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Northland & Bay of Islands

Located at the northern tip of New Zealand's North Island, Northland is a land of contrasts, with ancient kauri forests, pristine beaches, and charming coastal towns. This region is not only the birthplace of the nation, with significant historical sites like the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, but it also boasts some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in the country, including the famous Bay of Islands.

Northland's climate, known for being subtropical, means warm, humid summers and mild winters, making it a perfect destination year-round. The Northland weather encourages outdoor activities and exploration, whether you're soaking up the sun on the golden sands of Paihia, sailing through the turquoise waters of the Bay of Islands, or driving up to the iconic lighthouse at Cape Reinga.

Travelling by campervan offers the freedom to explore Northland's diverse attractions at your own pace. From the historic charm of Kerikeri to the Tutukaka Coast, known for its world-class diving spots, there’s something for everyone. Take your pick of great Northland holiday parks and campgrounds along the way, ensuring comfort and convenience as you discover the stunning landscapes of this captivating region. Whether you’re interested in Māori culture, keen on adventure sports, or simply in need of a peaceful retreat amidst stunning natural beauty, Northland provides an unforgettable backdrop for a memorable campervan journey.

 

Why explore Northland & Bay of Islands by campervan

Exploring Northland by campervan is the ideal way to truly connect with the region's abundant natural beauty and rich history. With the freedom of the open road, you can navigate the diverse landscapes at your leisure. Start your day with a sunrise at Paihia, have lunch in an ancient kauri forest, and end with a sunset at Ninety Mile Beach. 

The ability to spontaneously choose your destinations each day, without the need to stick to a fixed itinerary or check-in times, means you can immerse yourself fully in whatever captures your interest. Travelling by campervan not only offers all the comforts of home, including your kitchen and bed but also supports a self-sufficient way to travel. This is a big plus in Northland, where you might want to spend several days exploring more remote areas. Plus, having your own facilities means you're never too far from a hot meal or a comfortable night's sleep, no matter where your adventures in Northland take you.

 

Things to do in Northland & Bay of Islands

You certainly won’t be short of things to do in Northland and the Bay of Islands. This popular region is bursting with activities that cater to every interest and age group. Discover Kerikeri’s historic sites, including the oldest stone building in New Zealand. Relax in the laidback setting of Russell, a charming town with a rich history. Adventure seekers can enjoy kayaking along the coast or exploring the underwater world at Poor Knights Islands. For a more leisurely pace, indulge in wine tasting at local vineyards or simply unwind on the pristine beaches of the Bay of Islands. Every corner of Northland promises memorable experiences for all.

Alyssa Tresider
/ Categories: NewZealand, NZ blog

Must do experiences to put on your New Zealand bucket list.

10 must-do experiences when visiting New Zealand

Gather the family, your friends, or your significant other, and decide which of these must-do experiences you’ll add to your New Zealand road trip. 

 

Visit the Most Northern Part of New Zealand

A place of immense cultural significance, Cape Reinga is the most northern point of Aotearoa. A five-hour road trip from Auckland through lush farmland, ancient native forests, and winding coastal roads, the road trip there is an experience in itself.

Cape Reinga, known to Māori as 'Te Rerenga Wairua', is believed to be the departing place of spirits. A place where the souls of the deceased leap off into the underworld. This sacred spot provides a spiritual connection that adds depth to your visit. It’s also here where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean in a spectacular swirl of currents. On a clear day, you can witness this remarkable phenomenon from the viewing deck near the lighthouse.

For outdoor enthusiasts, the Te Paki Coastal Track offers a chance to soak up stunning coastal scenery. And if you're up for some sand-surfing, the nearby Te Paki Sand Dunes will offer you a thrilling ride.

 

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Sample the wine on Waiheke Island 

A short ferry ride from Auckland across the glistening waters of the Hauraki Gulf, Waiheke Island unfolds as a haven for wine lovers. Leave your Apollo campervan parked up in Auckland and enjoy a relaxing day trip or bring it on board the Sealink vehicle ferry with you.

With a unique microclimate that aids viticulture, Waiheke Island is home to over 30 wineries, each offering distinct experiences. Try the Bordeaux-style wines at Mudbrick Vineyard, soak in the stunning 360-degree views at Cable Bay, and savour mouth-watering seafood at the Oyster Inn.

But there's more to Waiheke than wineries. Explore the golden beaches, discover the vibrant local art scene, or stroll along scenic coastal walkways. With its serene natural beauty and thriving local community, Waiheke offers an idyllic day out.

