It was the 27th December 2015.
We had just picked up our camper van that we were to live in for the next two months.
We had just spent the last 5 days in the middle of the City in Auckland.
And now we were on the open road, free to roam and explore New Zealand.
The sun was shining down on us. We went and picked up groceries and more bits and bobs for the van. We filled the van up with fuel. We had 3 days until we had to be in Mangawhai, just north of Auckland, for Northern Bass for New Years. It made no sense to go south of Auckland then come back up, so we decided to spend those few days exploring the very north of the North Island – aptly and creatively named, the Northlands.Travelling the Northlands made the most sense for us at the time geographically, but it was never high on our priorities list, mostly because we didn’t know too much about it. It wasn’t a place we were dying to visit like Wanaka, or a place with a tourist hotspot that would be ridiculous to not go to whilst there, like the geothermal parks in Rotorua or the glowworm caves in Waitomo. Having said that, many people do go up north to check out the Bay of Islands, Cape Reinga at the very top of the country, the Kauri Forest, and Waitingi – where a treaty was first signed between the British Crown and the Maori Chiefs. It’s also a pretty popular holiday spot in the summer with Kiwis, as The Northlands is also known as the Winterless North. Whilst I’m not sure if that is strictly true, it definitely gets the best weather in the country, with lots of hot sunny days, and some gorgeous beaches to compliment the weather.
One of the big problems for us, however, was lack of direction. We weren’t entirely sure what we wanted from the Northlands and we knew deep down our main reason for travelling this area was to kill time until Northern Bass. Another big problem was money. Yes, we had just started our trip, but we were also very aware we had just spent $4,700 on a van, which we would have to regularly fill up with gas. There was a lot we wanted to do with our time in New Zealand, and we were reluctant to burn money in our first few days there, on things we had never been too fussed about, just for the sake of it.
We decided that for the sake of time, money and gas, we wouldn’t head to the far north and instead stick to the south of the Northlands.
Our first night in the van, I did enjoy. We camped at a DOC scenic campsite in Waipu, in between Mangawhai and the Northlands only city, Whangarei. We were right by the beach and had gorgeous weather. We sunbathed and read and relaxed.
The next day, we decided to head to the Bay of Islands. It was the main tourist destination in the Northlands so it seemed worth going to. However, we again weren’t really prepared. Unsuprisingly, most of the stuff to do and see in the Bay of Islands is, well, around the Islands and not on the mainland. But we were reluctant to spend money on boats getting around the Islands. We decided to head to Waitingi as we thought this would be really interesting, but then found out it was $30 to enter.
We then decided to head to the complete other side of the country and go to the west of the Northlands, where the Kauri forest is. Kauri trees are the ancient giants of New Zealand. They used to cover the country but now this is the only area where you can find these huge trees. It was a long journey here, but was probable my favourite part of the north. I’m in love with forests and jungles. I feel at one with the trees. I feel immersed in nature and at one with nature. I loved seeing the huge trees and learning more about them and their part in Maori culture and history.
By going from east to west and back to the east again, we did use a lot of petrol. I felt like we were spending so much money, which probably added to the feeling that the Northlands weren’t worth it. Yet having said that, one of my favourite parts of the experience was the driving. There was some beautiful scenery and it was our first taste of New Zealand’s awesome beauty. We drove through rolling hills high up in the mountains, and when driving towards the west coast, we had the road open up to us and were greeted by this.
The picture doesn’t do it justice, but this huge bay opened up to the sea. On one side was grass and on the other side was a huge sand dune. Seeing the natural beauty is something that can’t be beaten.
So, is the northlands worth it? I think it depends on how much time you have and what you want to do. If you have lots of time and aren’t too worried about money, then the Northlands may be worth checking out, but I would recommend doing some research and having a clear idea of what it is you would like to do. Do you want to go hiking? Kayaking around the Bay of Islands? See the tallest tree in New Zealand? Soak up the historical and cultural significance of the area? Enjoy the beaches?
If you don’t have time or money is tight, I wouldn’t prioritise the Northlands at all. Yes, some of it is very beautiful, but ALL of New Zealand is very beautiful. Wherever you go you will see incredible natural beauty – rolling hills, mountain ranges, lakes so blue it looks fake. The experiences you can have in the Northlands aren’t unique to the Northlands, apart from the Kauri forest of course. Any water based activity around the Bay of Islands can be done on many of the hundreds of lakes, rivers, fiords, and sounds in New Zealand. Yes the weather is nice, but like anywhere in New Zealand it can be hit or miss. And no one exactly visits New Zealand for the weather!!
I’m glad I did explore the North, but it did feel like a necessity for our trip. I didn’t feel like our trip in New Zealand had really begun until we left Northern Bass (which by the way was awesome and I’d recommend to any DnB heads if you’re in NZ on new years) on New Years Day and headed south. Maybe I was too busy rushing forwards, I forgot to enjoy the moment.
Have you ever been to the Northlands? What did you think? Comment Below!!