21 Best Sights in Northland and the Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Matakohe Kauri Museum

Fodor's choice

South of Dargaville is Matakohe, a pocket-size town with this singularly outstanding attraction. The museum's intriguing collection of artifacts, tools, photographs, documents, and memorabilia traces the story of the pioneers who settled this area in the second half of the 19th century—a story interwoven with the kauri forests. The furniture and a complete kauri house are among the superb examples of craftsmanship. One of the most fascinating displays is of kauri gum, the transparent lumps of resin that form when the sticky sap of the kauri tree hardens. This gum, which was used to make varnish, can be polished to a warm, lustrous finish that looks remarkably like amber—right down to the occasional insects trapped and preserved inside—and this collection is the biggest in the world. Volunteers Hall contains a huge kauri slab running from one end of the hall to the other, and there is also a reproduction of a cabinetmaker's shop, and a chain-saw exhibit. The Steam Saw Mill illustrates how the huge kauri logs were cut into timber. Perhaps the best display is the two-story replica of a late 1800s to early 1900s boardinghouse. Rooms are set up as they were more than 100 years ago; you can walk down the hallways and peer in at the goings-on of the era. If you like the whirring of engines, the best day to visit is Wednesday, when much of the museum's machinery is started up.

Waipoua State Forest

Fodor's choice

Kauri forests once covered this region, and Waipoua State Forest contains the largest collection of the remaining trees although many are currently under threat from a disease known as Kauri Dieback. Because of this, always check with the center to see if the forest is open the day you visit. If it is open, a short path leads from the parking area on the main road through the forest to Tane Mahuta, "Lord of the Forest," and the largest tree in New Zealand. It stands nearly 173 feet high, measures 45 feet around its base, and is 1,200 to 2,500 years old. The second-largest tree, older by some 800 years, is Te Matua Ngahere, about a 20-minute walk from the road. If you have a few hours to spare you can visit Te Matua Ngahere and other trees of note. Head to the Kauri Walks parking lot about a mile south of the main Tane Mahuta parking lot. From there you trek past the Four Sisters, four kauri trees that have grown together in a circular formation, then the Yakas Tree (named after an old kauri-gum digger), and Te Matua Ngahere. The forest has a campground—check at the visitor center before you pitch a tent. Facilities include toilets, hot showers, and a communal cookhouse. When it's wet, you may spot large kauri snails in the forest. Also, the successful eradication of predators such as weasels and stoats has led to a rise in the number of kiwis in the forest. You'll need a flashlight to spot one because the birds only come out at night. The Waipoua campground and Waipoua Visitor Centre is managed by Te Iwi O Te Roroa, the local Māori tribe.

Waitangi National Trust Estate

Fodor's choice

Take in a major site in New Zealand's history at the northern end of Paihia to gain a better understanding of the turbulent relationship between Māori and the British colonizers. The Treaty House on Waitangi Treaty Grounds is a simple white-timber cottage and was prefabricated in New South Wales for British resident James Busby, who arrived in New Zealand in 1832. Busby had been appointed to protect British commerce and put an end to the brutalities of the whaling captains against the Māori, but he lacked the judicial authority and the force of arms necessary to impose peace. The real significance of the Treaty House lies in the events that took place here on February 6, 1840, the day the Treaty of Waitangi was signed by Māori chiefs and Captain William Hobson, representing the British crown. The treaty was the first formal document that bound the Māori to the British crown, and it became the basis for Britain's claim to the entire country as its colony. The visitor center presents the events that led to the Treaty of Waitangi. You'll also be able to experience kapa haka, a live Māori cultural performance. The center also displays Māori artifacts and weapons, including a musket that belonged to Hone Heke Pokai, the first Māori chief to sign the treaty, who would later go on to attack the British in their stronghold at Russell. From the visitor center, follow a short track (trail) through the forest to Ngatoki Matawhaorua (ng-ga-to-ki ma-ta-fa-oh-roo-ah), a Māori war canoe.

Recommended Fodor's Video

Christ Church

One of the donors to the construction of New Zealand's oldest church was Charles Darwin, who at that time in 1835 was making his way around the globe on board the HMS Beagle. Behind the white picket fence that borders the churchyard, gravestones tell a fascinating and brutal story of life in the colony's early days. Several graves belong to sailors from the HMS Hazard who were killed in this churchyard by Hone Heke's warriors in 1845. Another headstone marks the grave of a Nantucket sailor from the whaler Mohawk. As you walk around the church, look for the musket holes made when Hone Heke besieged the church. The interior is simple and charming—embroidered cushions on the pews are examples of a still-vibrant folk-art tradition.

Church and Robertson Sts., Russell, Northland, 0202, New Zealand

Claphams Clocks—The National Clock Museum

If you want to while away some time, this clock museum is the place for you. About every conceivable method of telling time is represented. The collection of more than 1,500 clocks includes primitive water clocks, ships' chronometers, and ornate masterworks from Paris and Vienna. Ironically, the one thing you won't find here is the correct time. If all the bells, chimes, gongs, and cuckoos went off together, the noise would be deafening, so the clocks are set to different times.


