This Auckland to Cape Reinga road trip itinerary covers the best of Northland. Northland is the stunningly beautiful stretch of New Zealand’s North Island above Auckland and is sometimes overlooked by travellers touring New Zealand an unfortunate consequence of New Zealand having so much to do and travellers having so little time. Trust us, however, when we say you don’t want to miss this beautiful part of the country. A road trip from Auckland to Cape Reinga and back is the perfect way to experience the Northland Region. Below is the perfect Northland New Zealand Itinerary.
This article may contain affiliate/compensated links. For more information, please see our disclaimer here.
The Twin Coast Highway makes road tripping from Auckland to Cape Reinga a breeze, with the easy to drive roads taking you past small towns, sheltered sandy beaches and unforgettable coast line. Driving up one coast of Northland and down the other, you’ll have plenty of time to experience all this region has to offer. Whether you have a few days or a few weeks to explore the Northland region, you won’t be disappointed.
- 1 Arriving in Auckland
- 2 Starting your Auckland to Cape Reinga road trip – A Northland New Zealand Itineray
- 3 Driving to Cape Reinga
- 4 Heading south down Northlands east coast
- 5 Driving from the Bay of Islands back to Auckland
- 6 Auckland to Cape Reinga Road trip facts
- 7 Where to next? You might like these articles
- 8 Planning a road trip in New Zealand? Here is what we did
Arriving in Auckland
Auckland is a great jumping off point for a Northland adventure. You can fly in to Auckland’s International Airport. Many car and camper van rental facilities are available around the airport. Make sure you book your car or campervan in advance, particularly during the summer months when it’s busy, so you don’t miss out.
Starting your Auckland to Cape Reinga road trip – A Northland New Zealand Itineray
Starting out from Auckland, head up the west coast of Northland towards Opononi, about 260km’s away. You’ll pass plenty of small coastal towns with fantastic views, beaches and cafes.
Waipoua Kauri Forest
You’ll pass the Waipoua Kauri Forest, famous for Tane Mahuta, the largest of New Zealand’s native Kauri trees is between 2500-3000 years old, with a base of 4.4m in diameter. Its worth stopping off here to explore the forest. Wonder through the forest alone do a tour such as an evening tour of Waipoua to see the forest at twilight!
Continuing along the highway, heading towards Opononi you’ll drive through the forest and be treated to beautiful Kauri canopy. As you turn inland and head towards Hokianga Harbour you’ll see where the Maori’s first arrived in New Zealand sometime between 1250 and 1300.
How long to spend on the west coast of Northland?
There are plenty of things to see and do on along the west coast on an Auckland to New Zealand road trip. The drive itself will take around 3.5 hours, longer if you’re in a larger vehicle or stop more frequently. You could comfortably do it in one day if needed.
Accomodation around Opononi and Hokianga Harbour
Hotels – popular hotels in the area include the Copthorne Hotel and Resort Hokianga in Omapere.
Holiday parks and camping grounds Northland (Hokianga Harbour): Try the Opononi Beach Holiday Park or the Rawene Holiday Park if in the area.
Freedom camping Northland: Northland has restricted freedom camping however there are locations throughout Northland where freedom camping is available. Check here for the Far North Council’s list of freedom camping places. There is a low cost campground at Koutu Mangaroa Picnic Area which is for self contained vehicles only. Details can be found on the campermate app.
Department of Conservation campsites Northland (Hokianga Harbour) – There are no DOC campsites around Hokianga Harbour. However for all campsites in Northland you can check the DOC map here.
Driving to Cape Reinga
There are multiple ways to get from Opononi or Hokianga Harbour to Cape Reinga.
The first option is to take the vehicle ferry at Rawene, 20km from Opononi. The ferry will drop you off at Kohukohu and you can then continue on, driving to Cape Reinga. The ferry takes around 15 minutes to travel across the harbour and shouldn’t cost more than $30, depending on your vehicle size and the number of people.
The drive from the Hokianga Harbour to Cape Reinga is around is 3.5 hours, or 180km’s. Head towards Kaikohe and from there you can follow state highway 1 all the way to the top.
