The gloves could come off in a battle of the bays contest after Tourism Bay of Plenty says it aims to knock Northland, and the Bay of Islands, off the list of New Zealand's top five destinations.

Tourism NZ figures show tourists dropped $600 million into the Northland region in 2013. This comes as the region has been named AA Traveller Monitor's top summer spot and Tourism NZ's fifth most popular popular holiday destination.

The top five are Queenstown (1), Rotorua (2), Auckland (3), Wellington (4) and Northland (5), with western Bay of Plenty just missing out on the fifth spot.

However, Bay of Plenty tourism industry leader Rhys Arrowsmith said tourism in that region was worth $530 million last year and he's issued the friendly challenge to take Northland's spot - with Northland tourism leaders saying "go ahead and try!"


Jeroen Jongejans, chairman of the Northland Tourism Development Group, said he applauded Tourism Bay of Plenty's optimism but believed it would "struggle to steal" Northland's position, "because Northland has everything".

Mr Jongejans said we boast twin coasts, are subtropical, have a strong history, the Bay of Islands and beyond, heaps of bays and beaches, Maori culture, warm waters, fishing, diving and water activities all year round, the Poor Knights and four purpose-sunk shipwrecks, great art, food and coffee and closeness to New Zealand's largest domestic market and main arrival airport.

Untapped potential attractions that could see Northland top the list include the Hundertwasser Art Centre, four-star hotel accommodation in Whangarei, improved highways and increased cruise and air traffic, Mr Jongejans said.

Soon to be felt benefits would stem from local tourism aligning with the Tourism Industry Association New Zealand's newly released national Tourism 2025 10-year plan and "greater and smarter co-operation with local governments".

However, he is also warning the industry not to take Northland's natural charms and its ready audience for granted. Continual improvement in service and choices of product, plus dealing with seasonality were ongoing challenges, Mr Jongejans said.

The Automobile Association has also named Northland as New Zealand's most popular domestic summer holiday region.

Northland captured almost 12 per cent of the overnight visitor market during December to February and more than 14 per cent of total visitor nights, with most coming from New Zealand's largest city.

The latest AA Traveller Monitor, a monthly survey of AA members focused on better understanding domestic overnight travel, reveals summer led to 1.5 million visitor nights in Northland for a holiday. A little over half of the holiday-based visitor nights in Northland - 784,000 - were in January alone, mostly from Auckland.

Northland Regional Council economist Darryl Jones said that picture was backed up by increased tourism-generated money transactions. Electronic card transactions made by foreign tourists in Northland from October to February were 11 per cent higher than in 2012/13 and 13 per cent higher than in 2008/09.