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New Zealand Regions: Northland

What to See and Do in Northland, North Island, New Zealand


Cape Reinga, Far North, New Zealand

Cape Reinga, Far North, New Zealand

Image Courtesy of Malene Holm

The area from the north of Auckland to the top of the North Island is one of New Zealand's most popular tourist destinations. With an abundance of some of the country's best beaches it is a paradise for water sports of all kinds. It is also one of New Zealand's most culturally significant areas, and is steeped in both Maori and European history.

Northland Location and Size

Northland extends from just north of Wellsford (an hour north of Auckland) to the northernmost tip of mainland New Zealand. In land area, it is roughly 5 percent of New Zealand's total land mass.

Northland Geography

Northland is unique amongst New Zealand's sixteen regions in that it straddles both the east and west coasts of the country.

The west coast is mainly long and straight beaches that are exposed to the prevailing westerly weather. The east coast is more varied, with numerous beaches and harbors.

Most of the land in Northland was once covered in forest, dominated by the mighty kauri tree. After the forests were cleared in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the land was given over to farming and replanting of the forests in other woods such as pinus radiata. A notable feature of the land in Northland is its steep and rolling hills; this, combined with the dense forests, made it a challenge for the early Europeans who settled here in the 1800s.

Natural Features of Northland

Most visitors come to Northland to experience the east coast beaches, peninsulas and harbors. Inland, however, are magnificent stands of original native kauri forests, the largest in the country.

Northland Major Centers

The most populated area in Northland is Whangarei, with more than 50,000 people. The other main centers are Kerikeri and Paihia in the Bay of Islands. There are only a few other towns of any significant size: Kawakawa, Kaikohe, Kaitaia, Dargaville, Cooper's Beach and Russell.

There is a strong Maori presence in Northland, with a third of the population being of Maori origin.

Read: Best Northland Towns

Northland Climate

As you would expect from its latitude, Northland is the warmest region in New Zealand. With a sub-tropical climate, the summers can often be humid. Rain is common at any time of the year (although more so in the winter) and can occasionally be somewhat stormy in the summer.

While the average summer temperature is a balmy 24 degrees C, winters are cooler but seldom unpleasant. In fact, frosts are very rare and the average daily high temperature is still in the high teens Celsius.

Northland History

Maori occupation of Northland dates back the earliest times of Polynesian migration in about 900 AD. With the arrival of the Europeans, Northland was also an important center, with the major industries being whaling and timber. Due to the abundance of resources and the large Maori population, Northland was until the 1900s an area of significant economic development.

The Bay of Islands has two facts of particular historical significance. Firstly, the town of Russell was the first capital of New Zealand, before the capital city was moved to Auckland in 1841. A year earlier, in 1840, New Zealand's most important document, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in the area that bears its name.

Things to See and Do in Northland

There is a huge range of sights and activities to enjoy in Northland.

Beaches: Swimming, surfing, and fishing are all enjoyed on both coasts.

Diving: There are a number of superb diving spots, including the Poor Knights Marine Reserve and the Rainbow Warrior dive site near Matauri Bay.

Sailing: From Auckland to the Bay of Islands - with its many anchorages, harbors and islands in between - is the most popular stretch of sailing waters in New Zealand.

Historical Sites: The oldest European buildings in New Zealand are in Northland. There are also many battle sites from the Maori wars that are interesting to visit.

Forest Walks and Trails: The finest examples of remaining kauri forest are in Northland. This includes the Waipoua Forest, home to the largest kauri trees in the country.

Wine tasting: Northland has a small but interesting group of wineries and wines.

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