Sixty-four kilometers (40 miles) south of the Waipoua Forest along the Kaihu River, you'll come to sleepy Dargaville, once a thriving river port and now a good place to stock up if you're planning to camp in any of the nearby forests. It has some good craft stores, too. The surrounding region is best known for its main cash crop, the purple-skinned sweet potato known as kūmara. You'll see field after field dedicated to this root vegetable.

Goat Island

Take a trip to the Goat Island (also known as Te Hawere-a-Maki Marine Reserve), where fishing is prohibited and marine life has returned in abundance. Prominent species include blue maomao fish, snapper, and cod. It does get crowded here, and midweek is best. You can put on a snorkel and get up-close-and-personal with a school of maomao. The beach area is good for a picnic as well. Another fun activity is to take a glass-bottom boat tour. Just as the name promises, Glass Bottom Boat takes a glass-bottom boat around the island and gives you an aquarium eye view of waters teeming with fish. If the weather isn't ideal, there is an inner reef trip. Call ahead, because trips don't run if there is too much of a swell. You can also rent flippers, masks, and snorkels if you want to get in the water. To get to Goat Island head toward Leigh, 21 km (13 miles) northeast of Warkworth. From Leigh, take a left turn and follow the signs for a couple of miles. If you arrive by 10 am, you should avoid the masses especially midweek and in winter. If you want to stay the night, there are camping grounds nearby; the Warkworth Visitor Centre will direct you.

Historic Kerikeri Basin

Most of the interest in Kerikeri lies just northeast of the modern town on the Kerikeri Inlet where you'll see the Stone Store, the country's oldest stone building. It was designed by the Wesleyan missionary John Hobbs, and built by Australian convict William Parrott. Behind it is Kemp House, known also as the Kerikeri Mission House, built about the same time as the store between 1832 and 1836 by the London-based Church Missionary Society.

It was built for the Reverend John Butler by missionary carpenters (though Māori sawed the timber) and the two-story structure is of simple Georgian design, with a hipped roof and symmetrical facade.

Viewers should be able to take from these buildings an idea of how Anglican missionaries attempted to re-create some of what they had left behind. They were invited to Kerikeri by its most famous historical figure, the great Māori chief Hongi Hika. The chief visited England in 1820, where he was showered with gifts. On his way back to New Zealand, during a stop in Sydney, he traded many of these presents for muskets. Having the advantage of these prized weapons, he set in motion plans to conquer other Māori tribes, enemies of his own Ngapuhi people. The return of his raiding parties over five years, with many slaves and gruesome trophies of conquest, put considerable strain between Hongi Hika and the missionaries. Eventually his warring ways were Hongi's undoing. He was shot in 1827 and died from complications from the wound a year later.

Kerikeri Mission Station

The station, which includes the 1821 Mission House and the Stone Store, provides a fascinating and rare look at pretreaty New Zealand. Kemp House, otherwise known as Mission House, has gone through many changes since 1821, but ironically, a major flood in 1981 inspired its "authentic" restoration. The flood washed away the garden and damaged the lower floor, and during repair much information about the original structure of the house was revealed. Its ground floor and garden have been restored to the style of missionary days, and the upper floor retains its Victorian decoration. Stone Store, New Zealand's oldest stone building, is a striking example of early colonial architecture. Designed by Wesleyan missionary John Hobbs and built by an Australian convict stonemason between 1832 and 1836, the Store was meant to house New Zealand mission supplies and large quantities of wheat from the mission farm at Te Waimate. When the wheat failed, the building was mainly leased as a kauri gum-trading store. The ground floor is still a shop. The upper stories display the goods of a culture trying to establish itself in a new country, such as red Hudson Bay blankets, which were sought after by Māori from the (hilltop fortification), forged goods, steel tools, an old steel flour mill, and tools and flintlock muskets—also prized by local Māori. Guided tours are available; bookings are essential.

Kiwi North

Minutes out of town, this 61-acre park is home to a nocturnal kiwi house, several Heritage buildings, and the Whangarei Museum. The museum has some 40,000 items in its collection including fine examples of pre-European Māori cloaks, waka (canoes), and tools. Photographers will love the early pictures of the area. You can also check out Glorat, an original 1886 kauri homestead, and the world's smallest consecrated chapel, built in 1859 from a single kauri tree. On the third Sunday of every month and on selected "Live Days" (call for dates), you can cruise around the park on model reproductions of steam and electric trains, as well as on a full-size diesel train.

500 State Hwy. 14, Whangarei, Northland, 0143, New Zealand
sights Details
Rate Includes: Park free; Kiwi House and Whangarei Museum NZ$20

Kororipo Pā

Across the road from the Kerikeri Basin's Stone Store is a path leading to the historic site of Kororipo Pā, the fortified headquarters of legendary chief Hongi Hika. The chief visited England in 1820, where he was showered with gifts. On his way back to New Zealand, during a stop in Sydney, he traded many of these presents for muskets. Having the advantage of these prized weapons, he set in motion plans to conquer other Māori tribes, enemies of his own Ngapuhi people. The return of his raiding parties over five years, with many slaves and gruesome trophies of conquest, put considerable strain between Hongi Hika and the missionaries. Eventually, his warring ways were Hongi's undoing. He was shot in 1827 and died from complications from the wound a year later. Untrained eyes may have difficulty figuring out exactly where the pā (Māori fortification) was, as no structures are left. The pā was built on a steep-sided promontory between the Kerikeri River and the Wairoa Stream.

