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North Island Driving Tours: Bay of Islands to Cape Reinga

Exploring the Far North of New Zealand, from the Bay of Islands to the Top

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Cape Reinga, Far North, New Zealand

Cape Reinga, Far North, New Zealand

Image Courtesy of Malene Holm

The Far North of the North Island of New Zealand is one of the country's most beautiful and remote areas. Many visitors come here to see Ninety Mile Beach and Cape Reinga but there is very much more to the region than that. Here are some of the highlights when traveling north from the Bay of Islands.

The entire route is more than 200 kilometers (130 miles) so allow three hours for the trip, including a rest stop. The trip there and back can be made easily in one day (and in fact there are several sightseeing coach tours that depart daily from Paihia, Kerikeri and Kaitaia).

Kerikeri

Leaving from Paihia in the Bay of Islands, and heading inland, in less than half an hour you will arrive in Kerikeri. This is the last major town of the north and is surrounded by orchards and market gardens. It is a nice little place with some interesting cafes and shops. You might also want to stop to see some of the sights, such as the historic Kemp House and Stone Store (the oldest stone building in New Zealand), the Mission House and Church at nearby Waimate North or the several wineries that have opened in recent years.

Whangaroa Harbour

Whangaroa is noted as a base for gamefishing. There are few houses here and no beaches, but it is an impressive harbor with some interesting rock formations near the entrance.

Mangonui, Coopers Beach, Cable Bay and Taipa

Mangonui Harbor in the site of one of the oldest ports in the country. Today there is a small cluster of shops and cafes and probably the most famous fish and chip restaurant in New Zealand. It is in a magical setting, sitting right out over the water. Apparently one of the recent owners would feed a shark swimming below from the balcony!

Coopers Beach, Cable Bay and Taipa all have stunning coastal beaches. These are part of the sweep of Doubtless Bay which was named by one of Captain Cook's crew when they sailed past in 1769. "Doubtless, a bay", he said and doubtless a bay it is, and a magnificent one at that.

From here the road once again leaves the coast, although a turnoff to the right leads to the other side of Doubtless Bay and the Karikari Peninsula.

Awanui and the Ancient Kauri Kingdom

Fancy walking inside a 45,000 year old kauri tree? This is exactly what you can do at the Ancient Kauri Kingdom at Awanui. As you turn to the right and head north from the Awanui intersection, the Ancient Kauri Kingdom is a short distance along on the right.

The building itself houses a fully-operational kauri mill and woodworking shop. There is also a gallery, gift shop and nice cafe. The highlight however is a huge 50 tonne chunk of kauri tree that has a staircase hollowed out inside it (the log it came from weighed around 140 tonnes). This tree is an example of swamp kauri which were buried in peat swamps in the Far North of New Zealand and have been dated as being around 45,000 years old.

In the gift shop there are many fine pieces of furniture and other items made from swamp kauri available for sale. These include some impressively large pieces of furniture.

Waipapakauri to Houhora

A turnoff to the left 5 kilometers (3 miles) further on leads to the first entrance to Ninety Mile Beach at Waipapakauri. It is possible to drive a vehicle along the length of the beach here, and it is actually an official highway. However, extreme caution is required, especially for two hours on either side of high tide. If you have a rental car, be aware that most rental companies do not allow driving here.

Coach tours enter the beach here and leave near the northern end of the beach at Waitiki Landing. At that spot are the huge white sand dunes of Te Paki. Here you can hire a board and have a bit of fun 'surfing' the dunes.

Apart from the beach route, the main road continues north through some tiny settlements before arriving at Pukenui and Houhora. These are the last stops for shops before Cape Reinga, with a cafe, liquor shop and small supermarket. The road here adjoins the lovely Houhora Harbor.

Cape Reinga

The final leg from Houhora to Cape Reinga is another 67 kilometers/41 miles and it is through some of the most eerily beautiful landscape in New Zealand. The road is quite winding in parts and the final stretch has only recently been sealed.

At Cape Reinga itself there is a lighthouse, the view from which is especially memorable. The churning waters where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet are clearly seen alongside some beautiful beaches.

Retracing the route, if you are not intending on returning to the Bay of Islands, a nice alternative is to return south on the western side of the island, via Kaitaia and Dargaville.

For anyone exploring the Northland region, the trip to Cape Reinga is a must.

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