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Northland, Part Two, a New Zealand Travel Guide

June 3, 2020 #travel #NewZealand #Campervan Otamure Bay

Northland, unsurprisingly, comprises the uppermost tip of the North Island of New Zealand. Northland is perfect for exploring in a campervan. It is long and narrow, and the drive takes you through ancient forests and along stunning coastlines. Northland is rich in history and culture, both Maori and Pakeha (European), and it has its own micro-climate.

In Part One of this Northland Travel Blog, we headed north from Auckland along the Kauri Coast Highway. We stayed overnight at the stunning clear freshwater Kai Iwi Lakes, we visited a local chesery, discovered unique New Zealand history and slid down the giant Te Paki Sand Dunes.

In Part Two of our Northland Travel Blog, we leave the uppermost tip of New Zealand and head back down south. We visit fantastic wineries, stunning beaches, see Kiwis in their natural environment, explore underground caves, and discover plenty of history!

Karikari Peninsula

Heading south from Cape Reinga, our first stop was the Karikari Peninsula. As you leave the Highway and turn off into the Peninsula, the view is drop dead gorgeous. This really is a piece of paradise, in the “tropical north”of New Zealand. No wonder so many Kiwis holiday here!

The Peninsula is home to more amazing white sandy beaches with clear water. A glitzy golf course. And a winery. Which of course is where we were headed first :).

Northland is actually the birthplace of viticulture and wineries in New Zealand. We spent the afternoon tasting wines and enjoying a platter at New Zealand’s most northern winery, Carrington Estate. The kids ran around outside, playing on the grass and climbing boulders.
New Zealand Travel Guide
Carrington Estate
Carrington Estate, Karikari Peninsula
A New Zealand Travel Guide

We camped overnight at the Matai Bay DOC camp, right on the waterfront. We ventured out early in the morning for a spot of fishing straight off the beach, and to watch the sunrise.

Ironically, this is where I discovered taking an electric toothbrush camping is not a great idea, particularly when you are not hooking into power to re-charge it! We learnt quite a few good lessons on our first campervan trip….

This is the stunning scenery, right in front of our campsite.
New Zealand Travel Guide
Matai Bay
Early morning fishing in Matai Bay (Karikari Peninsula)
A New Zealand Travel Guide


Mongonui is a historic fishing town, now home to a collection of charming 150-year-old buildings that house cafés, art and craft shops.  Another main attraction at Mongonui is the legendary fish and chip shop on the wharf (which also serves wine!).

Our favourite surprise though were the visiting stingrays. The girls (and us too to be honest) were amazed to see locals feeding the huge rays straight off the wharf! What an unforgettable experience!

Matauri Bay, Rainbow Warrior Memorial

Matauri Bay is another long white sandy beach with crystal clear water. It is stunning. But the real reason we detoured here was to visit the Rainbow Warrior Memorial on the headland above the Bay.

The Memorial to the Greenpeace Flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, points to her final resting place near the Cavalli Islands. The Memorial itself sits atop a sacred Maori Pa site, the fact it was placed there shows its importance to the people of New Zealand, and the sinking’s place in our history.

The New Zealand people as a whole are proudly Nuclear free. And its journey to become Nuclear free was a key part of developing who we are as a people.

In 1985 the Rainbow Warrior was moored at the Port of Auckland, on its way to protest against a planned French nuclear test in Moruroa. The ship was bombed by two French DGSE officers, one crew member was killed. Although the attack was on Greenpeace, rather than New Zealand itself, most kiwis did not make this distinction. The fact that the bombing was committed on New Zealand territory by a supposed ‘friend’ produced a shared sense of outrage.

The attack was credited as fueling an upsurge in New Zealand nationalism at the time. The failure of traditional allies to condemn this act of terrorism hardened support for a more independent foreign policy line. This all lead to our ‘Nuclear-free moment’ in 1987 when New Zealand legislated to enforce its Nuclear-free stance. New Zealand remains Nuclear-free today.

