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. Auckland to Cape Reinga is a New Zealand road trip filled with unusual natural history and cultural folklore.
We’ve taken this road trip from New Zealand’s largest city to its northern tip many times. Now we have created a flexible New Zealand itinerary that can range from a slow adventure to a 2-day whirlwind of excitement.
For us, we have found four to five days to be optimal for this North Island road trip.
Our Auckland to Cape Reinga New Zealand road trip itinerary
Straight through, it’s a 425 km drive from Auckland to Cape Reinga that takes just under six hours.
However, there is so much to see and do along the way, with many of the attractions on our list of North Island must-sees. For the purpose of this page, we divided the trip into four segments. After that, we share our recommended four to seven-day Auckland to Cape Reinga self-drive itinerary options.
While each follows the same basic route, the timings are different. However, the details are determined by the specific number of days allocated for your trip. If you have less than four days, skip down the page for alternate suggestions.
The basic itinerary is written in four sections:
- Auckland to the Bay of Islands (east coast).
- Continue north to Kaitaia, with an optional drive on the Karikari Peninsula.
- Drive along the Aupouri Peninsula (the narrow strip of land leading to the top of the island).
- Finally, return from Cape Reinga to Auckland along the west coast.
Auckland to Cape Reinga itinerary for four to seven days
We prefer a self-guided New Zealand road trip over a tour. Therefore, we generally drive ourselves and stay in hotels, but campervan hire is popular in New Zealand.
On the other hand, if you prefer guided tours, skip to the two to three-day options below.
Segment 1: Auckland to Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is an easy three-hour drive from Auckland. If you get an early start, you can be there by mid-morning. This leaves over half a day to enjoy the area. Plan to spend the first night here.
If you allocated six or more days for the top of the island, enjoy a leisurely drive from Auckland to Paihia. We often stop in Warkworth to see the giant kauri trees, go downtown to have a coffee or riverwalk, or enjoy Sheep World.
A bit further on our journey and we stop at two waterfalls (Whangarei and Piroa) and Waipu Caves. Also, there are several more impressive things to do in Whangarei. Among them, you won’t want to miss a stroll along the town basin, a visit to the Hundertwasser Arts Centre, or to the National Clock Museum.
PRO TIP: To find Piroa Falls using GPS, search for “80 Waipu Gorge Rd” on Google Maps.
Bay of Islands activities
The Bay of Islands is an enclave of 144 islands. It is a playground for New Zealand holidaymakers and a source of history for students and visitors. There is an abundance of Bay of Islands activities ranging from relaxation to extreme sports.
Make a quick stop at the Hundertwasser Toilets, the only structure designed by Fredrick Hundertwasser in the Southern Hemisphere.
Walk to the Opua Forest Paihia lookout, or take the car ferry from Opua to Russell. (included in our itineraries of six or more days).
Spend the first night in Paihia (spend two nights if on the seven-day itinerary). Local visitors often spend a week. Paihia is centrally located with a beach that is ideal for swimming, kayaking, parasailing, or relaxing. Paihia’s port is the starting point for an excursion to the Hole in the Rock or the passenger ferry to Russell.
Stroll through New Zealand’s first capital city, or if feeling energetic, hike up Flagstaff Hill. We typically leave our car in Paihia and take a passenger ferry.
Everyone should explore the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, the birthplace of New Zealand and one of the country’s most important historic sites. Don’t miss the nearby Haruru Falls and if you have extra time, hike the trails in the surrounding forest.
- Kerikeri Mission Station
Visit two of New Zealand’s oldest buildings; the Old Stone Store (built in 1832) and the Kemp House.
Segment 2: Bay of Islands to Pukenui with an optional drive on the Karikari Peninsula
As you continue your drive north from Kerikeri, there are several sites you won’t want to miss:
- Rainbow Falls
This stunning waterfall is a short walk from the car park and something you don’t want to miss.
Often thought of as the best fish and chips in the country, it’s the lovely views that actually keep me coming back to the famous Mangonui Fish Shop.
- North coast beaches
There is one beach after the next. On our last visit, we stayed right on Cable Bay beach.
This is the first point where our itineraries split. If you have only four days, you will continue on from Manganui, skipping the Karikari Peninsula and spend the night in Pukenui. If you have longer, spend the night on Karikari Peninsula or a north coast beach city.
In the morning, detour onto the striking Karikari Peninsula for a relaxing glass of wine at Karikari Estate or a swim in the gentle waters at the picturesque Matai Bay Beach. Rumour has it that there are little blue penguins at the beach in Whatuwhiwhi, but we didn’t see any.
After the Karikari Peninsula, or instead of it on the four-day itinerary, spend the night in a cabin at the Pukenui campground. The next day is long and exciting, and this gives you a head start on the Aupouri Peninsula.
Segment 3: Aupouri Peninsula – Kaitaia to Cape Reinga
Aupouri Peninsula is the pinnacle of any Auckland to Cape Reinga road trip. It is a narrow strip of land running approximately 100 km north to the top of the island. Get an early start as, in addition to the three hours of driving, there is plenty to see and do along the way.
The peninsula 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 along the peninsula, but we recommend saving some of the stops for the return drive.
- Ninety-Mile Beach
With 4WD, you can drive on this beach, which is classified as a section of Hwy 1. Therefore, all NZ road rules apply. We can’t stress this enough: read the warning signs, know the tides, and check your car rental contract as most do not allow driving on the beach. Also of note: Ninety-Mile Beach boasts one of the best left-hand surf breaks in the world.
- Gumdiggers Park
An ancient buried kauri forest, this is a fascinating stop.
- Pukenui Pacific Cafe
Our favourite eatery on the peninsula.
- Rarawa Beach
Swim or just enjoy the white silica sand, which makes the oddest squeaking noise as you walk across it.