 

Huka Falls, Taupo

Right in the heart of New Zealand's North Island, a mere ten-minute drive from Taupo, the mighty Huka Falls makes a thunderous statement. Here, the placid Waikato River narrows into a raging torrent, hurtling over an 11-metre waterfall at a staggering rate of 220,000 litres per second. The sight and sound of this water spectacle are both mesmerising and humbling.

The falls can be enjoyed from several viewing platforms that extend over the river. For the adventurous, there are river cruises and jet boat rides offering up-close experiences. In the immediate vicinity, the Huka Trails provide excellent walking and cycling opportunities, taking you along the riverbanks through beautiful scenery.

Further adding to the allure of this region, the Huka Prawn Park offers fun-filled family activities. Try your hand at prawn fishing or explore the interactive water features. Nearby, the Huka Honey Hive serves a sweet ending to your day with honey tastings and bee-themed souvenirs.

 

Hike the Tongariro Crossing

A majestic landscape sculpted by volcanic activity awaits you in the heart of New Zealand's North Island - the Tongariro National Park. The jewel of this UNESCO World Heritage Site is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, often hailed as the country's greatest day hike.

Just under 20 km in length, this trek is a journey through a remarkable volcanic landscape. You'll traverse across a dramatic terrain that features steam vents, old lava flows, colourful sulphur mounds, and striking alpine vegetation. The highlight of the trek is the climb to the Red Crater summit where you're rewarded with panoramic views of the Emerald Lakes, their vibrant green hue a stark contrast to the surrounding blackened lava flows. 

Fans of the Lord of the Rings may recognise Mount Ngauruhoe as the notorious Mount Doom, adding an element of fantasy to your adventure.

 

Discover Middle-earth at Hobbiton

Just a two-hour drive from Auckland in the heart of the Waikato region, the rolling hills of Hobbiton offer a chance to step right into the pages of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth. This fantastical movie set is an enchanting experience for fans and non-fans alike.

Stroll along the Shire, where you can peek into 44 famous Hobbit holes including Bilbo Baggins' house, Bag End. Meander past the vibrant gardens, bustling with flowers and vegetables, and stop by the Party Tree, the scene of many a hobbit celebration. No trip to Hobbiton would be complete without a visit to the Green Dragon Inn. Here, you can relax with a pint of hobbit-style brew and relive your favourite moments from the epic film series.

 

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Unwind in geothermal hot pools in Rotorua

Immerse yourself in the geothermal wonderland of Rotorua, located just under three hours’ drive from Auckland. Known for its bubbling mud pools, shooting geysers and natural hot springs, Rotorua is a unique thermal destination like no other.

The mineral-rich waters of Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park & Mud Spa offer therapeutic experiences in a unique setting. Soak in hot mud baths and sulphur spas, while revelling in the surrounding dramatic geothermal landscapes. Another great option is the Manupirua Springs Hot Pools, accessible only by boat on Lake Rotoiti. Here, amidst secluded surroundings, you can relax in geothermal-heated waters while taking in breathtaking lake views.

From soothing dips and mud therapies to simply taking in the impressive geothermal activity, Rotorua provides the ultimate rejuvenating experience amidst nature's own spa.

 

Explore Abel Tasman National Park

Perched at the top of the South Island, just over an hour's drive from Nelson, is Abel Tasman National Park. This beautiful spot is New Zealand's smallest national park, but it offers an abundance of beauty and a myriad of outdoor activities. The park’s inviting golden beaches, turquoise waters, and lush native forest make it a paradise for nature and adventure enthusiasts.

The park offers an array of activities to suit every traveller. Walk sections of the famous Abel Tasman Coast Track, one of New Zealand's Great Walks, kayak along the coastline and explore the park's marine reserves or try a spot of bird watching. If you're lucky, you may even encounter playful fur seals or dolphins. You can also camp under the stars for a complete immersion in nature.

 

Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park 

Located in the heart of the South Island, Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is a land of ice and rock. It’s also home to New Zealand's tallest mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook. Towering over a breathtaking landscape of glaciers, alpine meadows, and star-studded skies, the park is an adventurer's dream.

Experience the grandeur of Aoraki/Mount Cook up close by embarking on one of the many walking and hiking trails, suitable for all fitness levels. Whether you take a leisurely walk around the Hooker Valley track or brave the challenging Sealy Tarns track, you'll be rewarded with awe-inspiring vistas.

