The top of New Zealand is too often overlooked by tourists, as there are so many amazing places to visit in this country. However, it is a paradise, filled with amazing natural history and cultural folklore. We have made the journey a few times. The trip to the top of New Zealand can be done is 3-days if you hurry, although I think 5-6 days is optimal if you have the time.
If you want to do the maximum, in the least amount of time, drive to Paihia in the Bay of Islands. Spend the night and in the morning take one of the all-day bus tours to the Cape Reinga. On day three drive back to Auckland. Have you been to the top of New Zealand?
From Auckland to the Bay of Island
If you are on a tight schedule, this is an easy three-hour drive. If you have an extra day a few interesting stops along the way are Sheep World, Piroa Falls (look for 80 Waipu Gorge Rd on Google Maps), Waipu Caves, and Whangarei Falls.
You will want to spend at least one night in the Bay of Islands, locals (and many tourists) often spend a week. Paihia is centrally located, Russell requires a car-ferry passage and is both more relaxed and more expensive, and Kerikeri is ideal if you are going to see it all on the first day and be ready to head out again on Day 2.
Top 10 Things to do in the Bay of Islands (in the order you will come to them driving north from Auckland):
- Use the facilities at the artistic Hundertwasser Toilets in Kawakawa.
- Walk along the waterfront or have a swim.
- Take the ferry from Paihia to historic Russell, and enjoy a self-guided walking tour.
- Get out on the water to see the hole in the rock – either an exciting jet boat or a relaxing cruise.
- Be adventurous: swim with dolphins, parasail or skydive.
- Explore the Waitangi Treaty Grounds: home to the birthplace of New Zealand and possibly the country’s most important historic site.
Here is a map from Auckland through Kerikeri, just north of the Bay of Island:
From Paihia to Karikari Peninsula
The Karikari Peninsula (this is a different spot than the city Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands) will not take you to the top of New Zealand. It is a stunning peninsula before the road to Cape Reinga (top of New Zealand).
- Stop at Haruru Falls, if you have extra time, hike on the trails in the surrounding forest.
- Visit the Kerikeri Mission Station with the Old Stone Store and Kemp House, two of the oldest buildings in New Zealand, the Old Stone Store was actually built in 1832. (Kerikeri)
- Enjoy a taller waterfall at Rainbow Falls.
- Have a late lunch at the famous Mangonui Fish Shop.
- If you have extra time, stop at any of the lovely beaches along the north coast.
- Depending on your chosen itinerary you might skip the Karikari peninsula. If not, stop for a relaxing glass of wine, coffee or dessert at Karikari Estate winery, or head straight to the gentle waters at the picturesque Matai Bay Beach. We were told that there are occasional little blue penguins at the beach in Whatuwhiwhi, but we didn’t see any. However, there are several places to stay here including a Top 10 Holiday Park.
Spend the night on KariKari Peninsula, in Coopers Beach or Cable Bay, unless you are doing a condensed or budget version, in which case you will want to continue on and spend the night in Pukenui. The campground at Pukenui also has bunk rooms and shared kitchens.
A map for this section:
Aupouri Peninsula – to the Top of New Zealand
You will be traveling up and back 90 minutes each way on the same road. The order presented here heads north, but you can save half of the stops for the way back down.
- Ninety-Mile Beach: With 4WD you can drive on this beach, but read the warning signs and know the tides.
- Gumdiggers Ancient Buried Kauri Forest is a fascinating stop.
- If you are hungry, our favorite eatery is Pukenui Pacific Cafe.
- See the white silica sand at Rarawa Beach.
- The tiny Te Kao Store is famous for serving big and delicious ice creams.
- Adventure seekers will want to go sandboading on the Giant Sand Dunes of Te Paki.
- Cape Reinga is thought of as the top of New Zealand. It is a spiritual place for the Maori people and the meeting of two major seas.
*If you have an extra day, stay the night in Pukenui and enjoy Ninety-mile beach in the morning. Then stay in Opononi after crossing the Hokianga harbour on the ferry.
To the top of New Zealand (and back):
Kaitaia to Auckland along the Hokianga Coast (West Coast)
- Take the Hokianga car ferry across from 4 km past Kokukohu to Rawene. Check the Hokianga Ferry schedule to be sure you don’t miss the last ferry of the day.
- Have lunch in the quaint Opononi Village.
- Be sure to see New Zealand’s largest kauri trees in the Waipoua Kauri Forest. You will want to make two stops here. Heading south, you will see the sign posts for the five minute walking path leading to the 2000 year old Tane Mahuta, ‘Lord of the Forest’. It is New Zealand’s largest known living kauri tree. You may also want take the easy 20 minute (one way) walk to see The ‘Four Sisters’ and ‘Te Matua Ngahere, ‘Father of the Forest’ (the second largest tree). It is a short drive between the two trailhead markers.
- The Kauri Museum in Matakohe is a favourite museum of many of our guests. If you try to do the trip from Kaitaia in one day, you probably won’t get to the museum in time to enjoy it before it closes.
Returning along the West Coast:
How many days will you spend to drive to the top of New Zealand?
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