Visit Urupukapuka Island in the Bay of Islands. © Michele Westmorland

10 great things to do in Northland


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Whether you're looking for things to do on a day trip or hitting the road to discover more of the region, we've rounded up 10 ideas to inspire your Northland travels. 

1. Urupukapuka Island 

If the weather is kind, take a ferry from Paihia or Russell to Urupukapuka Island, a pest-free paradise for our feathered friends. A five-hour walk takes in the whole island and there are kayaks for hire if you fancy a paddle. The café at Ōtehei Bay is open all year (though just weekends in winter) for a well-deserved refuel.

2. Abbey Caves

This trio of deep, dark caves close to Whangārei centre is unmanned with no entry fee. Avoid any exploration after heavy rain. Make sure someone knows where you are and come well prepared with waterproofs, a head torch, walking shoes and an adventurous spirit. Turn your torch off to catch the magical constellations of glowworms.

3. Mangōnui Heritage Trail

Pick up a brochure from the Information Centre and take your own walking tour to discover the rich history of old Mangōnui. Far-reaching views are the reward for tackling the steeper lanes. Back in the centre, head to the Little Kitchen for a refuel, and drive up to Rangikapiti Pā for a breathtaking panorama of Mangōnui and Doubtless Bay.

4. Coastal Kayakers 

If you’re like me and always want to get a little bit closer to that thundering waterfall, the Waterfall Discovery Tour to Haruru Falls is perfect. Made for novice kayakers (they offer more challenging trips too), this year-round, two-hour tour comes with wildlife, mangroves, tales from the entertaining guides and a close-up encounter with the waterfall.

5. Kāeo cafés

Kāeo is a tiny town blessed with not one, but two quirky cafes. Madhatters Café is a tribute to Alice in Wonderland. A painted Cheshire Cat smile by the counter declares ‘We’re all mad here!’ Sit in the giant chair outside to feel like a child again. Nearby, The Old Saddlery Café seems to encapsulate the unique vibe of Kāeo in its historic two-storey frame, with a row of hen sculptures perching on the balcony rail. See if you can spot the Jandal Fence on your way through Kāeo.

6. Flying Kiwi Parasail

Fly like a bird! The best way to truly appreciate the vast beauty of the Bay of Islands is from a seagull’s perspective. And with Flying Kiwi Parasail you get a boat ride too. Soar to 1300 feet with a friend or two, or on your own to glide in peaceful solitude.

7. Whangārei Art Museum: Te Manawa Toi

Not only does Whangārei Art Museum house works from local artists in its modern, purpose-built gallery, but the museum also hosts touring exhibitions from New Zealand and beyond. For a small koha donation you can lose yourself in quiet contemplation.

8. The Gallery and Café, Helena Bay

The secret is out! This place is in the sticks, nestled high in the hills between Whangārei and the Bay of Islands, but the remote location hasn’t hampered its popularity. With art everywhere, delicious food and wine, a sculpture garden and vast, dreamy views, you can easily while away a couple of hours over a lazy lunch.

9. Waiariki Pools (Ngāwhā Springs)

Don’t take your best swimwear to Waiariki – the general idea is to make like a hippo and wallow. This is thermal bathing at its most natural, with a multitude of pools of different temperatures, consistencies and aromas and locals swear by the therapeutic properties of the mineral mud. You’ll come away a bit smelly but ultimately warm and relaxed from this all-weather experience. 

10. Koutu Boulders

Did you know that Northland has its own version of the Moeraki Boulders, but without the crowds? These vast, spherical, sandstone concretions, five million years in the making, are best approached around low tide to avoid slippery scrambling. Allow a couple of hours for a gentle stroll and some boulder-climbing. The further you go, the larger and more numerous the boulders are.

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