The top of New Zealand is too often overlooked by tourists, as there are so many amazing places to visit in this country. However, an Auckland to Cape Reinga road trip is a paradise filled with amazing natural history and cultural folklore. We have made the journey a few times as it’s one of my two favourite road trips from Auckland. This flexible New Zealand itinerary can be done in 3-days if you hurry, although I think 5-6 days is optimal.
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Auckland to Cape Reinga:
If you want to do the maximum your Auckland to Cape Reinga road trip 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 from Paihia to Cape Reinga. On day three drive back to Auckland.
From Auckland to 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, Whangarei or Piroa Falls (to find Piroa Falls look for 80 Waipu Gorge Rd on Google Maps), and Waipu Caves.
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 ideal if you are going to see it all on the first day. Just 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. (Or take the car ferry from Opua).
- 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 historical site.
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, the Old Stone Store, and Kemp House, two of the oldest buildings in New Zealand. The Old Stone Store was 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 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 – to Cape Reinga the Top of New Zealand
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. 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 Ninety-mile beach in the morning. Then stay 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 see 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 do the trip from Kaitaia in one day, you probably won’t get to the museum in time to enjoy it before it closes.
- 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 booking.com 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.
- We always carry a copy of Lonely Planet’s New Zealand Travel Guide when we tour the country.
What is your favourite New Zealand Itinerary? How many days will you spend to drive from Auckland to Cape Reinga?
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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.
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