Kerikeri, Bay of Islands

We were lucky enough to stay at Aroha Island in Kerikeri. Aroha Island is a 12 ha eco-sanctuary just north of Kerikeri, and accessible by a causeway. This is a really special spot with native bush, native birds and an estuary to explore.
New Zealand Travel Guide
Aroha Island
Aroha Island
A New Zealand Travel Guide

Remember to bring a torch, and pick up a piece of red cellophane from Reception before they close. After dark, you can head out with your torch through the native bush tracks. Move really slow, and stay quiet. You should be lucky enough to spot Kiwi in their natural habitat. It was a surreal experience for both us and the girls, and we were lucky enough to see four.

In the morning you will be woken up by a majestical Bird Song, the sound of native birds chirping and singing at sunrise.

We spent the morning exploring the native bush tracks, completing challenges with the girls, and kyaking in the harbour.

This place was a gem, not featured in your standard tourism guides.

The Bay of Islands is also home to a fantastic self-drive wine trail. We tend to pick one winery to try wines and enjoy lunch at the same time. This time we chose Marsden Estate Winery, mainly for its stunning surroundings both inside, and out. Great wine, great food, great views. We also managed to pick up a few bottles from smaller wineries to enjoy on the remainder of our trip.

Paihia and Waitangi

Paihia is a town with the glitz and glamour, but also the history. This is the place where the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed between Maori Chiefs and the British Crown, at Waitangi. The Treaty is the founding document of colonial New Zealand and established British sovereignty. However, its interpretation has long been established to differ in terms of what sovereignty, amongst other key terms, meant.

If you are visiting New Zealand, I strongly recommend a visit to the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi. Entry is by donation, however, you will need to pay the donation if you want to access the magnificent meeting house and the cultural performance, which you will definitely want to do.

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds will give you a better understanding of New Zealand, how it was formed, and why there is an ongoing tension still today.
New Zealand Travel Guide
Waitangi Treaty Grounds
A New Zealand Travel Guide

Otamure Bay

And this is the moment we became hooked on mobile homes.

This is our campsite at Otamure Bay. A DOC Campground. No hotels. No motels. Not even any hookups. Just beachfront campsites.
New Zealand Travel Guide
Otamure Bay
Our campsite at Otamure Bay, complete with a tree monkey…
A New Zealand Travel Guide

The girls played on the beach and in the giant Pohutukawa Trees. We chilled out in the shade with a glass of wine collected on our travels.

If you are travelling with children, I would recommend taking a ball to kick around, a kite, and a couple of sand toys to keep them entertained. As the girls have gotten older we have added tennis rackets and balls to our list, as well as devices unfortunately.

Waipu Caves

Miss T had been studying Stalactites and Stalactmites at school, so exploring the Waipu Caves was a special treat for her. We also managed to find fossils in the limestone rocks

If you are lucky enough you might also spot glowworms, although you may need to wade through waist-deep water to get far enough into the caves to reach the main cavern. We weren’t going that far with children in tow…

Need to know: The caves are a short, easy walk (2 km) from the carpark. The caves are free, as are almost all DOC run sites in New Zealand. However, please remember these caves are unguided, you need to take care of your own safety. Also, the inner chambers are suitable for experienced cavers only.

Goat Island Marine Reserve

We spent our last night in Leigh. We chose Leigh because it is also home to the Goat Island Marine Reserve. As a marine reserve it is a remarkable place to snorkel, and to teach children to snorkel. The fish will swim right up to you, and it is always fun following a cray along the bottom of the ocean.

On this visit, we also visited the Marine Discovery Center. This was phenomenal for learning about the ocean and conservation. The kids loved the interactive displays. A perfect cold-weather option.

In the past, we have also gone out in the glass bottom boats which take you on a guided tour around the reef. These are a fantastic experience. Unfortunately, I was two months pregnant at the time, and I ended up feeding the fish myself. Hmmmmm.


We spent our last night freedom camping at Leigh, or ‘boondocking’ as the the Americans would call it. This was our first time freedom camping, and we were nervous! This was a beautiful park, right on the beachfront. We chose a park next to another RV to make sure we had company on our first night freedom camping.

Unfortunately there were a few people partying in the reserve. They lit a fire, and made plenty of noise. But the worst they did was swear. And they headed home at a reasonable hour.