 

Cruise along Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu, the sparkling gem of Queenstown, is nestled in the South Island's Southern Alps. The surrounding majestic mountains provide a stunning backdrop to this lightning-bolt-shaped lake. A cruise along Lake Wakatipu offers a unique perspective of Queenstown's natural beauty. As you glide across the lake on a classic steamship, you'll witness stunning alpine landscapes unfold, each more picturesque than the last. This tranquil and scenic cruise offers the perfect contrast to Queenstown's adrenaline-fuelled adventures.

 

Kayak through Milford Sound

Located in the spectacular Fiordland National Park in the South Island, Milford Sound is a world-renowned natural wonder. Kayaking through the tranquil waters offers an intimate and immersive way to explore this stunning landscape.

As you paddle across the deep, dark waters, you'll be dwarfed by the sheer cliff faces, feel the spray of waterfalls, and get close to the area's diverse wildlife, including seals, dolphins, and penguins. Every stroke brings a new perspective, every turn a new awe-inspiring scene. A kayak journey here is an enchanting adventure that allows you to appreciate the grandeur of Milford Sound on a personal level.

 

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Need help planning your New Zealand itinerary?

For more help planning your New Zealand road trip, download the free thl Roadtrip app for Android or iPhone. This handy app is a campervan traveller’s best friend. Access handy tips for planning and preparing your trip, find out what to expect on pick up, and see a full show-through video of your campervan hire. You can also use it to find nearby freedom camping sites, holiday parks, campsites, fun things to do in New Zealand, and more.

 

Ready to explore New Zealand?

From the farthest reaches of Cape Reinga to the awe-inspiring peaks of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand's varied landscapes promise the holiday of a lifetime. 

Ready to embark on your own Kiwi adventure? Don't wait another day. Start your journey now by booking your Apollo campervan online and pick it up from our Christchurch or Auckland branch. Let's hit the road together!

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Northland and the Bay of Islands, situated at the northern tip of New Zealand's North Island, are ideal for campervan explorations rich in history, natural beauty, and adventure. With numerous scenic routes that lead to secluded bays and vibrant coastal towns, the journey itself becomes as captivating as the destinations. Well-equipped campgrounds along the way make it easy to park up and soak in the scenery or enjoy starlit nights away from hustle and bustle.

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Apollo Campervan branches

Auckland

Departing from Apollo Auckland, you’re perfectly positioned for a half-day drive to Northland & the Bay of Islands. This route ensures a seamless blend of scenic beauty and local culture, culminating in the stunning landscapes of Northland.

Christchurch

The drive from Apollo Christchurch to Northland & the Bay of Islands sets you up for a scenic multi-day journey across the South Island, including the picturesque ferry crossing at the Cook Strait, and into the North Island. 

Queenstown

Keen to make the most of your road trip and explore as much of New Zealand as possible? Book your camper with our Queenstown branch and take your time heading northward over an epic 10-14 days taking in some of the great southern highlights along the way. 

Auckland City Skyline

Auckland

New Zealand’s multi-cultural hub of food, music, arts and culture.

 

Christchurch City, New Zealand

Christchurch

 One of the world’s most unique destinations.

 

Queenstown

Breathtaking scenery and adrenaline-pumping adventure activities.

 

Helpful tips for visiting Northland & the Bay of Islands

 

Climate and seasons in Northland & the Bay of Islands

Northland and the Bay of Islands are renowned for their mild, subtropical climate, making them inviting destinations throughout the year. The warm Northland weather is perfect for enjoying the region's stunning coastal areas and rich cultural heritage.

  • Summer (December to February) in Northland are warm and humid, with temperatures usually ranging from 22°C to 26°C. This season is ideal for exploring the beautiful beaches, engaging in water sports, or simply enjoying the vibrant outdoor lifestyle with alfresco dining along the waterfront. Summer is also a popular time for tourists, so expect a lively atmosphere, especially in beach towns.

  • Autumn (March to May) sees slightly cooler temperatures and less humidity, making it a perfect time for hiking and outdoor activities without the intense heat of summer. The scenery remains lush, and the less crowded attractions allow for a more relaxed exploration of the region.

  • Winter (June to August) brings cooler weather, with daytime temperatures typically between 15°C and 18°C. The cooler days are ideal for visiting historical sites and museums or enjoying some of Northland’s renowned cultural festivals. Winter in Northland is generally mild, allowing for year-round outdoor activities.

