While the Waikato holds most of my heart, Northland holds the rest. It is truly paradise, think endless deserted beaches, fresh seafood and gorgeous campgrounds. This blog post is only a small taste of what the area has to offer but covers an area that is easy to do in a weekend. On this particular trip our first stop was Goat Island Marine Reserve near Leigh. There is a lovely private campground called Goat Island Camping & Accommodation, with beautiful sea views and tonnes of space. The Marine Reserve is a fantastic place to snorkel, a bit busy, but beautiful. We saw huge snapper, quite a few stingrays and plenty of other fish.
Just south of Goat Island Marine Reserve is the small town of Matakana. This place is an excellent pit stop on the way to the Marine Reserve, especially on a Saturday when the market is in full swing. There are also plenty of vineyards, the guys at Ascension are particularly friendly and knowledgeable, and there is a fabulous brewery and eatery called Sawmill with great food and beer.
About an hour north of Goat Island Marine Reserve are the small, beautiful towns of Mangawhai and Waipu. We are luckily enough to have a couple of our best friends living up there so could camp on their land, however, there is a nice DOC campsite at Uretiti Beach to stay as well. Mangawhai has some great cafes and markets on Saturdays as well as a jaw dropping beach a short drive away at Managawhai Heads. This beach has great waves and plenty of space to go for a long walk. There is also a great hike along the Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway if you want to work up a sweat before taking a dip (9km return). Just north of Mangawhai is the lovely town of Waipu, which has an awesome brewery and pizza barn – McLeod’s Brewing – I highly recommend popping in. There are also a couple of great beaches at Waipu Cove and Langs Beach for swimming.
Our next stop was the stunning Whangarei Heads, which is an hour north of Waipu. This place is seriously gorgeous. There are small islands dotted everywhere and you would be forgiven for thinking you were up in the Bay of Islands. We climbed Mount Manaia (4km return) to get our bearings and were rewarded with some pretty great views. Except for the view of the Refinery, however, Andrew did not seem to mind marveling at this man made structure.
We then took a short drive down to Smugglers Bay, which is just a short 15 minute walk from the car park nearby. This is one of the most beautiful beaches we have ever seen. White sand, blue waters, deserted. It is the perfect place to perch on the beach and take in the scenery, watching the odd gannet diving deep into the ocean, and spotting oyster catchers with their chicks. It is also a fabulous place for snorkeling around the rocks, with countless fish and a few stingrays swimming about.
Any camping trip up in Northland is pretty cheap, the DOC campsite at Uretiti Beach only costs NZ$13 a night and for the private campground at Goat Island Marine Reserve it costs NZ$22 a night. The rest is petrol and food costs, so you’re looking at around NZ$50 a day including accommodation.