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Northland & Bay of Islands

Located at the northern tip of New Zealand's North Island, Northland is a land of contrasts, with ancient kauri forests, pristine beaches, and charming coastal towns. This region is not only the birthplace of the nation, with significant historical sites like the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, but it also boasts some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in the country, including the famous Bay of Islands.

Northland's climate, known for being subtropical, means warm, humid summers and mild winters, making it a perfect destination year-round. The Northland weather encourages outdoor activities and exploration, whether you're soaking up the sun on the golden sands of Paihia, sailing through the turquoise waters of the Bay of Islands, or driving up to the iconic lighthouse at Cape Reinga.

Travelling by campervan offers the freedom to explore Northland's diverse attractions at your own pace. From the historic charm of Kerikeri to the Tutukaka Coast, known for its world-class diving spots, there’s something for everyone. Take your pick of great Northland holiday parks and campgrounds along the way, ensuring comfort and convenience as you discover the stunning landscapes of this captivating region. Whether you’re interested in Māori culture, keen on adventure sports, or simply in need of a peaceful retreat amidst stunning natural beauty, Northland provides an unforgettable backdrop for a memorable campervan journey.

 

Why explore Northland & Bay of Islands by campervan

Exploring Northland by campervan is the ideal way to truly connect with the region's abundant natural beauty and rich history. With the freedom of the open road, you can navigate the diverse landscapes at your leisure. Start your day with a sunrise at Paihia, have lunch in an ancient kauri forest, and end with a sunset at Ninety Mile Beach. 

The ability to spontaneously choose your destinations each day, without the need to stick to a fixed itinerary or check-in times, means you can immerse yourself fully in whatever captures your interest. Travelling by campervan not only offers all the comforts of home, including your kitchen and bed but also supports a self-sufficient way to travel. This is a big plus in Northland, where you might want to spend several days exploring more remote areas. Plus, having your own facilities means you're never too far from a hot meal or a comfortable night's sleep, no matter where your adventures in Northland take you.

 

Things to do in Northland & Bay of Islands

You certainly won’t be short of things to do in Northland and the Bay of Islands. This popular region is bursting with activities that cater to every interest and age group. Discover Kerikeri’s historic sites, including the oldest stone building in New Zealand. Relax in the laidback setting of Russell, a charming town with a rich history. Adventure seekers can enjoy kayaking along the coast or exploring the underwater world at Poor Knights Islands. For a more leisurely pace, indulge in wine tasting at local vineyards or simply unwind on the pristine beaches of the Bay of Islands. Every corner of Northland promises memorable experiences for all.

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Popular Northland & Bay of Islands road trips & itineraries

Northland and the Bay of Islands, situated at the northern tip of New Zealand's North Island, are ideal for campervan explorations rich in history, natural beauty, and adventure. With numerous scenic routes that lead to secluded bays and vibrant coastal towns, the journey itself becomes as captivating as the destinations. Well-equipped campgrounds along the way make it easy to park up and soak in the scenery or enjoy starlit nights away from hustle and bustle.

Auckland to New Plymouth via Forgotten Highway
Alyssa Tresider
/ Categories: NZ Itineraries

Auckland to New Plymouth via Forgotten Highway.

An NZ road trip by campervan along New Zealand’s Forgotten Highway is a bucket list experience. Mysterious, scenic, and dotted with tiny townships and cool communities, this 150 km stretch of road is New Zealand’s oldest heritage trail. One of the best ways to make the most of everything on offer on this must-do North Island road trip is to take the journey from Auckland to New Plymouth. To help you do just that, we’ve put together this awesome 6-day New Zealand travel itinerary packed full of highlights and hidden gems. 

 

Travel: 6 days

Route: Auckland loop

Best time of the year: Anytime

Highlights: 

  • Forgotten World Highway

  • Waitomo Glowworm Caves

  • New Plymouth Coastal Walkway

  • Hamilton Gardens

  • Zealong Tea Estate

 

Day 1: Auckland to Waitomo

Distance: 191 km

Travel time: 2 hours, 20 mins

Your NZ road trip adventure kicks off at Apollo’s Auckland branch – right by the airport – where your comfy motorhome will be ready and waiting. Today is an easy drive of just over two hours as you head out of Auckland and into New Zealand’s rural heartland. 

