Kiwi Guide Sean and traveller at Cape Reinga

Northland Odyssey: Cape Reinga & Bay of Islands – Kiwi Guide Stories

Kiwi Guide and Northland local Sean McDonnell shares our Northland Odyssey: Cape Reinga & Bay of Islands itinerary.

Travelling the length of New Zealand and meeting new people and experiencing exciting places is my dream job!

I have been with the MoaTours family now for the past five years and loved every minute of it. Having lived in Northland for 15 years I thought I had been everywhere. That was until I guided my first tour and realised there is a myriad of places still left to be discovered.

Please enjoy my first hand account of this incredible journey. 

Day 1: Auckland – Matakohe – Waipoua Forest – Hokianga

After picking up my travellers, going over the safety procedures, and handy travel information we headed to our very first destination.

Muriwai is home to one of only three mainland gannet breeding grounds in the country. The views out on the wild west coast are truly impressive. We make the short walk out to the water’s edge where you can see these majestic birds. They are so close you can just about touch them!

From Muriwai we drive State Highway 16 passing an array of vineyards, farms and heritage buildings along the way. We also catch glimpses of the mighty Kaipara Harbour. The harbour is the largest by volume in the Southern Hemisphere and was an important transport route before the current road was built. This harbour just happens to be full of fish and is my favourite fishing spot in New Zealand.

We soon come to our lunch stop at the Gum Diggers Cafe close to the Kauri Museum in Matakohe where we get to savour some delicious New Zealand kai. Don’t forget to order your flat white! The museum is second to none when it comes to Northland history. With over 4,500 square metres of exhibits The Kauri Museum is the largest undercover attraction in Northland, with the theme and focal point the mighty Kauri tree.

From the museum we head north into the magical Waipoua Forest. Not only is this the largest Kauri forest in the world, it is also the home of Tane Mahuta, the largest known Kauri tree. He is truly magnificent and deserves the title of “God of the Forest”. The local guide told some mesmerising stories and even sang us a lovely Karakia.

After the forest we turn into The Heads Hokianga Hotel which is right on the waterfront. What a perfect place to share a wonderful meal and spend our first night. The air is so clean and fresh up here and it feels as though the city is a million miles away. 

Day 2. Hokianga – Rawene – Butler Point, Hihi – Taipa Beach

We are all up early and start the day with happy faces and full stomachs. We drive just around the corner where we are greeted by the amazing crew at Manea Footprints of Kupe. I don’t want to give too much away, all I will say is the live interactive show is truly remarkable. Hold onto your seats and brace for a wild ride!

Not only is Opononi known as the first place where Kupe is said to have landed, it is also the town where Opo the Dolphin gained international news coverage in the 1950s for playing close to the beach with the locals – it was the first recorded incidence in the world.

Before catching the small vehicular ferry across the Hokianga harbour from Rawene to Kohukohu I recommended to my group to have a look at my good friend’s art gallery and cafe. No 1 Parnel Gallery in a converted historic building constructed primarily from Kauri timber. The beautiful floors are worth the visit alone! You can also visit Clendon House, a short walk from the cafe, and steeped in history.

After leaving the ferry it is a lovely drive through some picturesque countryside before arriving at Butler Point Whaling Museum. If you haven’t been to this old whaling station before you are in for a real treat. Jan is a wonderful host and shows us around her home and museum which has been in the family for many generations. We also have lunch here among the birds and pohutukawa. There is an original whaling boat on the property and we are enthralled with stories about the life of a whaler.

We head down the road to the lovely seaside community of Mangonui for an ice cream and a slow stroll out to the wharf where many families were catching fish. There is also a great little art gallery there and shops to enjoy.

Next stop for us is Taipa and the Taipa Beach Resort. We are so close to the beach you can hear the waves lapping on the shore. If you feel like going in for a dip ( I usually do) this is the place. Or alternatively you can use the resort pool. We are spoiled on our tours! 

Day 3. Taipa – Cape Reinga – Houhora – Ninety Mile Beach – Mangonui – Taipa

We are up bright and breezy today and the sun was already lovely and warm. This day is a biggie and one of my tour highlights. Before we head north we made the short trip to visit Win Mathews at the world famous in New Zealand Matthews Vintage Collection. Win is passionate about cars. I lost count of all the automobiles in his collection. He even played the piano for us and a few of our team started dancing. What a great start to the day!

Heading to Cape Reinga is always a special part of the tour and today did not disappoint! If you have been to the top of the country you will know how much wild energy is here. Watching the Tasman Sea colliding with the Pacific Ocean is a site to behold. Te Rerenga Wairua is one of the most important sites for Maori. They believe that spirits travel here and on to the afterlife.

