Waterfront views at Russell. © Northland Inc.

Five great days out with kids in Northland


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With iconic native forest, cultural heritage and a bounty of beaches to explore, Northland offers a myriad of options for kid-friendly fun. 

1. Treetop adventure + Subtropical gardens + Kiwi-spotting

No day out with kids in Whangārei is complete without a trip to the excellent Adventure Forest. The treetop walkways, safe and fun for all ages and fitness levels, can easily entertain everyone for a couple of hours and staff are on hand to offer guidance.

Drive across town to replenish everyone’s energy levels in the café at Whangārei Quarry Gardens and then head into the subtropical gardens for a gold coin donation. This little paradise was transformed from a disused quarry entirely by volunteers. With paths winding through unusual plants and trees, a lake and waterfall, it’s perfect territory for a young explorer.

It’s not often you get to see our native bird, but Kiwi North offers you one of those rare chances, especially at feeding times. After kiwi-spotting, visit more feathered friends in the on-site Whangārei Native Bird Rescue Centre and there’s plenty more to see in the well-stocked museum and heritage park. 

2. Cultural Waitangi + Russell Town

Treat the family to an entertaining history lesson and impressive cultural performance at Waitangi Treaty Grounds, with free entry for kids under 18. The world’s largest ceremonial waka will wow the kids and it’s fun to pick your favourite carving in the impressive Marae. The Whare Waka café on-site is perfect for a refuel before the next step.

Drive into nearby Paihia and catch the local passenger ferry across to Russell, once known as the Hellhole of the Pacific in whaling days. Luckily, times have changed and you’ll find a charming town to explore. 

Hunt out historic graves in Christ Church graveyard and have your photo taken in the stocks by the wharf. Take an ice cream from Delish down to the end of the pier where you’ll find plenty of hungry fish to help you finish off your wafer cone. If you want to stay for dinner, Hone’s Garden serves up scrumptious wood-fired pizzas.

3. Sand-boarding + Kauri walks + Beach exploring

Catch the Hokianga Express across the harbour from Ōpononi and borrow boards to race down the golden sand dunes. Don’t forget your togs, as the rides often end with a big splash! Tickets are available from the Hokianga i-Site.

After an exhilarating morning, the fish and chips at Opo’s Takeaways will be very welcome. Nearby is a memorial to the famous dolphin, ‘Opo’ who made friends with visitors and locals in the 1950s.

Wind your way to Waipōua Forest for the essential pilgrimage to Tāne Mahuta, ‘Lord of the Forest’ – the tallest kauri tree in New Zealand. Further down the road, a longer forest walk introduces you to Te Matua Ngāhere, ‘Father of the Forest,’ the stoutest kauri in the country.

Back towards Ōpononi, turn left to Arai Te Uru, a headland surrounded by magical views. Marvel at the ‘bar’ where the stormy sea fights the river, the site of many historic shipwrecks. At low tide you can clamber around the whole south head with its myriad of rock pools and craggy formations, but it’s best to stay away from those tumbling waves.

4. Rainbow Warrior monument walk + Beach heaven + Boat challenge

You’ll need to pack a picnic and beach essentials for this adventure that includes jaw-dropping vistas and stunning beaches. Your first stop is Mātauri Bay itself. Stroll along the beach, through the holiday park and climb up the hill to the Rainbow Warrior Monument. Commemorating the controversial sinking of the Greenpeace ship in 1986, the towering arch incorporates the ship’s propeller with the rest of the ship forming a nearby dive wreck. Refreshments are available from the park store if anyone needs an incentive.

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Rainbow Warrior Memorial #matauribay 🇳🇿

A post shared by Matauri Bay NZ (@matauribaynz) on Dec 5, 2016 at 10:39pm PST

Back on the Loop Road heading north, pull over at the lookout point high above Mātauri Bay for a mesmerising view. The next beach is Te Ngaere; a perfect place to spend a family day. At low tide you can walk to the southern end, wade across the shallow river and spy sealife in the rock pools. 

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Even in the height of the summer season we know where the quiet beaches are. With so much coastline in the Far North of NZ only accessible by boat finding the gems that are near a road and are not crowded can be difficult. If you are on a schedule but want that deserted beach experience then driving yourself all over Northland can become a frustrating and exhausting day out negotiating the tight and twisty roads. Take that into account when planning your trip and allow about 60km per hour of driving on highways for road conditions and stops. On backroads this can drop to as little as 20km to 30km per hours driving on very twisty and unsealed roads. #traveltipsnz #bayofislandsnz #northlandnz #rogueponynz . . . #privatetour #bayofislands #photostop #localtour #localguides #customtours #newzealandfinds #escapethecrowds #paihia #backroads #shoreexcursion #yourtour #cruise #jeepexperience #mustangexperience #v8experience #familytravel #gottalovenz #arttour #historytour #daytrip #sightseeing #newzealand #nzmustdo #mustdonz #nztourism

A post shared by Rogue Pony Private Tours (@rogueponynz) on Jan 28, 2019 at 11:53am PST

The loop road ends at the settlement of Whangaroa. Challenge the kids to find their favourite boat at the marina, or the one with the funniest name and finish your day with supper at the child-friendly Whangaroa Sports-Fishing Club.

5. Whaling museum + Pā walk + Beach play

Butler Point Whaling Museum is a fascinating step back in time, with knowledgeable tour guides and a museum packed full of intriguing relics. You can spend two hours here easily and if you bring a picnic there are plenty of spots to enjoy it, but visits must be pre-booked. 

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Mangonui Heritage Trail. I’ve been looking at walking the Mangonui Heritage trail for awhile and yesterday I did it. The village of Mangonui, which sits on the waters edge with a steep hill behind it, has a history that dates back (for Europeans) to 1831 and by the mid 1800’s was the centre for whalers and traders and also sawmilling, flax and Kauri gum industries. The History of the area however goes way back to 900AD when discover ed by the Polynesian navigator Kupe. Mangonui gets its name from a Maori chief who arrived in the area and was said to be guided in the harbour by a shark. Mangonui means ‘large shark’ The trail starts and finishes at the Mangonui Courthouse which is now an art gallery. This is taken from by the now Police station looking back towards part of the village, with the Mangonui fish shop on the right and the Wharf on the left. . . . . . . . . #mangonui#newzealandwithme#harbour#wharf#mangonuifishshop #views#harbourviews#heritagewalk#history #nzhistory#earlysettlers#mydailywalk#walking#newzealandguide #mydestinationguide #tourismnz#beautifulnewzealand#newzealandlife#exploring#kayoexplores#nzmustdo#doyoutravel#exploremore#exploringtheworld #learning #exoloretocreate#travelmemories #capturenz #artofdestinations

A post shared by KayO (@kayo_explores) on Jan 25, 2019 at 10:48am PST

Across the bay is historic Mangōnui, which means ‘Big Shark.’ While sharks are rare here now, if you head down to the wharf you may see commercial fishermen unloading their catch. Through the town and up the hill you’ll find Rangikapiti Pā site. A short, steep walk up from the car park will reveal panoramic views of Doubtless Bay. Challenge the kids to spot the places you’ve just visited.

Continue north to Coopers Beach and follow the signs to a playground and long stretch of fine sand edged with shady trees. A safe beach if the kids fancy a dip at the end of a busy day.

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