Once you get to Waitomo, step into a world of natural wonder at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Discovered over 130 years ago, these caves are not just a tourist attraction but a significant part of New Zealand's cultural and natural heritage. The caves have two main levels: the upper dry chamber that showcases stunning cave formations and the lower level known for its stream passages and the impressive Cathedral, the tallest chamber in the cave. You’ll have the opportunity to take a boat ride through the Glowworm Grotto, where thousands of glowworms illuminate the cave with their softly glowing light. This captivating display, set against ancient limestone formations, tells the story of a 30-million-year-old geological marvel. Continue your subterranean exploration at the Ruakuri Cave, where history and nature blend beautifully. Entering through its remarkable spiral entrance, you descend into a stunning cave system adorned with stalactites, stalagmites, and intricate crystal structures. Ruakuri Cave is also rich in history, having been discovered by local Māori more than 500 years ago and still holding special spiritual significance to them. The cave offers a more extensive and immersive experience, featuring unique limestone formations, echoing waterfalls, and sacred Māori sites, allowing visitors to truly connect with the land’s ancient past.

For your stay tonight, the Waitomo TOP 10 Holiday Park provides a comfortable spot right in the middle of it all. It’s an ideal place to recharge with the peaceful sounds of nature after a day of adventure.

 

Day 2: Waitomo to Taumarunui

After the mystical experience in Waitomo, continue your North Island road trip with a scenic drive to Taumarunui, a town rich with natural beauty and local culture.

Once you arrive, immerse yourself in the tranquillity of nature by walking the Whanganui River Bank Track. This gentle trail along the river is perfect for stretching your legs and taking in the picturesque views. The full track is around 8 km, so do as much or as little as you like. 

For a unique experience, visit Lauren's Lavender Farm, where you can enjoy brunch amidst the fragrant fields of lavender (in full bloom from the end of December until early March). The farm offers a peaceful retreat with stunning views, perfect for a relaxed meal. 

Another delightful stop is Bradley's Garden, a beautifully landscaped garden where you can play mini-golf and enjoy a traditional Devonshire Tea. The gardens provide a picturesque setting that encapsulates the essence of New Zealand's natural beauty.

Put your feet up tonight at the welcoming Taumarunui Holiday Park, ideally located right alongside the Whanganui River and surrounded in bush.

 

Day 3: Taumarunui to New Plymouth via Forgotten World Highway

Distance: 188 km

Travel time: 3 hours, 20 mins

Day three of your North Island road trip takes you along the captivating Forgotten World Highway, a route that truly lives up to its name. As you leave Taumarunui on SH43 you’ll travel through some of the most untouched and picturesque landscapes in the North Island. This winding road takes you through narrow mountain passes, dense forests, and offers up stunning mist-covered valleys where you feel like you’ve travelled back in time.

The drive itself is dotted with interesting stops and scenic lookouts, such as the eerie Moki Tunnel, affectionately known as the Hobbit's Hole. You'll want to take your time navigating this road. The sharp curves and steep drops offer both a thrilling ride and spectacular views, particularly at places like Tahora Saddle, where you can pull over and soak in the vast, sprawling vistas.

A must-stop is the quirky town of Whangamomona, famous for declaring itself a republic in 1989. It’s a great place to have a break and soak up some local charm. The Whangamomona Hotel is the heart of this small community, offering refreshments and a warm welcome. Grab a bite, chat with the locals, and if you’re feeling whimsical, pick up a ‘passport’ as a unique keepsake of your visit.

As you continue towards New Plymouth, the Forgotten World Highway offers more than just stunning views; it’s a journey through the heart of New Zealand’s pioneering history, filled with landscapes that have remained largely unchanged over the centuries.

Tonight, you’ll find a welcoming spot to park your campervan at the New Plymouth TOP 10 Holiday Park. Enjoy the quiet evening after a day of discovery and driving on one of New Zealand’s most memorable roads.