Overall we got a good night sleep, and we were pretty happy to wake up to this sunrise on the last day of our trip:
New Zealand Travel Guide
A New Zealand Travel Guide

And then, unfortunately, it was time to start heading home. Time to start planning our next big adventure!
A New Zealand Travel Guide
Part Two

This article does not contain affiliate links. Any recommendations are my own honest accounts. I will not receive any commission from any of the recommendations I have made in this article. However, I will have helped support the New Zealand tourism industry post-Covid-19 lockdown.

This blog is part of The Place I call Home Series, a #NewZealandTravelBlog. Earlier blogs in this series include:

#travellocal #supportNewZealand #tourismNewZealand #NewZealandTravelGuide

lifestyle, Parenting, Travel

The Place I call Home – A New Zealand Travel Blog – Northland in a Campervan Part 1

May 29, 2020

Northland, unsurprisingly, comprises the uppermost tip of the North Island of New Zealand. Northland is perfect for exploring in a campervan. It is long and narrow, and the drive takes you through ancient forests and along stunning coastlines. Northland is rich in history and culture, both Maori and Pakeha (European), and it has its own micro-climate.

This New Zealand campervan trip around Northland marked our first family adventure in a campervan. This trip gave us a taste of the freedom a campervan can offer us, and the beautiful spots we could discover only in a home with wheels. We were hooked.

In this blog post we travel North along the West Coast to Cape Reinga. In Part Two, we head back down the East coast.

The Kauri Coast Highway

We picked up our Maui campervan in Auckland and headed north. A helpful hint here, if you are spending your first day in a campervan, don’t plan to travel too far. Limit yourself to a few hours of driving, planning for stops, and schedule plenty of time to set up for your first night in the new campervan.

Our first break was at Kaiwaka. This charming little town is definitely worth the stop. To stock up on cheese from the Kaiwaka Cheese if nothing else! A creamy blue to accompany a cold glass of wine with a beautiful view at the end of a day’s travel?

We continued to follow the Kauri Coast Highway, a scenic detour from the main Twin Coast Discovery Highway. Heading off the main highway is our modus operandi. Throughout our Northland trip, we managed to spend only a few hours on the main four-lane highway. By staying off the main highway we could stop in the little Bays for lunch on the waterfront, explore ancient Kauri forests and stop at roadside stalls for fresh fruit and vegetables, artisan sausages, and cheese tasting of course!

We spent our first night at the Pine Beach campground at Kai Iwi Lakes, parked up on the waterfront. We could make dinner whilst watching the girls played on the sand. There are also fantastic walking tracks, including a walk around the lake (30 – 45 minutes) or a walk across the dunes to the surf beach. Unfortunately, we only planned to be here for a night, so we didn’t get a chance to explore the area. It is a common theme of this trip that we should have doubled the amount of time spent in every location.

Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest

The next day we followed the Kauri Coast Highway through the ancient and stunning Waipoua Forest, home to the famous Tane Mahuta. Tāne Mahuta (‘Lord of the Forest’) is New Zealand’s largest known living Kauri tree at over 51 meters high!

According to Maori mythology, Tāne is the son of Ranginui (the sky father) and Papatuanuku (the earth mother). Tāne was the child that tore apart his parents’ parental embrace. His growth broke apart the embrace of Ranginui and Papatūānuku, to allow space and light in between them for life to flourish. Tane Mahuta is regarded as the parent to all living creatures of the forest.

Logging of native trees drastically depleted Kauris from the 1820s until its ban in 2002. Kauri Dieback Disease now threatens the few giants that remain. For this reason, when you enter a DOC managed forest in New Zealand you will be asked to clean your shoes.
Tane Mahuta
New Zealand Campervan Travel
Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest, a New Zealand Campervan Experience

Hokianga Harbour and a history lesson

The Kauri Coast Highway then took us through to the Hokianga Harbour where we stopped at Opononi. Arriving at Opononi is like stepping back in time. A place where the pace is slow and the people are down to earth. There are amazing views, wharves to fish off, and stunning picnic spots.

