Northland & Bay of Islands: An introduction

Northland, including the Bay of Islands, in New Zealand's subtropical far north, is the birthplace of the nation and a region rich in history and culture.

Stretching to the northern tip of New Zealand, a slim finger of land between the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean, this is a region where leisure activity and relaxation go hand in hand with a magnificent landscape.

From the white sandy beaches and myriad islands of the Bay of Islands on the east coast, to the glorious sand dunes, pounding surf and mystical kauri forests on the west, the landscape is a powerful presence.

The historic lighthouse standing at the tip of Cape Reinga is one of New Zealand’s most recognisable sights. The Cape is also a place of deep cultural significance to Māori.

Driving the Twin Coast Discovery Highway is the one of the best ways to experience this region.

Heritage

The "birthplace of the nation", Northland is an easy choice for anyone wanting to experience vibrant Māori culture and learn about the rich history of New Zealand.

According to local Ngāti Kurī tribal legend, Polynesian navigator Kupe first landed in New Zealand on the shores of Northland. Some of New Zealand's oldest traces of settlement can be found in this region, and many locals trace their ancestry back to Kupe. 

After British explorer Captain James Cook discovered New Zealand in 1769, whalers, traders and missionaries began to arrive in the region, adding to the cultural fabric of Northland. Later, in 1840, Māori chiefs and European representatives of the British Crown signed the nation’s founding document – the Treaty of Waitangi – on the shore of the Bay of Islands.

Māori culture

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds offer an insight into Māori culture and New Zealand history. Visitors to Waitangi can watch history come to life through live cultural performances and guided tours of historic buildings and gardens. Waitangi's carved Māori meeting house – Te Whare Runanga – represents all New Zealand iwi / tribes and marks the spot of the Treaty signing.

Nature and spirituality are important to Māori and form an important connection that can be experienced with a guided evening walk into the Waipoua forest. Local guides introduce visitors to the ancient giant Tane Mahuta or "lord of the forest" – a giant 2,000-year-old kauri tree.

Cape Reinga, also known as Te Rerenga Wairua, at the tip of the North Island, is one of Māoridom's most sacred places.

Nature and wildlife

Northland’s extensive coastline and thick native forests provide the perfect environment to experience nature and unique wildlife. The varied nature experiences include diving in clear waters at the globally recognised Poor Knights Island marine reserve, walking and hiking coastal and forest trails, and bird watching on the beach. 

The Bay of Islands offers swimming with dolphins, big game fishing or ocean cruises while, further north in Matauri Bay, the Rainbow Warrior shipwreck lies 21 metres (69 feet) below the surface, acting as an artificial reef and sanctuary for marine life. 

Luxury

Several seaside luxury hideaways – including world-class Eagle’s Nest and The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs – offer exclusive leisure, recreation and relaxation experiences. 

Northland is also famed for tailor-made luxury experiences. For no-expense-spared excursions, visitors can charter a helicopter to Waipoua forest, try heli-fishing, experience a private traditional Māori welcome or play a round on an internationally acclaimed golf course. 

And by the way...

  • Tane Mahuta, which stands 51 metres (167 feet) high, is the tallest kauri tree and largest by volume in New Zealand.  

  • 90 Mile Beach is actually only 55 miles (or 88 kilometres) long. 

  • The Twin Coast Discovery Highway visits all highlights on both east and west coasts.