Māngungu Mission House

The 1838 Māngungu Mission House is an overlooked stop on the tourist trail. Although Waitangi is the most famous site of New Zealand's founding document, this unassuming spot, which looks out over Hokianga Harbour, was the scene of the second treaty signing. Here, on February 12, 1840, the largest gathering of Māori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi (73 chiefs, compared with about 40 at the signing in Waitangi). The house is now a museum, furnished with pre-treaty missionary items, including portraits, photographs, and furniture.

Mt. Bledisloe

On the National Trust Estate beyond the Treaty Grounds, Mt. Bledisloe showcases the splendid view across Paihia and the Bay of Islands. The handsome ceramic marker at the top showing the distances to major world cities was made by Doulton in London and presented by Lord Bledisloe in 1934 during his term as governor-general of New Zealand. The mount is 3 km (2 miles) from the Treaty House, on the other side of the Waitangi Golf Course. From a small parking area on the right of Waitangi Road, a short track rises above a pine forest to the summit.

Pompallier Mission

New Zealand's oldest industrial building, the Pompallier Mission, at the southern end of the Strand, was named after the first Catholic bishop of the South Pacific. Marist missionaries built the original structure out of rammed earth, because they lacked the funds to buy timber. For several years the priests and brothers operated a press here, printing Bibles in the Māori language. From December through April you can visit independently, but from May to November the mission organizes tours at set times. The gardens are beautiful.

Reyburn House Art Gallery

This is the oldest kauri villa in Whangarei. It is home to the Northland Society of Arts and regularly hosts exhibitions from New Zealand artists. Original works from well-known artists are available for purchase. The permanent collection focuses on the 1880s to the present, and several well-known New Zealand artists are represented.


Head for SheepWorld about an hour north of Auckland for a taste of life on a typical New Zealand sheep farm. Daily demonstrations at 11 (also at 2 Wed.--Sun. in the summer) show working farm dogs rounding up sheep before the shearers take over (shows are once a day the rest of the year). An ecotrail meanders through the bush, providing information on native trees, birds (and their calls), and weta (large, ugly—yet impressive—native insects); there are also other farm animals (goats, donkeys, chickens, alpaca, emu) that kids can hand-feed. On the weekends, the farm dogs even herd ducks. Children can bottle-feed lambs in August. During the busy summer season, it's better to call ahead or book a seat for the show online.

324 State Hwy. 1, Warkworth, Auckland, 0981, New Zealand
sights Details
Rate Includes: NZ$22.50 for show; NZ$14.50 entry to farm park only

Te Ahurea

Formerly called simply "Rewa's Village," this museum re-creates a kāinga (unfortified fishing village) where local Māori lived in peaceful times. In times of war they took refuge in nearby Kororipo Pā. In the village are good reproductions of the chief Hongi Hika's house, the weapons store, and the family enclosure, as well as two original canoes dug up from local swamps and original hāngi stones found on-site, which were heated by fire and used to cook traditional Māori feasts. A "discoverers garden" takes you on a winding path past indigenous herbs and other plants; information is posted describing the uses of each plant.

The Hundertwasser Public Toilets

On the main street of Kawakawa, a nondescript town just off State Highway 1 south of Paihia, stand surely the most outlandish public toilets in the country—a must-go even if you don't need to. Built by Austrian artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser in 1997, the toilets are fronted by brightly colored ceramic columns supporting an arched portico, which in turn supports a garden of grasses. There are no straight lines in the building, which is furnished inside with mostly white tiles, punctuated with primary colors, and set in black grout (something like a Mondrian after a few drinks). Plants sprout from the roof. If you sit in one of the cafés across the road you can watch the tourist buses stop so the visitors can take pictures of the facilities.

Warkworth Museum

For a glimpse of Northland's pioneering past pay a visit to the Warkworth District Museum. It's a must if you are interested in learning about how smaller settlements in New Zealand developed. This eclectic collection includes Māori artifacts plus farming and domestic implements from the early days of the European settlement including tools used to dig for kauri gum. Rotating textile displays cover clothing and lace dating to the late 1700s. There is also a display of a school dental clinic—what Kiwi children called the "murder house." Outside is a collection of old buildings, including a bushman's hut and an army hut used by Americans stationed at Warkworth during World War II.

Whangarei Falls

The falls are a lovely picnic spot, located on Ngunguru Road, 5 km (3 miles) northeast of town. Viewing platforms are atop the falls, and a short trail runs through the local bush.

Whangarei Town Basin

People often bypass Whangarei on their way to the Bay of Islands. It's easy to see why, as the town has a confusing traffic system, but if you can brave it, the area known as the Whangarei Town Basin is worth a look. The marina is now a haven for visiting yachts and has cafés, restaurants, galleries, and crafts shops. There's parking behind the basin off Dent Street.