The drive through the centre of Northland is simply beautiful as you pass vibrant green rolling hills, farmland and small rural villiages. We’d highly recommend driving to Cape Reinga through the middle of Northland.
Whether you drive State Highway 1 or catch the ferry across from Rawene, you have the option of taking the 90 Mile Beach highway for the final stretch driving to Cape Reinga. Note: You should only do this if you have a 4wd and if your insurance allows, and if you’re in a rental, it probably won’t. Otherwise, stick to State Highway 1.
90 mile beach
While it is not technically 90 miles, 90 mile beach is still a ridiculously long stretch of beautiful New Zealand coastline running from Ahipara to Cape Reinga, the northern most tip of New Zealand.
While the rough conditions don’t make it a great beach for swimming, 90 mile beach is a registered state highway, and the novelty of driving the length of the beach is a draw card for many.
While buses and locals drive 90 Mile Beach regularly, there are risks involved so you should be prepared. First of all, if you’re in a hire car or camper, check your insurance policy. You’ll most likely find that you’re not covered to drive on sand. This is a problem if you happen to get stuck! It’s important to make sure you stay on hard sand and never drive onto the soft. The best option is to follow the tracks from those that have driven before you. Needless to say, a 4WD is always handy to have.
Make sure you also check the tides and never drive onto the sand during or nearing high tide. The safest and easiest time to drive 90 Mile Beach is during and around low tide.
There are around 5 entrances to 90 Mile Beach, the safest and most reliable being the Waipapakauri Ramp which you can access about 20km from Kaitaia. The Northernmost entrance is at the Te Paki Stream, near the Te Paki Sand dunes. This entrance can be treacherous with the changing conditions of the stream so be sure to know what you’re doing here before you drive in.
If you’re unable or not confident driving 90 Mile Beach yourself, you can take a guided coach tour from Paihia or Kaitaia.
Note: Kaitaia is the last town before the Cape, so if you need to stock up on anything, that’s the place.
The stunning second northernmost point of New Zealand is not to be missed. Cape Reinga Lighthouse sits high above and looks out over beautiful beaches and rocky coastline. The views on the drive alone are worth the distance so make sure you stop for photo’s along the way.
As you drive through rolling hills and mountainous farming area you’ll see plenty of spectacular coastal views to the west.
Once you arrive at Cape Reinga, it’s a about a 1km down hill walk to the lighthouse with it’s incredible views. The open sea area infront of the light house is generally considered to be where two ‘sea’s’ meet, the Tasman Sea and the Pacific ocean. The two seas pushing towards each other results in some pretty rough looking ocean.
The Maori name for Cape Reinga is Te Rerenga Wairua, which is reflective of the Maori belief that Cape Reinga is where the spirits of the dead enter the underworld.
Remember, the closest town to Cape Reinga is over 100km south, at Kaitaia, so make sure you pack some lunch and anything else you’ll need for the day.
If you want to do both drive on 90 Mile beach and visit Cape Reinga, but you don’t have the right vehicle or insurance, an all day tour from Paihia on the east coast of Northland is the perfect solution.
Accomodation and Camp grounds near Cape Reinga
Holiday Parks and Camping grounds Northland (Far North): There are no caravan and holiday parks on the Cape, however the Narrabrai Motel and Caravan park, and Norfolk Motel and Campervan Park are both located in Awanui and are the closest to Cape Reinga.
Department of conservation campsite Northland (Far North): We stayed at the Tapotupotu Campsite which is located alongside a beautiful estuary beside a secluded beach not far from Cape Reinga.
Freedom camping grounds Northland (Far North): There are no designated freedom camping locations around Cape Reinga.
How long to spend around Cape Reinga and the far north?
You could easily spend a few days of your Auckland to Cape Reinga road trip lazing around on beaches, exploring the coast line and admiring the view from the cape itself. There isn’t very much in the way of shops or restaurants etc up there, so go prepared.
Heading south down Northlands east coast
As you leave the far north and head south again, you’ll pass the Te Paki Sand Dunes, the largest of their kind in the southern hemisphere. If you feel like a challenge you can walk to the top for the spectacular views. Another great option is to ride a sled down them!
