10 day vanlife trip through Northland, New Zealand

There’s no place like home. A bit of a cliché I know, but New Zealand is truely the best place for summer road trips, beaches and epic scenery. Northland (the district north of Auckland to the very tip of NZ) is an un touched gem and absolutely perfect for a 10 day vanlife trip. Dive in and see what to expect in our very own backyard 🚐☀️

Itinerary

Start the journey in Auckland, load up with goodies and head north. Follow our journey below to enjoy some of Northlands most amazing spots.

Need to hire a van? We did too!
Check out SHARE A CAMPER for the best place to do so.

 

Day 1: Te Arai Beach Reserve

One and a half hours drive from Auckland, Te Arai Beach Reserve is home to crystal clear water, long white sandy beaches and if you pick the right day, some epic surf. Be sure to pack your board (long or short) as there’s almost always a wave to be had.

Ps – There’s absolutely nothing here in the way of food and water folks! Be sure to pack enough food and drink for your stay and take your rubbish with you!! Be a tidy Kiwi is what we like to say ☺️🤙🏼

Things to do

Surf – Like a lot of our blog posts, we like to mention surfing. You can hire a board and a wetsuit from the main car park and get some waves straight out at the beach! 

Sunbathe – Such an epic spot to hang for the day, you’ll be surrounded by young people and lots of travellers too. Don’t forget sunblock and / or an umbrella, NZ sun is savage!

Scenic walk – While you’re there, walk up and over the Te Arai hill for a view over Forestry Beach & Te Ari.  Ps – this would be epic for sunrise ☀️

Stay

Campground – There’s a campground right on the beach for self contained vans only, book a spot HERE

Bach hire – If you’re cruising in a car and need a spot to stay, check out deals on booking.com
Tip: Te Arai is mainly farm land, so can be hard to find accomodation. The nearest spot would be Mangawhai which I’ve popped below.

Day 2 & 3: Mangawhai Heads

Magical Mangawhai sits 20 minutes along a gravel road from Te Arai. With the choice of an epic surf beach on one side, or the view of rolling sand dunes on the other, this classic New Zealand beach town is full of life, creativity and ocean breeze, making it a stop you’ll never forget.

Eateries

4 Square – 4 square is a small supermarket and a New Zealand icon. Great option for stoking up the chilly bin while on the road 🚐

Mangawhai Tavern – Grab a feed and a beer at the iconic tavern 🍻 

Brewed As Collective – Whole organic food and coffee. Yes, really really good coffee 🤤

Sand Bar Eatery – Fancy a nice dinner out? Book in at Sand Bar

Things to do

Surf – Head to Mangawhai Heads surf beach, hire a board, get out there and do it!! If you’re a little more experienced and up for the paddle, check out Mangawhai bar, there’s a nice left that peels away when the conditions play ball.

Mangawhai Cliff walkway –  They say this is one of the best coastal walkways in New Zealand, so for those of you travelling through, this is a must! Walk takes 2-3 hours, expect epic views and classic NZ scenes. For more hikes and walks in the Mangawhai area, check the website HERE.

Markets – Mangawhai is home to some of the best markets around. Most Saturdays in summer, the locals come together to bring you your classic New Zealand markets. 

A concert at the Tavern – If you’re lucky, you might see some of New Zealand’s biggest music acts playing here through summer. One of our favourite spots for a night of dancing and drinking. Best way to find out about these is to check them out on facebook HERE 

Stay

Mangawhai heads holiday park Situated on the Mangawhai estuary, you can’t get a better location to park for the night. Cabins and powered sites available. Book in advance during summer.

Bach hire – If you’re cruising in a car and need a spot to stay, check out deals on booking.com.
Tip: stay in Mangawhai heads as its easier to access the beach and surrounding areas.

Day 4 & 5: Opononi & Omapere (Hokianga Harbour)

If you take the road through Dargaville from Mangawhai (a 3 hour drive), you’ll reach the Hokianga Harbour, and the towns of Omapere and Opononi. Over 1000 years ago, this is where the first Maori arrived on the shores of New Zealand. History and harbour views all in one. The drive along the seaside road through the town is one you’ll never forget.

Things to do

Hike the local tracks – Arai te uru nature reserve is a short walk with the best views. From here you can see the Hokianga inlet, the sand dunes opposite and all the way up the harbour. Amazing scenes.

Visit the famous Tane Mahuta – Called the lord of the forest, Tane Mahuta is is a giant kauri tree estimated around 1500 – 2500 years old. A native New Zealand icon and 20 minutes drive from Opononi. If you come from Dargaville, be sure to stop on your way through.

Hoki Smoki – An authentic Kiwi feed you need to try is smoked hoki fish. Stop in for some fresh seafood caught right in the harbour at Smoki Hoki – you can thank us later. Chur!

