Great NZ road trips: Northland to Auckland

By Elizabeth Binning

The AA recommends three days for its Auckland to Northland great Kiwi road trip - and it's probably the best bit of advice they could give. Photo / Northern Advocate
The AA recommends three days for its Auckland to Northland great Kiwi road trip - and it's probably the best bit of advice they could give. Photo / Northern Advocate

The AA recommends three days for its Auckland to Northland great Kiwi road trip - and it's probably the best bit of advice they could give.

We tried to do it in two and spent most of that time driving, glancing out the window at beautiful golden beaches and wishing we had more time.

The trip, which covers 724km, has everything from leisurely strolls around the most northern winery to adventure sports on giant sand dunes. AA recommends starting your trip in Paihia and enjoying a day on the water, learning more about the Treaty of Waitangi at the Treaty grounds or hiking along the edge of the Waitangi River.

Given our time restraints, we started in Kerikeri with a visit to Kemp House, New Zealand's oldest-standing European building, before heading north to Doubtless Bay's sandy east coast beaches.

Again there are numerous things to do along the way, including taking a drive along the Million Dollar View Road, which overlooks the final resting place of the Rainbow Warrior, or grabbing a bite to eat at Mangonui's famous fish and chip shop. The food really is good, but comes at Auckland prices.

For those with time it is worth dedicating a whole day to the Awanui to Cape Reinga section of the trip. The drive between the two points takes about two hours but there are plenty of stops which could easily take up a whole day - including numerous activities at Ninety Mile Beach.

We visited Gumdiggers Park, the site of an ancient buried kauri forest, and Te Paki's stunning giant sand dunes, which really are giant.

From there it's about 15 minutes to Cape Reinga and the views are well and truly worth the drive.

We arrived late on a Wednesday night to find only a handful of other tourists and the sun just starting to set. The views were breathtaking and far more than I had expected. There is something magical about standing at the top of the country, looking out at the point where two great oceans merge and watching the sun start to fade.

There isn't a lot of accommodation up there so the best advice would be to head back down to Kaitaia. There's not much open after 9pm but I can recommend a great meal at Sea Dragon Chinese restaurant.

Not far from there the descent down the west coast starts at the small township of Ahipara. This was another of those picturesque towns that we only had time to drive through but looked like it would be worth spending time in, even if it was just to lie on the beach. AA says there is also sandsurfing in the dunes, 4WD trekking, blokarting, horse riding, fishing, diving and surfing for those who are looking for adventure.

The next part of the drive south goes through rolling farmland, much of which runs alongside rambling streams, before stopping in the tiny township of Kohukohu, where a car ferry takes you to Rawene - the gateway to the northern Hokianga.

Then it's down to the charming wee town of Opononi, known for adopting the friendly bottlenose dolphin Opo during the summer of 1955-56, and Omapere, which offers amazing views.

The next stop is in the middle of the Waipoua Forest to view the "God of the Forest, Tane Mahuta". At 51.5m high the giant kauri's size really has to be seen to be appreciated. It's great watching the faces of each new tourist when they see the Kauri for the first time - I've never seen so many jaws drop open.

Kai Iwi Lakes is a great place for keen campers while further south Dargaville, the kumara capital of New Zealand, is the first main centre since Kaitaia and its museum offers great views of the Wairoa River.

From there Matakohe is home of the internationally acclaimed Kauri Museum and before you know it you are back on SH1 heading back to the hustle and bustle of Auckland.

DIGGING INTO ENTHRALLING PAST OF MIGHTY KAURI

Ancient buried forests, giant trees, chainsaw carvings in old stumps - I have to admit I had never expected the majestic kauri to feature so prominently in a road trip around the Far North.

Sure, I'd seen the seen the large kauri sign on the side of SH1 many times but when I think of Northland, lovely beaches and Cape Reinga spring to mind, not the mighty tree.

However, as I discovered on a quick trip to the country's most northerly region, kauri plays a big role in the area, and its history is fascinating.

From 1870 to 1920 digging for gum was the major source of income in Northland. Today, retrieving the ancient logs that have been perfectly preserved under peat swamps and transforming the wood into works of art has proved popular and provides income for many people.

At Awanui, just north of Kaitaia, Gumdiggers Park provides tourists with a fascinating glimpse of the past.

The park, built on ancient buried kauri forests, still has large pits where the men dug for gum at the end of buried trees 100 years ago. In one large site, partially excavated, you can see two layers of ancient Kauri forests which were buried by some sort of cataclysmic events which caused their destruction tens of thousands of years ago.

There are also replicas of old campsites and a video full of interesting facts on gumdigging - including how the term gumboot came to be.

Not far from the park, the Ancient Kauri Kingdom displays handcrafts made from logs extracted from local farms. You can even look through glass partitions and see staff out the back working on gifts like spinning tops, bread boards, artworks and large carvings.

The store also features a giant 45,000-year-old log which has been hollowed out to create a remarkable staircase that has to be seen to be really appreciated.

For those more interested in the living product, a drive along SH12 through the Waipoua Forest provides a chance to see the largest living kauri tree, Tane Mahuta.

- NZ Herald

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