Image: Instagram - @fieldnotes__

 

Day 4: Explore New Plymouth

After a refreshing night's sleep in your comfy campervan, get ready to dive into the vibrant life of New Plymouth. This coastal city is not only known for its sunny climate but also for its art, culture, and the stunning natural scenery that surrounds it.

Start your day at the beautiful Pukekura Park, one of New Zealand's premier botanical gardens. Covering over 52 hectares, the park is a lush oasis of formal gardens, meandering pathways, and tranquil lakes. It's perfect for a morning walk or a leisurely picnic. Don't miss the picturesque Poet's Bridge, a favourite with visitors. 

Next, head to the Len Lye Centre, located within the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. This architectural wonder is dedicated to the works of Len Lye, a pioneering filmmaker and kinetic sculptor. The building's reflective stainless-steel exterior is as impressive as the contemporary artworks inside. It’s a must-visit for art lovers and those interested in innovative architecture. 

For a dose of coastal charm, take a stroll along the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway. This award-winning walkway stretches 12.7 kilometres along the rugged coastline, offering spectacular views of the Tasman Sea. Along the way, you'll pass the iconic Wind Wand, a kinetic sculpture designed by Len Lye himself. It’s a great spot for some photos and to feel the fresh sea breeze. 

Wrap up your day with a visit to the Puke Ariki museum and library. Situated right in the heart of New Plymouth, Puke Ariki offers fascinating insights into the region's Māori and colonial history. The interactive exhibits and well-curated collections make it an educational stop for all ages. 

Tonight, enjoy another stay at New Plymouth TOP 10 Holiday Park.

 

Day 5: New Plymouth to Hamilton

Distance: 236 km

Travel time: 3 hours, 20 mins

Today’s leg of your New Zealand road trip takes you from the coastal charm of New Plymouth to the bustling hub of Hamilton. It’s a perfect day to blend some iconic Kiwi culture and a sprinkle of movie magic into your travels.

Around two-thirds of the way through your drive, plan a stop in Otorohanga, affectionately known as the Kiwiana Town. This place is a playful nod to all things quintessentially Kiwi, from gumboots to pavlova, offering a fun and nostalgic look at New Zealand culture. Not far from the town centre is the Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park, where you can see New Zealand’s elusive national bird, the kiwi, along with other native species in settings that replicate their natural habitats.

If you’re up for an early start and a bit of a detour, consider a visit to the magical Hobbiton Movie Set. Walking into the heart of Middle-earth is a surreal experience, with the beautifully detailed hobbit holes, the Green Dragon Inn, and the Party Tree exactly as they appear in the films.

As you reach Hamilton, another delightful stop is the Zealong Tea Estate, a unique New Zealand attraction known for being the only commercial tea estate in the country. Here, you can indulge in a guided tour to learn about the tea-making process followed by a tasting session of their premium organic teas. The estate’s tranquil environment and beautifully manicured gardens provide a peaceful backdrop to relax and enjoy the aromatic blends.

Tonight, you’ll find a welcoming spot to park your campervan at the Hamilton City Holiday Park, which offers a comfortable setting to unwind after a day full of exploration.

READ MORE: 15 must-dos in New Zealand’s North Island.

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Day 6: Hamilton to Auckland

Distance: 122 km

Travel time: 1 hour, 30 mins 

As your NZ road trip draws to a close, spend your final day soaking up the charm and diversity of Hamilton before making your way back to Auckland. It’s a shorter drive today, giving you plenty of time to explore a few last gems in this vibrant city.

Start your morning at the Hamilton Gardens, a stunningly unique venue that offers more than just a typical botanical garden experience. Here, you can wander through a collection of themed gardens that transport you around the world –from the zen-like Japanese Garden of Contemplation to the grandeur of the Italian Renaissance Garden. Each garden is designed to reflect a specific culture or historical period, making it feel like you’re stepping through a portal into a different part of the world. It's a perfect spot for some leisurely exploration and reflection.

