The Northland Peninsula is the name given to (unsurprisingly) the large land formation in New Zealand’s northwest corner. The peninsula extends over 400 kilometres north of Auckland and is home to many isolated, beautiful and unique ecosystems. Unfortunately, this region tends to attract less attention than it rightfully deserves. Looking at the map of New Zealand, the Northland Peninsula is but a relatively small, thin swath of land in comparison to the rest of the (rather large) island. This means that tourists and holiday-makers often neglect exploring the region in favour of travelling south or east towards more well-known destinations.
Of course, for many people time is an important factor when planning a holiday, and the idea of driving such a long way only to return via the same route may not be very appealing; but I maintain that anyone thinking about crossing New Zealand off their bucket list should (at the very least) consider poking around this region.
Heading north out of Auckland, it isn’t long before the bustle of the city fades into a placid and enjoyable countryside, which, coupled with serpentine roads and sparse traffic, makes for the ambiance of a lazy Sunday drive–even if it’s a Wednesday.
The order in which you see the sights here don’t really matter since the route taken is fairly linear, but some locations are more enjoyable in the presence of nice weather. The Bay of Islands is one such example. Located about two thirds of the way up the eastern coast of the peninsula, the Bay of Islands is… well, exactly what you’d expect. Regardless, it is a very PRETTY bay of islands and is well worth paying a visit; particularly if the weather is good. In addition to the lovely views, you can also take in some history and culture during your stay, in the form of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds which mark the location of New Zealand’s first step towards British Rule in 1840.
At the very end of the formation (some 430 kilometres from Auckland by car) waters churn far below the stocky outline of the Cape Reinga Lighthouse. This is the meeting place for the currents of the open Pacific Ocean to the east and the Tasman Sea, which divides New Zealand and Australia. This location (like just about every other lighthouse in existence) will look formidable during a storm and beautiful otherwise; so if the forecast predicts rain, make sure to spend your sunny days somewhere else where they will have the greatest positive effect. Apart from the dramatic view at its tip, the uppermost section of the peninsula has some fantastic sand dunes, cliffs and beaches all waiting to be explored, including the well-named 90 Mile Beach on the west coast leading up to the cape.
Of course there is far more to explore north of Auckland, although I believe I’ve covered what were for me, the highlights. I should make a note that to the west there are some very large and unique trees on show in the Waipoua Forest. These are called Kauri and are the remnants of an ancient subtropical rainforest. The largest, referred to by the Maori as Tane Mahuta (Lord of the Forest), is the biggest tree in the nation with a girth of nearly 50 feet.
With such geologic and ecologic diversity crammed into a relatively small area, Northland is well worth any attempt to visit. Even if you don’t make it all the way to the end, the northern countryside is the perfect place to recover from jetlag, or finally rest after weeks of extreme sports and hiking.