1. Bottom of the Ninety
Grab your surf- or sand-board and head for Ahipara, at the base of Ninety Mile Beach. The little settlement has a relaxed vibe and plenty of good waves if that’s your thing, or you can stay dry and walk around the foreshore from Shipwreck Bay to slide down the giant dunes. Endless Summer Lodge offers budget accommodation with sea views in a restored 140-year-old villa, and there’s great coffee and food at the North Drift Café.
2. Whaling days
Call ahead and make a time to visit the private Butler Point whaling museum, house and gardens at Hihi, over the water from Mangonui. Butler House was built in the 1840s by retired whaler Captain William Butler, who made a small fortune provisioning the ships that called into this pretty harbour.
Poke around the interesting artefacts in the museum, and explore the beautiful seaside gardens.
3. Fish and chips
Mangonui has the reputation for serving the best fish and chips in the country, but if the queue at the local fish shop is out the door, most of the chippies around Doubtless Bay also fry up super-fresh fish straight off the boat. The locals in Whatuwhiwhi, around the other side of the bay, did us a fantastic package of fresh hāpuku and chips which we took down to Perehipe Beach and enjoyed in the sunshine.
4. In hot water
If you’ve seen Kiwi film-maker Florian Habicht’s humorous yet loving portrait of the north, Kaikohe Demolition, you’ll recognise the Ngāwha Springs. (If you haven’t, be sure to check it out.) Don’t come here expecting pristine facilities and sparkling waters – we’re talking timber-lined holes in the ground, filled with natural mineral water.
The pools vary in temperature, colour, clarity and therapeutic properties, and have intriguing names such as Bulldog and Tānemahuta.
5. Camp out
Get away from it all and camp near the beach at the DOC campsites at Tapotupotu or Spirits Bay, near Cape Rēinga. Facilities are basic, and you’ll need to take your insect repellent, but you’ll be rewarded with wild beaches and splendid isolation. Both campsites are on the Cape Rēinga Coastal Walkway – it’s a three-hour walk from Tapotupotu to the famous lighthouse. There's also a campsite at Rarawa where the tidal lagoon and beach are among the most beautiful in the north (and that's saying something!)