The northern edge of New Zealand welcomes visitors with endless coastlines, deep blue seas, giant sand dunes, ancient Kauri forests, white sand beaches, and some of the best fish and chips in the country. It’s a New Zealand road trip filled with unusual natural history and cultural folklore. This flexible New Zealand itinerary from Auckland to Cape Reinga can range from a slow adventure to a 2-day whirlwind of excitement. We have found 4-5 days to be optimal for this North Island road trip.
Table of Contents
- 1 Auckland to Cape Reinga – 4 to 7 Day Itinerary
- 2 Auckland to Cape Reinga 3-Day Guided Tour
- 3 Auckland to Cape Reinga 2-Day Adventure
- 4 General Information
Auckland to Cape Reinga – 4 to 7 Day Itinerary
We have headed north several times, preferring a self-guided North Island New Zealand road trip to a commentated and guided tour. If you are the opposite, click here to skip to the 2-3 day guided itinerary options.
Auckland to Bay of Island Drive
Regardless of the length your 4-7 day adventure, plan to spend the first night in Paihia in the Bay of Islands. It is an easy three-and-a-half hour drive from Auckland. If you are on a tight schedule, go directly there and spend the first day exploring the Bay of Islands.
If you have an extra day, make it a leisurely drive from Auckland to Paihia and stop at a few interesting sights along the way. Our favourites are Sheep World, Whangarei Falls, Piroa Falls (to find Piroa Falls look for 80 Waipu Gorge Rd on Google Maps), and Waipu Caves.
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.
- Take in a beach: Either walk along the waterfront, go for a swim, or relax in the sand.
- Walk to the Opua Forest Paihia lookout.
- Take the passenger ferry from Paihia to historic Russell, and enjoy a self-guided walking tour. (Or take the car ferry from Opua).
- Hike up Flagstaff Hill.
- 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.
- Sail and enjoy a delicious lunch from a tall ship.
- Enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner overlooking the sea.
- Explore the Waitangi Treaty Grounds: home to the birthplace of New Zealand and possibly the country’s most important historical site.
→Check prices for Waitangi Treaty Grounds Day Pass OR for a Waitangi Treaty Grounds Day Pass, Hangi and Concert
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 ferry passage and is both more relaxed and more expensive, and Kerikeri is a bit farther, but an okay choice.
Accommodations in Paihia we recommend:
|Kingsgate Hotel Autolodge||Enjoy a one minute walk to the beach or Paihia wharf. Take advantage of the swimming pool, hot tub, and free bicycle usage. The sea views are spectacular.||Check availability and pricing at Kingsgate Hotel Autolodge|
|Allegra House||A bed and breakfast that is a bit farther from the water, but a wonderful place to stay.||Check availability and pricing at Allegra House|
|Haka Lodge||A backpackers for when we just need a quick and easy place to spend the night.||Check availability and pricing at Haka Lodge|
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 the trails in the surrounding forest.
- Visit the Kerikeri Mission Station, the Old Stone Store, and Kemp House, two of the oldest buildings in New Zealand. The Old Stone Store was built in 1832.
- 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 of 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.
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.
Aupouri Peninsula – Kaitaia to Cape Reinga
The final stretch of your Auckland to Cape Reinga road trip will be travelling up and back 90 minutes each way on the same road along the Aupouri Peninsula. It is the narrow strip of land running approximately 100 km to the north at the upper (northern) end of the North Island of New Zealand, ranging from 10 – 30 km in width. It shares its name with the local Maori iwi (tribe) Aupōuri. In legend, it is known as Te Hiku-o-te-ika-a-Māui, which translates to the tail of Māui’s fish.
. 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 favourite 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 sandboarding 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 90 Mile Beach in the morning. Then spend a night in Opononi after crossing the Hokianga Harbour on the ferry.
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 find the signposts 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 to 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 make the trip from Kaitaia in one day, you probably won’t get to the museum in time to enjoy it before it closes. (It is over 300 km from Auckland to Kaitaia)
Maori designs in Greenstone
Auckland to Cape Reinga 3-Day Guided Tour
Officially called a 3-day Bay of Islands tour from Auckland, it hits the highlights and goes all the way to Cape Reinga. If you are visiting New Zealand without a vehicle, or if you prefer the commentary and knowledge of a local tour guide, this is the tour of Northland we recommend. It starts and ends in Auckland and does it all in just three days.
This Auckland to Cape Reinga trip takes you via an air-conditioned coach and spends two nights in the Bay of Islands. Highlights include:
- Visit Cape Reinga, New Zealand’s northernmost point.
- Drive along 90-mile beach.
- Scenic drive through Puketi Kauri Forest.
- Entrance to Waitangi Treaty Grounds.
- Cruise to the famous Hole in the Rock.
- Tour of historic Russell.
- Free time to explore the Bay of Islands.
Auckland to Cape Reinga 2-Day Adventure
It is possible to travel from Auckland to Cape Reinga and back in just two days. The total drive time in one direction can be as short as six hours. However, there are a few places you would want to stop and see along the way. If your time is extremely limited and Cape Reinga is a must see, I would recommend driving first to Paihia in the Bay of Islands, exploring the area and spending the night. On day two I would take an 11-hour waverider coach adventure that returns to Paihia, then make the 3.5-hour drive back to Auckland. This is not optimal, but possible.
The bus allows you to see the sights while someone else drives, to safely drive along 90-mile beach, and to stop and explore at Cape Reinga, walk along the boardwalk in the ancient Puketi Forest (1000-year-old Kauri trees), and sandboard down the giant Te Paki Sand Dunes.
- Cars drive on the left side of the road in New Zealand, and our speed limits are somewhat lower than in other countries. Allow enough time to get to your destination.
- Know the rules; there are several one-way bridges to cross while driving from Auckland to Cape Reinga.
- In each city, there is a range of accommodation options. We use and recommend both booking.com and Hotels Combined to find the best prices in New Zealand.
- Be sure your travel insurance covers any medical expenses you might incur. While New Zealand’s accident compensation plan sometimes pays for medical visits for injuries, it will not cover illness.
What is your favourite New Zealand road trip? How many days will you spend to drive from Auckland to Cape Reinga?
Disclaimer: We were frequently provided with complementary services as we travelled from Auckland to Cape Reinga and back. All opinions expressed here are strictly my own.
Here's the secret to packing light:
Download our free packing light checklist when you sign up for our newsletter.