Northern Northland

Above the Bay of Islands Northland are many small communities. For many the big attraction is 90 Mile Beach, a 100-km (60-mile) or so long clear stretch of golden sand running up North Island's tip. You access it from Kaitaia, a vibrant town with an extremely good café—Birdies—where the omelets are not only delicious, they will set you up for the day. If you want to travel the beach, take a tour. Don't roll your eyes—a tour is the safest bet. The beach is virtually off-limits to independent travelers, as, thanks to quicksand and incoming tides, rental-car insurance won't cover you here.

Just out of Kaitaia are the beaches at Ahipara and Shipwrecks. Surfers love the long lines and almost perfect waves here. Many surfers head south around the point for even better waves and fewer people.

Cape Reinga, at the peninsula's end, is a sacred Māori area. They believe that spirits depart for the underworld by sliding down the roots of the headland's gnarled pohutukawa tree (reputed to be 800 years old) and into the sea. A much-photographed solitary lighthouse stands here.

You can easily drive into the Far North, barring 90 Mile Beach. From the Bay of Islands on State Highway 10 you'll reach Mangonui, a former whaling port on the southeast side of Doubtless Bay. Beach lovers should head for the Karikari Peninsula, on Doubtless Bay's northwestern side. From Doubtless Bay it's less than a half-hour drive west to Awanui, near the service town of Kaitaia. Fill your gas tank in one of these two towns, then head north on Highway 1. The last few miles to Cape Reinga aren't paved.

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