While I’m back home in New Zealand for six weeks, I decided to jump on my beloved Kawasaki Versys and travel to the very tip of New Zealand and discover the best sights, food, and quirkiest accommodation on the Northland Twin Coast Discovery Highway.
Highlights of Northland include:
- Adventure activities and the blue waters of the Bay of Islands
- Seeing where the Maori and Europeans signed the Treaty of Waitangi
- Hiking around the tip of NZ
- Walking among the mighty Kauri trees in the Waipoua forest
- Swimming at some of New Zealand’s best beaches and lakes
It’s a rather tame ride along the Twin Coast Discovery Highway compared to my previous trip through the extreme beauty and danger of Ladakh and Kashmir. This ride is more about lush green beauty, adventure activities, beaches, and high-speed riding.
This isn’t my first time in Northland. It’s my third. The last time I ventured to the “subtropical” far north of New Zealand, the weather was terrible, and my iPhone died in a torrential downpour while braving the elements to visit the very tip of New Zealand, Cape Reinga, where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet. Not so fun.
The Twin Coast Discovery Highway + Cape Reinga Route
Day 1: Auckland to Paihia (258 km, 4 hours)
Do: You need a full afternoon in far North’s tourism capital Paihia. Don’t miss the beautiful lush Waitangi Treaty Grounds where the treaty between Maori and Europeans was signed, the nearby Haruru Falls, and the stunning Hole in the Rock adventure cruise – out on the water is where Paihia, aka The Bay of Islands, shines!
If you have more time in Paihia go on a kayaking adventure, fishing, or swim with dolphins.
If you feel like a taking a dip in mineral-rich natural hot springs, head to the centre of the island and soak in the 14 different pools at Ngawha Springs.
Just before Paihia: If you have never experienced glow worms before, then the Kawiti Glow Worm Caves are worth stopping for an hour to check out!
Eat: Head 3 km out of town to the renowned Haruru Falls Takeaways for amazing burgers and classic Northland Hoki & Chips.
Sleep: Take the car ferry over to Russell (15 km, 40 min). Russell is the picturesque first permanent European settlement just across the water from Paihia. Stay at the Orongo Bay Holiday Park in one of their unique American Indian Tipi accommodations or their glamping tents.
If you want to stay in Paihia, The Mousetrap Backpackers or Haka Lodge Backpackers are both excellent places, Haka is right bang in the centre of town and Mousetrap is about 300m away down a sleepy street. The only downside to Haka is they have no on-site parking and you can’t park overnight on many of the surrounding streets. I found a free place to park about 150m away on Bayview Road.
Day 2: Paihia to Cape Reinga (213 km, 3 hours) to Kaitaia (111 km, 1.5 hours)
There are two ways from Kaitaia to Cape Reinga, by road or beach. If you’re riding an adventure bike, then you can take state highway 1 up and ride down Ninety Mile Beach (an official highway in NZ) back to Kaitaia.
Do: An hour out of Paihia is Coopers Beach which is an idyllic place to cool off in the water and devour what’s commonly known as the best fish & chips in NZ from the nearby Monganui Fish Shop.
A few kilometres before Cape Reinga is the Giant Te Paki Sand Dunes. Rent a board, climb up, and slide down!
Once you’ve checked out the view from the lighthouse at Cape Reinga, take the short 3 km return (1 hour) walking track to Sandy Bay from the car park to check out the rocky coastline. If you have more time and energy take the Te Werahi Beach track afterwards too (2.5 km return, 1 hour).
Eat: Fish of the day at the Monganui Fish Shop is something you can’t miss on your way to Cape Reinga. They’re situated on the water at the end of town, the view from the restaurant is a standout!
On the way back from Cape Reianga stop at Te Kao Store for one of their massive ice creams.
Sleep: Instead of going back to Kaitaia where there’s plenty of accommodation, I stopped at the remote and highly-recommended Wagner Holiday Park, 70 km from Cape Reinga. It didn’t disappoint! Another place I’ve stayed at is Northwind Lodge
Day 3: Kaitaia to Dargaville (174 km, 3 hours)
During this ride, you’ll be taking the $5 Hokianga Ferry to cross to the historical township of Rawene where you can get a glimpse into early colonial life.
If you’ve ever heard the story of Opo the friendly dolphin who used to play with beachgoers and even let children ride on his back, then you should stop by sandy Opononi and swim where Opo used to. If you want to hear the story, stop at Opononi i-SITE to watch a short documentary about Opo.
Do: If you decide to take state highway 1 instead of the ferry, then stop for a walk among the boulders at Basalt Boulder Valley.
Also in Opononi is sandboarding. If you go at high tide you can slide over and into the clear waters of Hokianga Harbour!
Before you hit Dargaville stop once more to check out the lush Waipoua Forest. It’s an ancient forest of towering trees and rare birds. Just five minutes walk from the road you can spot the largest kauri tree in NZ, and that you’ll probably ever see – it’s around 2000 years old!
The significance of Kauri: Kauri trees are one of the world’s mightiest. They grow over 50 m tall and 16 m wide and live for thousands of years. Their wood was perfect for building boats, carving, and houses, and their gum great as a fire starter. The decimation of kauri began in the 1700s with the arrival of European settlers. The Wapoua forest was saved from destruction due to their remoteness, and in 1987 it became protected by the Department of Conservation as well as all kauri on private land throughout NZ.
The Kai Iwi Lakes are a perfect place to take a break and enjoy a dip in the crystal-blue waters surrounded by white sand. They’re two of the deepest and largest dune lakes in NZ. In summer they’re popular for swimming, fishing, and waterskiing.
Eat: Dargaville is known for its kumara (sweet potato) so stop at Blah Blah Blah Cafe for one of the many dishes featuring locally grown kumara.
Sleep: If you’re camping then stop before Dargaville at the tranquil Kai Iwi Lakes Campground.
Day 4: Dargaville to Auckland (176 km, 2.5 hours)
Do: On the way back to Auckland stop off at the quaint little village of Matakana. Every Saturday from 8 am – 1 pm they host the best local farmers market I’ve ever experienced. You can find all sorts of locally made produce and delicacies such as artisan baking, Italian sausages, organic chocolate, olive oil, coffee and more.
If you want to relax at a beautiful golden sand beach with mild surf then head to Omaha which is just 10 minutes away from Matakana.
Eat: Get an outdoor table at the Matakana Village Pub and enjoy a big juicy burger. The Tuck Shop is another good choice if you’re after a quick bite to eat.
After passing through Walkworth, a great place to stop to pick up great NZ made honey is the Honey Centre Walkworth. I always stop here to buy hard-to-find unprocessed honeycomb. It’s cut straight from the hive and packaged!
If you’re after great cheese, then your final stop before Auckland should be the Puhoi Valley Cheese Company’s factory. It’s just a few kilometres off state highway 1 past the tiny Puhoi township.