THE NORTHLAND REGION
The historic Bay of Islands is one of the main destinations in Northland, packed with attractions including the famous boat trip out to the Hole in the Rock. Captain James Cook sailed the Endeavour into the Bay of Islands in 1769 to be followed by whalers and missionaries who began trading with the Maori. Increasing British influence led to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in February 1840, vesting sovereignty of New Zealand in Queen Victoria. Today the Treaty House and the historic town of Russell are just two of the gems in the area that lie waiting to be explored. To the north lies a convoluted coastline and an area that has always been a Mecca for holidaymakers who spread out each summer into the many bays and sandy beaches. Huge volcanic spires rise above the forest clad landscape surrounding the Whangaroa Harbour while further north lies a myriad of sheltered harbours and golden sandy beaches runs from Doubtless Bay through to the Aupouri Peninsula with its ancient settlements on the Houhora Harbour. People have been hard at work changing this wild and beautiful landscape for more than a thousand years. From the small groups of prehistoric Maori who travelled each year to their summer camp below Mt Camel at Houhora, to the whalers, traders, missionaries and gumdiggers who followed, the land has seen its share of pioneering settlers. The main destination for visitors today is the historic lighthouse at Cape Reinga with many interesting places to stop off along the way.
The western coastline of Northland is rugged, with forest clad ranges feeding numerous rivers that flow into the long harbours that stretch inland from the sea. When the first humans arrived, Northland was covered in the tallest and most ancient forests on earth. Today this is a relaxing and peaceful landscape to take a drive through on your way to visit the Hokianga Harbour and the giant kauri trees in the Waipoua Forest. Te Mahuta Ngahere, the father of the forest is a sight not to be missed and a short distance further north you will also find Tane Mahuta, only a few minutes walk from the road. Since the road through the forest was completely sealed, this trip has become a favourite for visitors to New Zealand. Trounson Park features numerous endangered bird species as well as giant kauri in a beautiful forest sanctuary. Dargavilles Shipwreck Museum further south on the coast, provides a fascinating glimpse into the history of this wild northern coastline and it is only a short drive out to Bayleys Beach where you can experience for yourself, the windswept expanse of New Zealands longest unbroken beach. Another must-see attraction in the area is the world class Matakohe Kauri Museum.
On the east coast south of the Bay of Islands you can still find vintage steam trains operating near Kawakawa as well as other tourist attractions including quaint country museums, glow worm caves and limestone rock formations. Out on the coast there are numerous unspoiled beaches and sheltered bays waiting to be explored as well as the big game fishing and diving centre at Tutukaka. Offshore lie a number of wrecks for divers as well as the world class marine reserve at the Poor Knights Islands. Framed by the five jagged volcanic peaks of Mt Mania, overlooking the entrance to the Whangarei harbour, Northland's largest city is located less than 30 minutes drive from this spectacular stretch of coastline. Off the coast lie more impressive volcanic peaks. The pinnacles of the Hen and Chickens group, were named by Captain James Cook in 1770 while to the south are beautiful white sand beaches running from Ruakaka to Waipu Cove and from the Mangawhai Heads south to Pakiri. It is here along this stretch of coastline in the small township of Waipu that you will find the story, told in the local museum, of the pioneering Scots who came to this part of the coast in the 1850s. Further south you can take a trip out to historic Kawau Island or detour to the marine reserve at the end of the Matakana Peninsula.