Things to See & Do
Arts & culture
Auckland is the country’s cultural powerhouse, expressed in such institutions as Auckland Art Gallery and Wallace Arts Centre, as well as scores of smaller galleries. It’s also reliable for live performance and family-friendly festivals, as listed on AucklandNZ.com.
The cultural scene gets lower key and craftier beyond the city boundaries, but Northland has no shortage of artists and performers of one kind or another. Notable stops are Whangarei Art Museum, Helena Bay Gallery, and No1 Parnell in Rawene.
Beaches & bays
Lucky Auckland has beaches within 15 minutes’ drive of downtown, with the most popular wild, west coasters such as Piha and Muriwai still less than an hour’s drive away. Northland, however, is unrivalled in the beach stakes, nationwide. The pin-up is Ninety Mile Beach, actually just 88km and therefore surpassed by 107km-long Ripiro Beach to the south. But size isn’t everything. Northland’s beauties come in every shape and form, from golden arcs fronting grassy reserves, to wild, black-sand stretches backed by massive dunes. Campsites can be found next to many, encouraging socialising with like-minded folk as well as sunrise and sunset walks.
A Bay of Islands cruise is a must-do in Northland, with a variety of vessels offering classic Hole in the Rock tours as well as fishing, family-friendly and wildlife trips including dolphin swimming. Kayaking is also popular, as are diving and snorkeling from Paihia and within Northland’s two marine reserves – Goat Island and the Poor Knights. Famously lauded by Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the latter can be explored on day-trips run from Tutukaka near Whangarei.
Hauraki Gulf Islands such as wine-soaked Waiheke and volcanic Rangitoto make for memorable day-trips from Auckland’s downtown ferry terminal, too.
Housing excellent exhibitions on natural and human history, Auckland’s War Memorial Museum provides visitors with a fascinating introduction to New Zealand history, and has plenty to keep children occupied. Such knowledge will greatly enhance exploration of Northland, a region steeped in historical significance. A young country this may be, but the stories retold at places such as the Waitangi Treaty Grounds (‘birthplace of the nation’), Russell (‘hellhole of the Pacific’), the Catholic mission station at Kerikeri are nonetheless vivid and compelling. Matakohe’s remarkable Kauri Museum evokes the trials and triumphs of pioneer life, framed within the tragic felling of Northland’s mighty forests.
Food & wine
There’s plenty of interesting, delicious food and drink throughout cosmopolitan Auckland and in notable pockets north. As well as four wine regions – Waiheke Island, West Auckland, Matakana and the Bay of Islands, there are numerous craft breweries and a raft of artisan producers making everything from cheese to chocolate to real fruit ice cream. Unsurprisingly, seafood is prized, with the likes of snapper and oysters served up by fancy restaurant and fish & chip shop alike. Northland produce includes kumara (sweet potato) and avocadoes, widely available from roadside produce stalls and farmers’ markets. Keep change in your pocket and your eyes peeled to eat inexpensively and well out of your Britz campervan kitchen.
- Campervan travel is easy outside of downtown Auckland, with clear road signage, dedicated campervan parking in many places, and excellent visitor information services.
- The holiday park closest to the Auckland Britz depot is Manukau Top 10, but there are six more holiday parks within an hour of the city centre, and around 40 more throughout wider Auckland and Northland.
- Auckland has 26 regional parks, many of which have basic but beautiful campsites.
- Northland also has nine DOC campsites, including three off the road to Cape Reinga.
- Outside of January and Easter, when New Zealand holidaymakers stream in, campsite bookings are usually not required. Campervan travellers can therefore follow a flexible itinerary.
- Being at the upper reaches of New Zealand, these two regions enjoy a sub-tropical climate so you can expect some lovely warm weather, the odd mosquito and sunburn if you don’t wear a hat.