About 90 minutes’ drive outside of Auckland lies a rural region of New Zealand alluringly dubbed the “Winterless North”. Northland stretches from Mangawhai in the south to the very tip of the North Island, marked emphatically by Cape Reinga Lighthouse.

It’s a subtropical wonderland of white sand beaches, native bush, mangrove-fringed bays and vibrant townships. It’s also a heartland for Māori culture, and home to the site where Aotearoa’s founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, was signed in 1840.

There’s so much nature, culture and history to engage with in this part of New Zealand, it can be hard to know where to begin. Luckily we’ve put together a little cheat sheet for you.

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Cape Reinga
Cape Reinga, known to local Māori as Te Rerenga Wairua, is known for being the place where spirits of the dead enter the underworld, meaning it is of great spiritual significance to many people. The bony fingertip of land jutting out into the ocean is New Zealand’s most northerly point and the place where the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea meet. On a blustery day it can be a tempestuous union, with the waves and currents crashing and the wind whipping through your hair.

Take a walk to the cape’s famous lighthouse, 800 metres along an easy track, or if you have a whole day to spare, join an off-road bus tour that takes in not just Cape Reinga but also Ninety Mile Beach and Te Paki Stream, where you can try your hand at sand surfing on the incredible dunes. Note: some weather events can affect access to areas of Cape Reinga, so keep an eye on latest updates.

Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is a must-visit for anyone venturing to the Far North of New Zealand, with 140 sun-kissed, subtropical islands sprinkled around a large, sheltered bay. You can charter a sailing boat, go big-game fishing or dolphin watching, or simply swim around golden sand beaches. A half-day cruise is a great way to immerse yourself in the watery wonders.

The Bay of Islands was where New Zealand’s founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, was signed in 1840 by Māori chiefs and representatives of the British Crown. The treaty grounds in the tiny town of Waitangi is the country’s most important historic site.

There are two museums on-site – one devoted to the treaty and one honouring Māori who fought in overseas wars – while a flagstaff in the grounds marks the spot where the treaty was signed. Cross the lawn and you can admire the intricately carved meeting house of Te Whare Runanga, which opened on the centenary of the treaty signing.

A Waitangi Experience pass includes two days’ access to the grounds, a guided tour, viewing of the world’s largest ceremonial waka (traditional canoe), museum access, a cultural performance and a carving demonstration.

Cape Brett
Rakaumangamanga, also known as Cape Brett Peninsula, has a 1000-year history of helping sailors navigate New Zealand’s tricky coastline. Early Māori who migrated from the mythical Hawaiki are said to have been guided to landfall by the dawn light reflecting off its steep cliff faces. It remains a hugely significant spot for the Te Tai Tokerau Māori, and also for more modern maritime voyagers.

In 1906 the Cape Brett Lighthouse was built to guide ships navigating the hazardous entry into the Bay of Islands. These days the light is automated, and the former lighthouse keeper’s cottage has been restored and opened to the public for accommodation.

You reach the cottage (now called Cape Brett Hut) by way of the Cape Brett Track, which traverses 16 kilometres of wild coastline. Or, if you’re not up for the hike, you can take a water taxi from Paihia. Bookings for overnight stays in the hut are essential, and you’ll need to bring your own sleeping bag, gas stove, food and cooking equipment. Note: as with any venture in national parks, do keep an eye on latest weather and access information.

Tutukaka Coast
Head east from Whangārei and you’ll hit the sometimes overlooked adventure playground of the Tutukaka Coast. There’s little urban development along this remote stretch of coastline lined with white sand beaches, native bush and hidden, rocky coves.

Sandy Bay is a safe spot to learn how to surf. Tutukaka Surf offers group or private lessons and has a well-stocked surf shop. The region is also a hotspot for divers, who love exploring the sunken wrecks of the HMNZS Tui and the HMNZS Waikato or meeting the underwater wildlife in Poor Knights Marine Reserve. Several dive companies launch boats from Tutukaka Marina, where you can hire your gear or sign up for a dive course.

Whale Bay should be on everyone’s itinerary. This secluded beach can only be accessed by walking, which keeps crowd numbers down. Park on Matapouri Road, wander 10 minutes through native bush and find a sheltered spot under one of the stunning Pohutukawa trees.

Whangārei
Northland’s largest city is a mecca of modern art and Māori culture, big enough for a lively vibe and great coffee (very important), but small enough to feel connected to the surrounding natural wonder.

Top of your to-do list should be a walk in Parihaka Scenic Reserve. This ancient volcano was once the site of New Zealand’s largest pa (hillside fort). A walking track climbs from the Hatea River to the 241-metre summit, with extensive views over the city across Whangārei Harbour. If you’d rather stick to the flat, the Hatea Walkway is a peaceful, riverside amble.

Photo ops abound at Whangārei Falls, just 10 minutes’ drive from the city. The 26-metre falls, over basalt cliffs, are spectacular after heavy rainfall; a swim in the natural pool at the bottom is compulsory on a hot day.

For a modern cultural kick, head to Hundertwasser Art Centre, New Zealand’s newest and most anticipated regional art gallery, which opened in 2022. Inside are two galleries: one dedicated to works by namesake avant-garde artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, an Austrian who fell in love with the Far North, and the Wairau Māori Art Gallery, which showcases contemporary Māori art.

For something a bit different, visit Claphams Clock Museum, named after eccentric clock collector Archie Clapham, who once hoarded more than 400 clocks in his house. The museum opened in 1962 and has grown the collection to more than 2000 clocks, watches and other timepieces.

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with 100% Pure New Zealand.