Mangonui and Doubtless Bay
If you continue heading south, you’ll turn left at Awanui and head towards Mangonui, Doubtless Bay and the KariKari Peninsula.
Overlooking Doubtless Bay, Mangonui is a small historical town. Take in some of Mangonui’s heritage buildings, an ancient Maori fort, or take a snorkling or diving trip from Mangonui Harbour.
Doubtless Bay has plenty to offer beach lovers, including snorkling, sailing and dolphin watching.
Get lost in Paihia and the Bay of Islands
Located about 2 hours or 132km south east of Cape Reinga, or an hour south of Mangonui (77km) Paihia is a great base for exploring the Bay of Islands, a dream for lovers of marine life. The Bay of Islands is composed of around 144 islands, amongst which swim dolphins and whales.
A full day Bay of Islands tour from Paihia will give you a taste of region, as you cruise between islands, visit the famous ‘Hole in the rock’ archway and spot dolphins or whales. Alternatively, get adventurous exploring the Islands while cruising, hiking, paddle boarding and snorkelling your way around. Paihia also has one of the most beautiful beaches in Northland.
From Paihia you can also take a ferry across to the charming small town of Russell, with it’s rich history, historical buildings, cafe’s and calm beach. You can also either drive, or walk to the Haruru Falls, a beautiful waterfall in the region. If you havn’t been able to take in some of the unmissable sites such as Cape Reinga, 90 mile beach or the Waipoua Kauri Forest, tours can easily be organised for here.
Waitangi Treaty grounds
The site of the signing of the first accord between the British crown and the Maori People is a fascinating place. Here you’ll see an enormous Waka, or Maori War Canoe, learn about the history of the agreement between the Maori and British settlers and experience traditional Maori customs and dance. All this to the backdrop of the beautiful Bay of Islands.
The cost of entry to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds includes a guided tour, access to the museums and a show. The guided tour is fantastic and you’ll learn a little about Maori natural medicine, rituals and exploration. Our guide was a descendant of Maori in the area and an amazing wealth of information. You can book your Waitangi Treaty Grounds tickets here
The Waitangi Treaty Grounds were a highlight for us and we’d recommend not missing it if you’re interested in cultural history.
Accomodation in Paihia and the Bay of Islands
Camping grounds Northland and holiday parks in Bay of Islands: The Bay of Islands holiday park is located just 5 minutes outside Paihia. There are cabins and units available as well as powered and unpowered sites for campers. Paihia also has a Top 10 Holiday Park.
Department of conservation camp sites and freedom camping: There are no DOC or freedom campsites around Paihia however if you have time you can move further around the Bay of Islands towards Russell and there are some located in that area.
Driving from the Bay of Islands back to Auckland
A 3 hour or 232ish km drive from Paihia to Auckland, takes you down the east coast of Northland, through Whangarei, the home of Whangarei falls. Whangarei falls is a spectacular 26m high waterfall surrounded by native forest and walkways, and the ideal way to stretch your legs as your Auckland to Cape Reinga road trip comes to a close.
How long to spend on the east coast of Northland?
There is plenty to do on the east coast, and 2-3 days minimum should give you enough time to see some of the sights.
Auckland to Cape Reinga Road trip facts
Total driving time: Minimum 13 hours (highways only)
Total Kilometers: Minimum 950km (highways only)
Minimum days recommended: To do the entire Auckland to Cape Reinga road trip itinerary a minimum of 4 days is required for your own comfort. Of course if you have more time that would be strongly recommended.
If you have less time in your Northland New Zealand Itinerary and are looking for the highlights, I’d be sure not to miss Cape Reinga, Bay of Islands and the Whaitangi Treaty Grounds.
Where to next? You might like these articles
- Best road trips in New Zealand
- Road tripping the Coromandel Peninsula
- Perfect ways to spend one day in Auckland
- Our highlights of New Zealand’s North Island
Planning a road trip in New Zealand? Here is what we did
- Find flights through Skyscanner
- Hire a car or camper
- Book the first few nights accommodation
- Get travel insurance
This article may contain affiliate/compensated links. For more information, please see our disclaimer here.
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