Sand board down the Niua dunes – Sand boarding down mammoth sand dunes is always a good time. Visit the Opononi Wharf and catch a boat over for some summer fun!!

Stay

Opononi Beach Holiday Park – Park up and stay here in one of the cabins or campsites. Easy access to the water, how good!

Bach hire – If your cruising in a car and need a spot to stay, check out deals on booking.com 

Opononi Hotel – The Opononi Hotel is ideally placed for travellers wishing to explore the area. Keep an eye out on the website for any concerts and gigs that may be happening when you’re there.

Free camping – We were lucky enough to freedom camp at some family friends land up here which we will be forever grateful for. If you’re thinking of free camping, make sure it’s in spots you’re allowed & that you’re self contained! Love and respect the locals round here people, as the land is sacred as is their pride and joy.

Tip: Upon leaving Opononi, the quickest and most enjoyable way to get across the harbour is the car ferry that leaves from Rawene. Rawene itself is such a cute little township that will make you feel like you’ve stepped back through time so give yourselves a little time exploring here before the car ferry takes you across the Harbour. Fun fact: Rawene is the third oldest European town in NZ!

Day 6 & 7 Ahipara / Ship Wreck Bay

One of our favourite spots in NZ for two reasons. 1. Leahs whānau (family) is from the area (check out the pic below, Sonny Petricevich is Leahs Great Grandfather) and 2. Its got one of the best point breaks in NZ when it’s working. This west coast town in the “far north” region gives the relaxed, anything goes kinda vibe because well…literally anything goes up here.

Things to do:

Hoon on the beach at Ship Wreck Bay – This is my favourite activity in the far north because it’s chaos 😂 Every man and his motorbike, beach buggy, horse, 4wd or even rusted out two wheel Honda, takes to the beach. The beach is actually classed as a road so you can drive on it, no questions asked!! If you’re not keen to get involved, just sit back and chill on the beach, watching it unfold. It’s honestly all go!

Surf – Most of our days consist of surfing and days up here are no exception. When the swell is steaming, “shippies” produces one of the best left hand point breaks seen in NZ. Not to be missed if surfing runs through your veins.

Watch the sunset – West coast vibes means beautiful and rich sunsets. Sit back on the beach, beer in hand and watch the sun set at the end of everyday.

Crusie up 90 Mile Beach – One of the longest beaches in NZ it literally goes for miles. Look into the distance towards the cape of NZ and you’ll never reach the end. Grab a boogie board and tackle some of the large white sand dunes along the way.
Fun fact – Ninety Mile Beach is actually only around fifty five miles long.

Daily dose of action – Theres so many activities provided by the locals that will give you your daily dose of action. You can expect horse riding, quad bike treks/hire, sand yacht hire, fishing, beach buggies and a whole lot more, so check them out and get involved! 

Yes this rusty structure next to Bryn is the remains of a shipwreck 😱

Stay

To Kohanga campsite – This is on Māori land, run by some of the locals. We stay here when we go as it’s cheap ($30/night for a large site) and literally right on Shipwreck Bay. It’s an epic spot! 
Note: cold showers and long drops but thats NZ at it’s finest people!

Ahipara holiday park A holiday park with powered campsites and reasonably close to Ninety Mile Beach. A good option if you’re after warm showers and power.

Bach Hire – If your cruising in a car and need a spot to stay, check out the deals on booking.com 
Tip: Stay in the Ahipara town centre or close by. Too far out and you’ll be sleeping with the sheep.

Day 7: Day trip to the tip of NZ! (Cape Reinga)

Cape Reinga is at the very tip of skinny little New Zealand. Here, two oceans collide, the Tasman sea and the Pacific ocean – it’s like a scene out of Gladiator. On a rough day, you can look straight out from the Cape to see both oceans battle it out, pushing their strong currents against one another. I’m not sure there’s ever a clear winner but it’s a hell of a sight and you can’t miss out!

Take the slow walk down to the lighthouse, where the Māori believe the spirit of the dead leave for their final journey. You can feel the sacred energy whilst standing on the northern point of New Zealand, it’s very special to us Kiwis, so please respect our land.

If you’re coming from Ahipara or Kaitaia, the drive to the Cape is about 1.5 hours each way and is well worth the drive!
We didnt visit the Cape on this recent Northland trip as we were here back in 2018 on a family reunion.

Alternatively, see the Cape with Dune Rider Cape Reinga Tours – We don’t often get excited by bus tours but seen as Leah’s uncle owns the bus company we need to plug it + we both did this tour back in 2018 on a family reunion and loved it! In all honesty, it’s a great way to see the far north & the Cape. The bus takes you along 90 Mile Beach (yes along the sand!) and up to the Cape. On the way you’ll visit some of the largest sand dunes in the area for some sand boarding and lunch is provided too.