  • Spring (September to November) revitalises the region with early blooms and warmer weather, gradually heating up towards summer. This is an excellent time to witness the vibrant flora and fauna as the landscapes burst into life, making it ideal for photography and nature walks.

 

 

 

What to pack?

Preparing for your campervan road trip in Northland and the Bay of Islands means packing smartly to fully enjoy the region's mild, subtropical climate and rich outdoor and cultural offerings. From sunbathing on pristine beaches to exploring historic sites and sailing in the bay, here’s what to bring:

  • Outdoor gear: The diverse environments, from the sandy beaches of the Bay of Islands to the forested walks of Cape Reinga, call for versatile outdoor apparel. Opt for lightweight, breathable clothing that will keep you comfortable during the warm days, and don’t forget a few layers for cooler evenings — perfect for cosy nights under the stars. Durable walking shoes are essential, whether you're planning to trek through the forests or stroll around the historic towns.

  • Campervan add-ons: Enhancing your campervan setup can significantly improve your travel experience. Consider packing a portable barbecue for enjoyable seaside grills. You may also like to hire extra camping chairs and a table when you book your Apollo campervan to create a comfortable outdoor living space wherever you park. These additions are perfect for relaxing after a day of adventure or for enjoying a meal with a view.

  • Sun protection: The Northland and Bay of Islands region enjoy plenty of sunshine, making thorough sun protection crucial. Include a high-SPF sunscreen, UV-protection sunglasses, and a broad-brimmed hat in your packing list. This will ensure you can safely indulge in the outdoor activities that the region is famous for, from kayaking across clear waters to lounging on the beach.

For more helpful ideas, check out our guide to what to pack for your campervan road trip.

 

 

Attractions and day trips in Northland

 

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are a must-visit for anyone interested in New Zealand's history. As the site of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, it offers a deep dive into the nation's past through engaging exhibits, guided tours, and cultural performances. The beautifully maintained grounds overlooking the Bay of Islands also provide a peaceful setting to reflect on New Zealand's foundational document.

Paihia

Paihia is the vibrant heart of the Bay of Islands, known for its lively waterfront filled with cafes, shops, and galleries. It's the perfect base for exploring the surrounding islands by ferry or enjoying water sports like kayaking and parasailing. The town's relaxed atmosphere and scenic beauty make it a favourite spot for both locals and tourists.

Russell

Once known as a rowdy 19th-century whaling port, Russell has transformed into a charming seaside town. It's rich with historic buildings like New Zealand’s oldest church, and its quaint streets, waterfront promenades, and excellent restaurants offer a picturesque step back in time.

Cape Reinga

At the northern tip of New Zealand, Cape Reinga offers breathtaking views where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. This spiritually significant site for Māori is accessible via a scenic drive, with opportunities to see the iconic lighthouse and the famous pohutukawa tree that marks the 'leaping-off' point of spirits into the afterlife.

Ninety Mile Beach

Despite its name, Ninety Mile Beach is actually about 55 miles long and serves as one of the country’s most stunning natural highways. It’s perfect for a day of adventure, offering activities like sandboarding down massive dunes or just enjoying a leisurely drive along its vast, sandy stretch.

Kerikeri

Kerikeri is known for its fertile soils and beautiful orchards, but it's also rich in history. Highlights include the Stone Store and Kemp House, the oldest stone and wood buildings in New Zealand. The town also hosts vibrant markets and has a thriving arts scene, making it a delightful destination for culture and cuisine.

Mangonui

Mangonui is primarily known for its historic waterfront lined with heritage buildings that now house charming cafes and shops. This small fishing village is famous for its fish and chips, offering fresh seafood with a view. It’s an ideal spot for a relaxed day soaking up local flavours and sea breezes.

Whangarei

Whangarei, the northernmost city in New Zealand, offers a mix of cultural and natural attractions, including the acclaimed Whangarei Falls and the Town Basin marina filled with galleries and cafes. It's a great starting point for trips to the nearby beaches and lush native forests.

Tutukaka

Known as the gateway to the Poor Knights Islands, Tutukaka offers some of New Zealand’s best diving and snorkelling experiences. The marine reserve's clear waters are teeming with colourful sea life and are perfect for underwater adventures. Above water, Tutukaka’s coast is dotted with secluded bays and pristine beaches to explore.

 

Where to stay in Northland & The Bay of Islands with a campervan

When it comes to finding the perfect spot to park and rest in Northland & the Bay of Islands, there's no shortage of picturesque, comfy campgrounds. Here are a few worth checking out:

Northland

Bay of Islands

 

 

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