After the gardens, why not dive into Hamilton’s bustling café scene? A great spot to check out is the vibrant Grey Street Kitchen, known for its delicious brunch options and excellent coffee. It’s a local favourite and a perfect place to relax and enjoy some downtime.

For a bit of local history and art, make a stop at the Waikato Museum. The museum features exhibits on Māori culture, art galleries, and science that are engaging for all ages. It’s a cultural hub that offers insights into the region’s heritage and contemporary issues through a variety of mediums and stories.

Finally, it’s time to drive back to Auckland and return your campervan to Apollo's branch. The journey back is a good time to reflect on the amazing experiences you've had travelling through New Zealand’s North Island, from mystical caves and historic movie sets to stunning gardens and cultural museums.

 

Is the Forgotten Highway calling you?

As you can see, our Forgotten World Highway road trip has something for everyone. Ready to get started? Follow our fun-filled travel itinerary or make it your own by adding extra attractions or additional days. Whatever you decide to see and do, you simply can’t beat the freedom and comfort of doing it all by Apollo campervan.

Get started on an unforgettable North Island road trip! Take the first step and book your Apollo campervan online today.

 

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Apollo offers a fantastic selection of deals and specials for those looking to explore New Zealand by campervan. From hot deals and last-minute discounts to long-term hire benefits, you’re sure to find a deal designed to help you make the most of your campervan adventure.

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Apollo Campervan branches

Auckland

Departing from Apollo Auckland, you’re perfectly positioned for a half-day drive to Northland & the Bay of Islands. This route ensures a seamless blend of scenic beauty and local culture, culminating in the stunning landscapes of Northland.

Christchurch

The drive from Apollo Christchurch to Northland & the Bay of Islands sets you up for a scenic multi-day journey across the South Island, including the picturesque ferry crossing at the Cook Strait, and into the North Island. 

Queenstown

Keen to make the most of your road trip and explore as much of New Zealand as possible? Book your camper with our Queenstown branch and take your time heading northward over an epic 10-14 days taking in some of the great southern highlights along the way. 

Auckland City Skyline

Auckland

New Zealand’s multi-cultural hub of food, music, arts and culture.

 

Christchurch City, New Zealand

Christchurch

 One of the world’s most unique destinations.

 

Queenstown

Breathtaking scenery and adrenaline-pumping adventure activities.

 

Helpful tips for visiting Northland & the Bay of Islands

 

Climate and seasons in Northland & the Bay of Islands

Northland and the Bay of Islands are renowned for their mild, subtropical climate, making them inviting destinations throughout the year. The warm Northland weather is perfect for enjoying the region's stunning coastal areas and rich cultural heritage.

  • Summer (December to February) in Northland are warm and humid, with temperatures usually ranging from 22°C to 26°C. This season is ideal for exploring the beautiful beaches, engaging in water sports, or simply enjoying the vibrant outdoor lifestyle with alfresco dining along the waterfront. Summer is also a popular time for tourists, so expect a lively atmosphere, especially in beach towns.

  • Autumn (March to May) sees slightly cooler temperatures and less humidity, making it a perfect time for hiking and outdoor activities without the intense heat of summer. The scenery remains lush, and the less crowded attractions allow for a more relaxed exploration of the region.

  • Winter (June to August) brings cooler weather, with daytime temperatures typically between 15°C and 18°C. The cooler days are ideal for visiting historical sites and museums or enjoying some of Northland’s renowned cultural festivals. Winter in Northland is generally mild, allowing for year-round outdoor activities.

  • Spring (September to November) revitalises the region with early blooms and warmer weather, gradually heating up towards summer. This is an excellent time to witness the vibrant flora and fauna as the landscapes burst into life, making it ideal for photography and nature walks.

 

 

 

What to pack?

