Getting Oriented in Northland and the Bay of Islands

The West Coast, from Dargaville to Cape Reinga seems empty. The unassuming little towns along the way and the lumbering Kohu Ra Tuama Hokianga Harbour ferry contrast the luxurious lodges and fancy yachts around the Bay of Islands. No matter where you are in the North, you're never far from the water and the combination of coast, rolling pastures, and ancient native forest is unlike any other part of the country.

  • Northland.Te Tai Tokerau, or Northland, with its no-frills, tiny, friendly towns and high rates of unemployment, is extremely different from the affluent Bay of Islands. However, the scenery is just as stunning. But without the infrastructure that goes along with organized tourism you will feel a little off the beaten path. The best approach is to travel in a relaxed fashion: explore Cape Reinga, the tip of the country; take the car ferry out past the mangroves and cruise across Hokianga Harbour. The ferry is busy over summer but half the fun is people-watching—this quiet route gets its fair share of movie and music stars looking to get away from it all. Some visitors will stand in awe at the base of a giant kauri tree; others eat fish-and-chips on Opononi Beach and enjoy the views of the enormous golden sand dunes across the water.
  • The Bay of Islands. This sweep of coastline is home to 144 islands amid a mild, subtropical climate and excellent game-fishing waters. That combination makes the Bay of Islands ideal—with a slew of things to do while visiting. You'll feel well catered to, whether your interests lie in the history of Waitangi (and New Zealand) or the sunken Rainbow Warrior, staying somewhere with your own private beach, or trying to catch the biggest marlin on record.

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