Next, we headed to Rawene to catch the Rawene Ferry. My husband appears to love ferries and will schedule them in wherever he can. Its all part of staying off the main Highway I guess…

Rawene is one of the oldest European towns in New Zealand. Unfortunately, this charming and quaint historical village was not built for campervan parking…

Rawene is however home to excellent cafes, galleries like the Boatshed Gallery, and the historic Clendon House. Clendon House is a heritage house where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. The Treaty is the founding document for the New Zealand settlement by Europeans. The Treaty traveled throughout New Zealand and was signed in numerous locations. 

One surprising thing I learned on this trip is that one of my ancestors actually signed the Treaty of Waitangi (as a settler), and potentially acted as an interpreter. Maybe not something to be proud of given the interpretation issues with the Treaty, but still fascinating history.

Ninety Mile Beach, the beach that is not ninety miles long!

We spent our second night in Ahipara, staying at the Ahipara Holiday Park. This wasn’t our first choice, but it was a lovely, clean holiday park. And the girls had a surprise the next morning with an Easter Egg Hunt in and around the campervan (we were finding Easter Eggs for days… silly Easter Bunny didn’t count how many eggs she hid!).

The main attraction at Ahipara is Ninety Mile Beach. Which, incidentally, is not ninety miles long! Ninety Mile Beach is a renowned surf beach, and famous for its sunsets. The beach itself is actually an official highway. As novel as it is to take a drive down the beach (which we couldn’t do in a hired camper), I didn’t enjoy the vehicles roaring past whilst trying to explore the beach with two young children.

Although Ahipara is an adventurer’s paradise, it wasn’t somewhere I’d rave about for a family with young children. However, as a gateway to the Far North, it was worth the stay.

The Far North, lighthouses and spirits
Cape Reinga
New Zealand Campervan Travel
Cape Reinga, a New Zealand Campervan Experience

The Far North is where it gets really fun! We headed to Cape Reinga, the (mostly) northernmost point of New Zealand. The Cape is home to the famous landmark, the Cape Reinga Lighthouse, and a lone Pohutukawa tree. It is also (arguably) the most significant spiritual area for the Maori people. The Cape itself marks the departure point for Maori spirits, the point from which Maori wairua (spirit) return to their traditional homeland after they die.

I cannot stress enough how sacred this area is. It is well marked. Yet when we were there a tourist was assisting her son to pee in the bushes. There are public toilets. Please don’t be that tourist.

We spent the night in the appropriately named Spirits Bay at the Kapowairua (Spirits Bay) DOC conservation campsite. To get to the campsite we had to detour down a long dirt road, but it was well worth the extra drive. This is one of those areas we would not have been able to explore without a camper/mobile home.

Spirits Bay had an eery (yet comforting?) feeling about it. Oddly, I’m not the only one to think so. When researching for this blog, I found an article that included Spirits Bay in a list of New Zealand’s eeriest spots. Legend has it that, at night, spirits can be seen moving down the beach toward that lone ancient Pohutukawa tree on the tip of the Cape, and then suddenly disappearing. I didn’t see any spirits, but I certainly didn’t like being out on that (beautiful) beach on my own!
Spirits Bay
New Zealand Campervan Travel
Spirits Bay, a New Zealand Campervan Experience

Te Paki Sand-Duning Adventures

Time for a bit of fun? How about sandboarding down the GIANT Te Paki Sand Dunes? The sand formations, vegetation and continually moving sand really make you feel like you are heading into the desert. Hire the boards on-site. Don’t bother trying your bodyboards. Pay the $10 for a specially designed and waxed board… it is worth the money.
Te Paki Sand Dunes
New Zealand Campervan Travel
Giant Te Paki Sand Dunes, a New Zealand Campervan Experience

Next, it is time to head south again. Where there are plenty of adventures to be had, wine to be tasted, wild Kiwi spotting, and stunning scenery to enjoy. In Part Two of this Northland blog we will be enjoying Matauri Bay and the Bay of Islands… more to come!

This article does not contain affiliate links. Any recommendations are my own honest accounts. I will not receive any commission from any of the recommendations I have made in this article. However, I will have helped support the New Zealand tourism industry post-Covid-19 lockdown.

#travellocal #supportNewZealand #tourismNewZealand #NewZealandCampervan

This blog is part of The Place I call Home Series, a #NewZealandTravelBlog.

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