Preparing for your campervan road trip in Northland and the Bay of Islands means packing smartly to fully enjoy the region's mild, subtropical climate and rich outdoor and cultural offerings. From sunbathing on pristine beaches to exploring historic sites and sailing in the bay, here’s what to bring:

  • Outdoor gear: The diverse environments, from the sandy beaches of the Bay of Islands to the forested walks of Cape Reinga, call for versatile outdoor apparel. Opt for lightweight, breathable clothing that will keep you comfortable during the warm days, and don’t forget a few layers for cooler evenings — perfect for cosy nights under the stars. Durable walking shoes are essential, whether you're planning to trek through the forests or stroll around the historic towns.

  • Campervan add-ons: Enhancing your campervan setup can significantly improve your travel experience. Consider packing a portable barbecue for enjoyable seaside grills. You may also like to hire extra camping chairs and a table when you book your Apollo campervan to create a comfortable outdoor living space wherever you park. These additions are perfect for relaxing after a day of adventure or for enjoying a meal with a view.

  • Sun protection: The Northland and Bay of Islands region enjoy plenty of sunshine, making thorough sun protection crucial. Include a high-SPF sunscreen, UV-protection sunglasses, and a broad-brimmed hat in your packing list. This will ensure you can safely indulge in the outdoor activities that the region is famous for, from kayaking across clear waters to lounging on the beach.

For more helpful ideas, check out our guide to what to pack for your campervan road trip.

 

 

Attractions and day trips in Northland

 

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are a must-visit for anyone interested in New Zealand's history. As the site of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, it offers a deep dive into the nation's past through engaging exhibits, guided tours, and cultural performances. The beautifully maintained grounds overlooking the Bay of Islands also provide a peaceful setting to reflect on New Zealand's foundational document.

Paihia

Paihia is the vibrant heart of the Bay of Islands, known for its lively waterfront filled with cafes, shops, and galleries. It's the perfect base for exploring the surrounding islands by ferry or enjoying water sports like kayaking and parasailing. The town's relaxed atmosphere and scenic beauty make it a favourite spot for both locals and tourists.

Russell

Once known as a rowdy 19th-century whaling port, Russell has transformed into a charming seaside town. It's rich with historic buildings like New Zealand’s oldest church, and its quaint streets, waterfront promenades, and excellent restaurants offer a picturesque step back in time.

Cape Reinga

At the northern tip of New Zealand, Cape Reinga offers breathtaking views where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. This spiritually significant site for Māori is accessible via a scenic drive, with opportunities to see the iconic lighthouse and the famous pohutukawa tree that marks the 'leaping-off' point of spirits into the afterlife.

Ninety Mile Beach

Despite its name, Ninety Mile Beach is actually about 55 miles long and serves as one of the country’s most stunning natural highways. It’s perfect for a day of adventure, offering activities like sandboarding down massive dunes or just enjoying a leisurely drive along its vast, sandy stretch.

Kerikeri

Kerikeri is known for its fertile soils and beautiful orchards, but it's also rich in history. Highlights include the Stone Store and Kemp House, the oldest stone and wood buildings in New Zealand. The town also hosts vibrant markets and has a thriving arts scene, making it a delightful destination for culture and cuisine.

Mangonui

Mangonui is primarily known for its historic waterfront lined with heritage buildings that now house charming cafes and shops. This small fishing village is famous for its fish and chips, offering fresh seafood with a view. It’s an ideal spot for a relaxed day soaking up local flavours and sea breezes.

Whangarei

Whangarei, the northernmost city in New Zealand, offers a mix of cultural and natural attractions, including the acclaimed Whangarei Falls and the Town Basin marina filled with galleries and cafes. It's a great starting point for trips to the nearby beaches and lush native forests.

Tutukaka

Known as the gateway to the Poor Knights Islands, Tutukaka offers some of New Zealand’s best diving and snorkelling experiences. The marine reserve's clear waters are teeming with colourful sea life and are perfect for underwater adventures. Above water, Tutukaka’s coast is dotted with secluded bays and pristine beaches to explore.

 

Where to stay in Northland & The Bay of Islands with a campervan

When it comes to finding the perfect spot to park and rest in Northland & the Bay of Islands, there's no shortage of picturesque, comfy campgrounds. Here are a few worth checking out:

Northland

Bay of Islands

 

 

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