Welcome to Auckland, an exciting and wonderfully diverse city and the major gateway to New Zealand.
Auckland offers loads of activities, attractions, shopping, fine food and wines in a unique natural setting. Built on 48 extinct volcanoes, the city spans two sparkling harbours, and overlooks an aquatic playground of 50 islands known as the Hauraki Gulf.
Renowned as ‘The City of Sails’, it boasts more boats per head of population than any other city in the world, and serves as a host city for the Americas Cup regatta and Round the World yacht races.
The best way to get acquainted with Auckland and view its natural beauty, twin harbours, and extensive parklands is to drive up the prominent volcanic cones, One Tree Hill and Mt Eden. Be sure to visit Parnell’s historic shopping enclave as well as the Auckland Domain and Museum. Take a ferry ride to Devonport or the inner gulf islands. Stroll among the exciting waterfront bars and cafés at the Viaduct Basin or visit the Maritime Museum and Kelly Tarltons Underwater World.
Beyond the city boundaries are endless sightseeing possibilities including the wilderness reserves of Waitakere and Hunua, and the wild, unspoiled beaches of Piha and Muriwai.
Auckland – Dargaville (½ day)
Heading north over the Auckland Harbour Bridge follow the well signposted Twin Coast Discovery Highway. It will take you up the dramatic west coast of Northland, and return via the scenic splendours of the east coast.
Soon after leaving the motorway system you will pass the delightful riverside town of Warkworth on the ‘Hibiscus Coast’. Further north at Brynderwyn turn onto S.H.12 and travel on to another river town, Dargaville, once a thriving kauri timber port and now known for its fine maritime museum. Drive out to Bayly’s Beach to view the restless sea and shifting sands on a 100 km long ocean beach, popular with surf riders and fishermen.
Dargaville – Kaitaia (½ day)
On the road north there is a worthwhile side trip to the sparkling Kaiiwi Lakes – perfect for a swim and picnic lunch. The ‘Kauri Coast’ has a special character that soon comes alive when you see the magnificent one-thousand-year-old trees in the cathedral-like groves of Waipoua Forest. Follow the Kauri Walks Track to view ‘The Four Sisters’ and Te Matua Ngahere. Then drive 2 km north to see Tane Mahuta ‘The Lord of the Forest’. You will be walking in one of the world’s ancient eco-systems.
Be prepared to be overwhelmed by the sight of the Hokianga Harbour at Omapere and the highest sculptured golden sand dunes in the country. If you can resist the temptation to stay in this idyllic haven, then drive on through Opononi (once famous as the home of Opo the friendly dolphin) and on to Rawene to catch the car ferry. Continue on through pleasant rolling hills to the kauri gumfields town of Ahipara and the Far North’s commercial centre, Kaitaia.
Kaitaia – Cape Reinga Return (1 day)
Kaitaia is a good base for adventure activities like 4WD sand dune safaris, swimming, fishing, diving, surfing and land yachting on Ninety Mile Beach. You have the option of driving to Cape Reinga on S.H.1 or taking the coach excursion, which travels along Ninety Mile Beach and up Te Paki Stream before rejoining the road. This is an enjoyable way to journey to the top of New Zealand, and the tour allows time for sledging on sand dunes and exploring the Cape Reinga lighthouse area. Look for the sacred pohutukawa tree where Maori believe the spirits of the dead depart for their homeland ‘Hawaiiki’. Also see and hear the sound and fury of giant foam flecked breakers colliding as the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea merge – a spellbinding sight.
The Far North has a great holiday atmosphere, the people are friendly and there is a liberating sense of space and freedom.
Kaitaia – Paihia (½ day)
Take S.H.10 at Awanui and cross over to the sweeping, golden sand beaches and sheltered coves of the east coast. Seek out precious gems like Matai Bay and Coopers Beach. Sample the freshly caught fish and chips at Mangonui fishing village and view fine examples of local arts and crafts.
Drive to Whangaroa Harbour, a deep sea fishing base, where more sparklingly jewels dot the coastline (Taupo, Tauranga and Matauri Bays). View the Cavalli Islands clustered on a shimmering sea and ask yourself if there is a more beautiful coastal scene in the universe.
Kerikeri is a thriving horticultural centre and home to the historic ‘Old Stone Store’ and Kemp House mission station. Visit Rewi’s Village and also the commanding site of Nga Puhi chief Hongi Hika’s fortified pa, which coexisted with the mission during the turbulent period of the Maori musket wars. Don’t leave Kerikeri without sampling the delicious kiwifruit and sub-tropical fruits. Also worth a visit are the many interesting studios along the art and craft trail.
The Bay of Islands was the cradle of Maori and European civilization in New Zealand and the thriving resort towns of Paihia and Russell have beautiful old buildings and museums that provide a fascinating insight into the early history. Take either the passenger ferry at Paihia or the car ferry at Opua to visit the peaceful and romantic town of Russell, New Zealand’s first capital and one time rambunctious South Pacific base for whaling ships. At Waitangi visit the Treaty House where the important treaty document was signed in 1840.
The Bay of Islands is an aquatic playground where you can sail on a tall ship, speed on an offshore powerboat or cruise on a sleek catamaran to the famous ‘Hole in the Rock’ – a natural archway at Cape Brett. Special cruises offer you the unforgettable experience of swimming with dolphins – the ultimate marine adventure. More accelerated adventure awaits in the form of dive charter boats that will whisk you out to local hot spots or further afield to the stunning Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve or the ‘Rainbow Warrior’ artificial reef. The Bay of Islands is a paradise for recreation, swimming, fishing, playing golf, or simply relaxing and enjoying the Paihia café scene.
Paihia – Whangarei (1 day)
The direct inland route down S.H.1 to Whangarei takes only one hour. However, if time permits take the coastal route from Russell and experience the sheer beauty of this deeply indented coastline.
From Russell down to Helena Bay, where you turn inland to rejoin S.H.1, there are wonderful elevated sea views and short side trips to little gems like Rawhiti, Oakura and Mimiwhangata Bay. At Hikurangi on S.H.1, a sealed back road takes you out to Matapouri Bay and the game fishing port of Tutukaka. Towards the end of the day you may see huge mako sharks or striped marlin being weighed in at the Tutukaka wharf.
Whangarei is Northland’s only city and the gateway to the ‘Winterless North’. The city offers pleasant bush walks on Mt Parahaki and around the Whangarei Falls. You can join a harbour launch cruise at the colourful marina. Many international yachts berth here so you may meet some interesting visitors.
Whangarei – Auckland (1 day)
Driving south on the main highway to Auckland also offers two enticingly beautiful coastline options that can easily extend your journey to a full day.
Auckland CityThe first road runs from Waipu turnoff to the pristine white sand beaches of Waipu Cove, Langs Beach and Mangawai Heads returning to S.H.1 at Wellsford. The second road runs from Wellsford to the dazzling surf beach of Pakiri. Enjoy the sheer exhilaration of galloping a horse through the shallows here, and then drive down to the fishing haven of Leigh for tasty fresh fish and chips. Don’t miss a chance to snorkel in the magical Goat Island Marine Reserve – it’s not every day you can swim with tame snapper and inquisitive crayfish (lobsters).
Rejoining S.H.1 at Warkworth there are still more wide sweeping surf beaches to tempt you into the Pacific Ocean – Waiwera (which also has hot pools) and Orewa. Thoroughly refreshed you then enter the busy motorway approaches to Auckland and once more enjoy the excitement of this wonderfully diverse city.