On our drive back down from Cape Reinga we stopped at a lovely wee spot right on the waters edge near Houhora for a picnic. The sun was shining and the birds were chirping and the fish were jumping. Magical!

It’s just a short drive from this gentle East Coast scene to the dramatic West Coast where we stroll on the sands of Ninety Mile Beach feeling pretty insignificant against the expansiveness of this magnificent beach.

We get back to the hotel in good time for people to freshen up and before we headed out to the renowned Mangonui Fish Shop for dinner on the water’s edge. 

Day 4. Taipa -Te Waimate Mission – Kerikeri – Waitangi, Bay of Islands

We leave Taipa Beach Resort in high spirits and drive the scenic route through Kerikeri to the Bay of Islands, the “cradle of the nation”.

There is so much history and so many “firsts” in Kerikeri. On our historic trail we meet the guides at Te Waimate Mission House. I never knew that Charles Darwin visited the area in December 1835. We then drove into town and parked at the Basin. We had another amazing lunch with all of the trimmings .

After lunch we headed across the road to the Stone Store, the oldest stone building in New Zealand and along with Kemp House, part of the Kerikeri Mission Station. Built in 1835 it now serves as a small museum and as a shop. Kemp House is right next door and was built in 1822. It is listed as a category one protected building and is New Zealand’s oldest.

The Basin today very beautiful and relaxing…it is hard to imagine that not too long ago Hongi Hika and his warriors brought back his spoils of war here in hundreds of war canoes.

After leaving the lovely town of Kerikeri we headed to Waitangi and the Treaty Grounds in The Bay of Islands.

Our guide met us and took us through the perfectly manicured lawns and well presented Treaty buildings and Marae. This is where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed on the 6th February 1840. It was fascinating to hear the history of The Treaty and also see the huge waka on display. We chatted with a Maori carver who was creating toanga (treasures) near the gift shop.

A great day! 

Day 5. Bay of Islands – Cape Brett – Russell

The Bay of Islands is now a lovely tourist centre, however, Russell (Kororareka) was once “The Hell Hole of the Pacific” . It’s also the site of the first Capital.

The very best way to see the Bay of Islands is by boat. With over 144 Islands to explore it’s a dream destination and lots of people explore the secluded beaches. Many of the Islands are now run by the Department of Conservation and you can visit them by day and swim in the emerald waters.

In the summer months big game fishing is often world class. This is where the author and avid fisherman Zane Gray lived for a time in the 1920s.

We are fortunate enough to go out to some of these islands. Our captain is a real character and kept us entertained and in stitches with funny stories. One of our stops was at Cape Brett’s the Hole in the Rock. It was a little bit too rough to go through on this day, but we got very close.

On the way back we witnessed a super pod of dolphins. The captain estimated there were over 1000! They came so close to the boat some were even splashing us with their jumps and flips. What an experience.

Stepping shore in Russell the sun was shining and the water was glistening. I almost had to pinch myself yet again. We walked along the waterfront to the Pompallier Mission House and Printery, the first printing press in New Zealand. You can see now why they call this area the cradle of the nation.

We caught the boat back to Paihia and went back to the hotel to freshen up and prepare for yet another tasty meal. 

Day 6. Bay of Islands – Whangarei – Auckland

From the Bay we headed to the Whangarei Town Basin.

Our first stop is the Hundertwasser Art Centre and Wairau Maori Art Gallery. You really need to check this building out!

There is an art gallery, a cafe and also a small forest on the top floor. This is the best place in Australasia to see original paintings by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, an internationally recognized artist and architect. Originally from Austria, he lived in Northland for over thirty years and absolutely loved New Zealand.

Our last stop before heading back to Auckland is the Native Bird Recovery Centre. We see first hand the amazing work done by Rob and Robyn Webb and their volunteers. The centre started in 1992 and has helped to successfully rehabilitate thousands of birds. We were lucky enough to see a baby kiwi up close.

Summertime in Northland with MoaTours

Thank you to all our travellers who shared this wonderful experience with me in this stunning and historic part of New Zealand.

For anyone thinking about doing the Northland Odyssey: Cape Reinga & Bay of Islands, I highly recommend it. 

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Northland Odyssey: Cape Reinga & Bay of Islands 6 Day Tour

Tane Mahuta in Waipoua Forest, carvings and traditional waka at Waitangi and stunning Cape Reinga and the Bay of Islands.

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