Book your tour HERE with Dune Rider Unique Buses and say hi to uncle Tom for us.

Stay

As you’re now most definitely in the far north, there’s minimal accomodation choices. As always we recommend checking out booking.com for accomodation in either Kaitaia, Ahipara or Houhora. Or if you wanna follow along our exact itinerary, once you’ve visited the Cape, make the 2 hour drive from the cape to Matai bay…East coast, here we come.

Day 8 & 9: Matai Bay, Kari Kari Peninsular

A big arch shaped bay on the Kari Kari Peninsular, Matai bay is as picturesque New Zealand, as you’ll find. Native Pohutukawa trees surround the beach, white sand and bright blue water top it right off. It really is an absolute gem.

Things to do

Beach Headland track – This walk goes through farm land, manuka scrub and ends up at the headland where the views are scenic and the ocean is so inviting you’ll want to run down for a swim.

Chill at the beach – Take a picnic, a good book and some sunscreen – you wont want to leave.

Longboard surf – Sadly it wasn’t surf-able for us but plenty of our friends have surfed here and the beaches nearby.

Beach day trips – There are so so many beautiful beaches on the Kari Kari Peninsular, you can explore for days. All a close drive away, check out some of the secluded spots. 

Stay

Doc Camp – Theres really only one place to camp / stay around here and that’s the doc camp. Looked after by the government, the facilities are always clean and taken care of. Its first in first serve and get’s busy over the summer months but don’t let that put you off, we found room for four vans over the hectic new years period.

Bach hire – If you’re cruising in a car and need a spot to stay, check out the deals on booking.com
Tip : Anywhere is good as long as its close to the beach.

Stop off for breaky or lunch in Mangonui

Mangonui is a historic little fishing village that draws people in with it’s vibing cafe’s, art galleries and the famous fish and chip shop.

Things to do

Eat at the Mangonui Fish Shop – World famous in New Zealand for 70 years, this is a MUST on your trip north or south when travelling through. The fresh fish right on the water is hard to come by these days and if you’re lucky, you might see a friendly shark cruising the harbour.

Eat at Little Kitchen – Another epic eatery, opposite the 4 square. We had the fresh scallops eggs benny…I’m salivating just thinking about it.

Mangonui Heritage Trail – A 3km walk around the village where you’ll see 18 historic buildings and classic NZ scenes

Stay

Bach hire – If you’re cruising in a car and need a spot to stay, check out deals on booking.com here.

Tip : When driving north or south on your road trip, stick to the coast as much as possible, New Zealand is full of amazing little towns like Mangonui. You’ll find hidden gems everywehere.

Day 10: Matapouri

The last stop on our Northland road trip. We spent New Years eve here with all our friends which was as you can imagine, rowdy 🍻🥂🎉.  The weather really turned it on and we spent hours between beers at the beach and at our friends bach. So much scenery in the area, it would be rude not to spend a couple of days here.

Things to do

Whale bay walking track – 45 minute round trip from Matapouri beach to Whale Bay. You’ll find some dirt, gravel and steep sections so be prepared with shoes. Take a picnic, towel, togs and a camera to snap up some epic views of the east coast of NZ.

Surf – Matapouri and Sandy bay (just over the hill) have good surf on an easterly swell. Battle the crowds and you’ll get some fun waves.

Dive Tutukaka – If you’re into diving, there’s some amazing spots in this area. Check out Divetutukaka for day trips.

Eat fish and chips & chill on the beach – As like all beach towns in New Zealand, fish and chip shops go off. Much like this one. Here you’ll also find some other options for food (although not many) and an ice cream if your being naughty.

Stay

Tutukaka Holiday Park – 10 minutes out of Matapouri, this is a nice and easy stay with a van, camper or tent.

Bach hire – If you’re cruising in a car and need a spot to stay, check out the deals on booking.com 
Tip : Anywhere from Tutukaka – Sandy Bay and you wont be disappointed.

Free Camp at Wehiwehi Road carpark – here you’re allowed to stay for a max of 1 night if you’re self contained. Great way to save on costs!

More Northland spots to think about

With New Zealand offering so much beauty, I’ll bullet point some of our other fav spots and if you’ve got the time and are keen…be sure to check em out!

  • Whananaki
  • Bay of Islands
  • Taupo Bay
  • Waipu
  • Omaha

Well, there it is friends! Our 10 day Northland road trip complete. We loved getting out of the big smoke, seeing Northland, New Zealand and the paradise that it is. Come on team, don’t be shy. Hire a van and get moving!!

Shaka, Bryn
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