A guide to the tip of New Zealand’s North Island

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About 90 minutes’ drive outside of Auckland lies a rural region of New Zealand evocatively dubbed the ‘Winterless North’. Northland stretches from Mangawhai in the south to the very tip of the North Island, clearly marked by the Cape Reinga Lighthouse.

It’s a subtropical wonderland of white-sand beaches, native bush, mangrove-fringed bays and bustling townships. It is also a heartland of Māori culture and home to the site where Aotearoa’s founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, was signed in 1840.

There is so much nature, culture and history to experience in this part of New Zealand that it’s hard to know where to start. Luckily, we’ve put together a little cheat sheet for you.

Cape Reinga
Cape Reinga, known to the local Māori as Te Rerenga Wairua, is known for being the place where the spirits of the dead enter the underworld, meaning it is of great spiritual importance to many people. The bony headland jutting out into the ocean is New Zealand’s northernmost point and the place where the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea meet. On a stormy day it can be a stormy union as the waves and currents break and the wind whips through your hair.

Take a walk to the cape’s famous lighthouse, 800 meters on an easy trail, or if you have a full day, join an off-road bus tour that covers not only Cape Reinga, but also Ninety Mile Beach and Te Paki Stream includes. where you can try your hand at sand surfing on the incredible dunes.

Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is a must-see for anyone venturing into New Zealand’s far north, with 140 sun-drenched, subtropical islands scattered around a large, sheltered bay. You can charter a sailboat, go deep sea fishing or dolphin watching, or simply swim on golden sandy beaches. A half-day cruise is a great way to immerse yourself in the aquatic wonders.

In the Bay of Islands, New Zealand’s founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, was signed in 1840 by Māori chiefs and representatives of the British Crown. The treaty site in the small town of Waitangi is the country’s most important historic site.

There are two on-site museums – one dedicated to the treaty and one honoring Māori who fought in overseas wars – while a flagpole on the site marks the spot where the treaty was signed. Crossing the lawn you can admire the intricately carved Te Whare Runanga meeting house, opened to mark the 100th anniversary of the signing of the treaty.

A Waitangi Experience Pass includes two-day access to the site, a guided tour, viewing of the world’s largest ceremonial waka (traditional canoe), museum access, a cultural performance and carving demonstration.

Cape Brett
Also known as the Cape Brett Peninsula, Rakaumangamanga has a 1000 year history of helping seafarers navigate New Zealand’s difficult coastline. Early Māori migrating from mythical Hawaiki are said to have been guided to the landing by dawn light reflecting off the sheer cliffs. It remains an extremely important site for the Te Tai Tokerau Māori and also for more modern seafarers.

In 1906, the Cape Brett Lighthouse was built to guide ships on the perilous entrance to the Bay of Islands. Today the light is automated and the former lighthouse keeper’s cottage has been restored and opened to the public for accommodation.

You can reach the hut (now called the Cape Brett Hut) via the Cape Brett Track, which traverses 16 kilometers of wild coastline. Or, if you don’t feel like hiking, you can take a water taxi from Paihia. It is essential to reserve overnight stays in the hut; you must bring your own sleeping bag, gas stove, food and cooking utensils.

Tutukaka Coast
Heading east from Whangarei you’ll encounter the sometimes-overlooked adventure playground of the Tutukaka Coast. There is little urban development along this remote stretch of coast, fringed with white-sand beaches, native scrub and hidden, rocky coves.

Sandy Bay is a safe place to learn to surf. Tutukaka Surf offers group or private lessons and has a well stocked surf shop. The region is also a hotspot for divers who love exploring the sunken wrecks of HMNZS Tui and HMNZS Waikato, or meeting the marine life at Poor Knights Marine Reserve. Several dive companies launch boats from Tutukaka Marina, where you can rent gear or sign up for a diving course.

Whale Bay should be on every itinerary. This secluded beach is only accessible on foot, which keeps visitor numbers low. Park on Matapouri Road, hike 10 minutes through native bush and find a sheltered spot under one of the stunning Pohutukawa trees.

whangarei
Northland’s largest city is a mecca of modern art and Māori culture, big enough for a lively atmosphere and great coffee (very important), but small enough to feel connected to the surrounding natural wonders.

A walk in the Parihaka Scenic Reserve should be at the top of your to-do list. This ancient volcano was once the site of New Zealand’s largest pa (hill fort). A hiking trail leads from the Hatea River to the 241-meter-high peak, offering sweeping views across the city to Whangārei Harbour. If you prefer to stay flat, the Hatea Walkway is a peaceful riverside stroll.

There are plenty of photo ops at Whangārei Falls, just a 10 minute drive from town. The 26 meter high falls over basalt cliffs are spectacular after heavy rains; On a hot day, a dip in the natural pool on the ground is obligatory.

For a modern cultural kick, visit the Hundertwasser Art Centre, New Zealand’s newest and most anticipated regional art gallery, opening this year. Inside are two galleries: one dedicated to works by the eponymous avant-garde artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, an Austrian in love with the Far North, and the Wairau Māori Art Gallery, which exhibits contemporary Māori art.

For a change of pace, visit the Claphams Clock Museum, named after the eccentric clock collector Archie Clapham, who once hoarded more than 400 clocks in his home. The museum opened in 1962 and has expanded the collection to more than 2000 clocks and other timepieces.

This article was produced by Broadsheet in partnership with 100% Pure New Zealand.

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