My North Island Bucket List
Despite the slight blip in the fine weather this past weekend, summer isn’t quite over yet, and we still have a good few weeks left!! So…I figured, what better time to write a blog about some of my favourite spots to visit, that are within driving distance of Auckland.
I know that many of our candidates are in a similar position to the one I was in ten years ago. I had arrived fresh off the plane, ready to explore, and was wondering what amazing places I could visit around Auckland. Obviously, you have your well known attractions like Piha, Waiheke Island, Raglan and Hobbiton, but there’s also some other great places to visit, which don’t always feature on the standard tourist map.
Here are seven of my favourite picks below:
Whananaki is situated approximately one hour drive from Whangarei, on the east coast. After turning off State Highway 1, you’ll take a windy drive through beautiful native bush land, until you eventually arrive at Whananaki. The town itself is very small – there’s a post shop, a small café/shop, a school and a library, so it’s the perfect place to unwind and get away from the city. About five minutes’ drive from the town is a lovely campsite (pictured above) right next to the beach. Alternatively, during school holidays you can camp at the school, where they have bathroom, shower and cooking facilities. The fee goes towards the school too which is a great initiative!
Interesting fact: Next to the school is the longest footbridge in the Southern Hemisphere and this was built by locals in 1947 to allow children from the other side of the estuary to get to school. It’s a thin bridge and a bit of a squeeze if you come across people walking the opposite direction, but definitely well worth it for the stunning beaches on the other side!
If you are planning a trip to Cape Reinga, then this is definitely a place to stop at. My partner and I happened to stumble upon this on our way back (about 7 mins drive from Cape Reinga) and again, found they had a great campsite right next to the beach. It’s a long way from any shops though, so you’ll need to make sure you stock up well on food and drinks so you don’t get caught out!
This beach is probably one of my favourite beaches to travel to from the city. It’s approximately two hours’ drive from Auckland, and the perfect place to go if you’re seeking a bit of shade, as it’s lined with stunning pohutakawa trees. These trees are also known as the ‘New Zealand Christmas Tree’ so I highly recommend going around Christmas time, when these trees blossom with beautiful red flowers!! Team that with the beautiful turquoise water and you have some stunning photos to add to your collection!
Approximately 10 minutes’ drive from Langs Beach is Mangawhai Heads which is a surf beach with a patrolled swimming area. If you enjoy hiking, there is the Mangawhai Cliff Walkway which is a two to three hour return walk from the car park. To access this, you will need to walk to the end of the beach from the car park. It’s an easy to moderate walk, with a steep climb up, but make sure you time this for low tide as on the way back, you will be walking along the beach and doing a bit of rock-hopping.
To undo all the hard work from your walk, you can stop off at the famous Bennetts Chocolate Shop in Whangarei Town and sample some of their amazing chocolates!!
Tāwharanui Regional Park
This is a 1.5 hour drive from Auckland so a great place to visit for a day trip. Nearby is Matakana, where you’ll find a great farmers market every Saturday from 8am to 1pm.
The Regional Park itself is a working sheep and cattle farm and a great place to visit in Spring to see the lambs. The Tawharanui Marine Reserve is also a great place for diving and only 150 metres to walk to carry your diving gear from the Anchor Bay car park.
Awhitu Regional Park
Approximately 1.5 hours’ drive from Auckland, this is another great place for a day trip. I would suggest bringing a picnic with you as you’ll travel through countryside to get there. You’ll find beautiful white sand beaches with hardly anyone in sight. Pure paradise!!
Kawhia is a beautiful little seaside village, on the west coast, just under three hours’ drive out of Auckland. It’s a great place for some Fish n’ Chips by the beach. You’ll also find the Kawhia Ocean beach within a short drive, with some great sand dunes to slide down. Similar to Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel, you’ll find that at low tide, geothermally heated water bubbles up through the black sand – you can dig your own hot pool. To find the right spot, head straight down to the beach from the carpark, however make sure you time it right if you want to get there to dig your own hot pools as they don’t get exposed till approximately two hours before low tide.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my round up of weekend getaway destinations —I’m sure you’ll agree we are fortunate to have access to so many amazing places, within driving distance of Tāmaki Makaurau. If you manage to get away and visit one of these before the end of summer, let me know! I’d love to hear about your travels.