- Te Kao Store
A country store famous for serving huge, creamy, and delicious ice cream.
- Giant Sand Dunes of Te Paki
Adventure seekers will want to go sandboarding on these giant sand dunes.
- Cape Reinga
Finally, you will reach Cape Reinga. More than just the top of New Zealand, it is a spiritual place for the Māori people and the meeting place of two major bodies of water.
Segment 4: Pukenui to Auckland along the Hokianga Coast (West Coast)
The Hokianga car ferry, from just past Kokukohu to Rawene, cuts about an hour off the drive. Check the Hokianga Ferry schedule and be sure you don’t miss the last ferry of the day.
Once on the other side, we have lunch in the quaint Opononi Village. If you are on the six or seven-day itinerary, spend a night at Opononi Lighthouse Motel.
On the four or five-day schedule, you will be driving and enjoying New Zealand scenery for most of the day. If you get a late start, you will have time for only one stop, and that will be the Waipoua Kauri Forest.
- Waipoua Kauri Forest
Home to New Zealand’s largest living kauri tree, it is only a five-minute walk from the trail marker to the 2000-year-old Tane Mahuta ‘Lord of the Forest‘.
Also, take the short drive to the next car park, where there is an easy 20-minute (one-way) walk to see The ‘Four Sisters’ and Te Matua Ngahere, ‘Father of the Forest’ (the second largest tree).
- The Kauri Museum
Located in Matakohe, it is a favourite museum of many of our guests. However, if you try to make the return trip from Pukenui in one day, the museum will most likely have already closed for the day by the time you arrive.
Pulling it together: Itinerary details for a 1 to 7-day round trip from Auckland to Cape Reinga drive
Are you wondering how to put this all together? Here are three Auckland to Cape Reinga options:
One day Auckland to Cape Reinga by car
This is not a road trip but rather an all-day drive with only one stop to see the Cape Reinga lighthouse and the meeting of the seas. Then it is back in the car for the return drive. This is not recommended.
Two or three days from Auckland to Cape Reinga
Auckland → Paihia (half-day to explore the Bay of Island before spending the night)
Bus tour to Cape Reinga and 90-Mile Beach Discounts available depending on the day (11.5 hours, returns to Paihia) → Drive Paihia to Auckland that night OR . . .
(optional) Enjoy a half-day in the Bay of Islands → Drive Paihia to Auckland
Four days from Auckland to Cape Reinga
Auckland → Kawakawa → Paihia (half-day to explore the Bay of Islands before spending the night)
Paihia → Waitangi → Kerikeri Mission Station → Rainbow Falls → Mangonui → North coast beaches
North coast beaches → Gumdiggers Park → Te Kao Store → Cape Reinga → Te Paki sand dunes → Rarawa Beach → Ninety Mile Beach → Kaitaia
Kaitaia → Opononi → Waipoua Kauri Forest → Kauri Museum (if time allows) → Auckland
Seven days from Auckland to Cape Reinga
Auckland → Sheep World → Waterfalls → Waipu Caves → Kawakawa → Opua → Paihia
Enjoy the Bay of Islands
Paihia → Waitangi → Kerikeri Mission Station → Rainbow Falls → Mangonui → North coast beaches
North coast beaches → Karikari Peninsula → Pukenui
Pukenui → Gumdiggers Park → Te Kao Store → Cape Reinga → Te Paki sand dunes → Rarawa Beach → Pukenui
Pukenui → Ninety Mile Beach → Kaitia → Opononi
Opononi → Waipoua Kauri Forest → Kauri Museum → Auckland
Auckland to Cape Reinga three-day guided tour
If you are visiting New Zealand without a vehicle, or if you prefer the knowledge of a local guide, this is the Northland New Zealand tour we recommend. This round-trip Cape Reinga tour from Auckland does it all in just three days.
This tour takes you via an air-conditioned coach and spends two nights in the Bay of Islands. Highlights include:
- Visit Cape Reinga.
- 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 historic Russell.
- Free time to explore the Bay of Islands.
Or start in the Bay of Islands with one of these tours:
From Paihia: Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach with lunch
Learn about Māori traditions at Cape Reinga on this 11-hour roundtrip tour. You will visit the top of New Zealand and have photo opportunities of the lighthouse and the meeting of the seas, try sandboarding on Te Paki Stream and drive along Ninety Mie Beach in a purpose build bus.
Reserve your Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach tour here
Cape Reinga tour and scenic flight
This 4.5-hour tour includes a roundtrip scenic flight from Paihia to Cape Reinga over the Northland coastline, a guided mini-bus tour at the top of the island, a walk to the Cape Reinga lighthouse, morning tea including and a stop at the giant sand dune famous for sandboarding. Reserve your Cape Reinga tour and scenic flight here.
Tips for everyone travelling from Auckland to Cape Reinga
- Cars drive on the left side of the road in New Zealand.
- Our speed limits are somewhat lower than in other countries. Allow enough time to get to your destination.
- Know the driving rules. Be sure to understand how to cross the one-way bridges you will encounter driving from Auckland to Cape Reinga.
(If you only have one day, check out these alternative road trip options from Auckland.)
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What is your favourite New Zealand road trip?
New Zealand places and things you might like to see:
- 75 Free and Nearly Free Things to Do in Auckland New Zealand
- Renting a Campervan in New Zealand: What You Need to Know
- East Cape NZ Driving Itinerary: Gisborne to Opotiki Road Trip
- Enjoy an Auckland to Wellington Drive with These Stops
- NZ South Island Road Trip: Queenstown to Nelson (West Coast)
Disclaimer: We were frequently provided with complimentary services as we travelled from Auckland to Cape Reinga and back. All opinions expressed here are strictly my own.