bay of Islands to Cape Reinga

I can feel I'm almost there, at the tip of the North Island. The wind is so strong, the nature so wild. The locals were right. It would have been a real shame to travel all the way to New Zealand and miss this part of the country.

  • cape reinga and its tiny lighthouse

When you go all the way to Cape Reinga, you expect to see a majestic lighthouse standing there. Something big, impressive, intimidating. I was surprised to see the lighthouse itself is ridiculously small -but it doesn't take anything away from its charm. Anyway, this is not the reason why I drove all the way here. I came to see the nature at its wild state. The Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meeting right before my eyes. 

  • 90 miles beach

Imagine 90 miles of sand stretching along the coastline. A beach where you can drive -if you're not too scared to stay stuck in the sand- for almost an hour. I got there and was alone. No one in sight. Beautiful. 

  • the king kauri tree in waipoua kauri forest

As if I hadn't had my eyes sparkling enough over the last days, I decided to prolonge to journey all the way to Waipoua Kauri Forest before leaving the region. This is where Tane Mahuta -the King Kauri tree- is hiding. This tree is more than 2.000 years old, and measures 51.5m high for 17.7m width! The kind of thing you have to see to believe it's real. It's so gigantic it's barely possible to take a photo!

Heading North in New Zealand: Itinerary of a road trip from Bay of Islands to Cape Reinga

Itinerary of a road trip in New Zealand's Subtropical north

Auckland - Bay of Islands : 230 kms, +/- 3 hours drive
Bay of Islands - Kerikeri : 20 kms, +/- 20 min. drive
Kerikeri - Matauri Bay : 33 kms, +/- 30 min. drive
Matauri Bay - St Paul's Rock : 25 kms, +/- 30 min. drive
St Paul's Rock - Sand Dunes : 155 kms, +/- 2 hours drive
Sand Dunes - Cape Reinga : 20 kms, +/- 20 min. drive
Cape Reinga - 90 Mile Beach : 50 kms, +/- 50 min. drive
90 Mile Beach - Waipoua Forest : 190 kms, 3.5 hours drive

>> Discover the itinerary of my six months roadtrip in New Zealand