Despite living in Auckland for a large chunk of my life I have never been further north than Kerikeri so for me Northland was not only close but also unexplored.
We carved out a week in the October school holidays to go exploring with the kids. The October school holidays are always my favourite time to travel – there is snow in the South Island still, Spring is all around, it’s warm but not too hot in Gold Coast and as it turns out it is also the perfect time to travel to Northland with the kids swimming in pools, oceans and lakes in early October.
There really is heaps to do in Northland so we grabbed a map (AA stores have them free for members) and gave the kids a week to decide on an activity and a place they wanted to stay and then we all wrote our choices on the map and plotted a course.
Our youngest wanted to climb. She initially chose Adventure Forest in Whangarei (which is epic – you can read about our last adventure there here) but when we drove past Action World in Paihia there was nothing that was dragging her away from those trapeze!
Our middle daughter wanted to ride horses, specifically ride horses on a beach and through water. She also wanted to stay somewhere “not fancy”.
Our eldest wanted to swim and stay somewhere very fancy.
Everything plotted on the map we charted a course – we decided to go from roughing it to luxury – heading up the West Coast with our first night in Kohukohu in the Hippy Hut and down the East Coast with our last night in Paihia at the Paihia Beach Resort and Spa.
I made up an itinerary. Even those words sound horrible to me as I am far more a take it as it comes person when it comes to travel but there were so many things that we didn’t want to miss out on that I had to have some kind of plan. The great thing about plans is that they are made to be broken and I am happy to report that we were late for almost everything, turned down multiple “wrong turns” which were amazing, left of some things on our list and added new things as we picked up recommendations on the way.
After spending a week in Northland I’m converted – I wonder how it has taken me this long and I’m definitely going to be back to explore all those spots we didn’t have time to go to this time and spend a bit more time at a few more.
Need more convincing? Well, here are the top reasons why you should go to Northland on your next holiday.
Northland is incredibly well priced – our cheapest night was only $100 ($60 if you are travelling as 2) and activities were either free or really well priced – like a family pass to Action World for under $70!
#2 It’s truly different
Geographically it may not be far away but feels like a world away. It’s a different pace of life, not hurried and so much more friendly and relaxed.
#3 It’s warm
The Winterless North is an apt descriptor – we went in early October and the kids got in 9 swims – swimming in everything from swimming pools to the ocean to lakes to water holes. Some activities are seasonal with everything fully up and running by end of October.
#4 It’s a real Kiwi experience
Get used to seeing signs for Kiwi (the bird, not us lot) as you travel around. It warmed my heart every time!
You’ll also see a different side of rural living with lots of exclusive access for Maori (a lot of roads have limited access where you need to ask for permission before driving through which was new for me).
#5 So many places to get lost
It seems that down every road is another view that will take your breath away. Take every detour or chance to get lost – they are all worth it. We went down any road that looked remotely interesting and chatted to people in the camp ground and on the Getting Lost Facebook page to get recommendations.
#6 Try the Northernmost everything
One thing we noticed was the number of businesses promoting themselves as the northernmost of what ever they did. It became a bit of a challenge to see how many northernmost things we could do! We went to the northernmost point, the northernmost vineyard, the northernmost pub, the northernmost beach, the northernmost ice-cream shop and the northernmost top 10 holiday park.
#7 Take the most epic photos
In Northland it’s not hard to find amazing scenes to photograph – they are literally around every corner. We bought a Gopro for this holiday and gave it to the kids to use and gave them free reign to film their memories of Northland. The end result was amazing (check them out over on our Facebook page).
For me as a photographer it’s a serious business picking what gear you are going to take with you and I try to limit myself to just one lens so I can travel relatively light. If you’re picking a lens take the wide. Yes, it doesn’t do everything but you will be frustrated if you can’t capture those epic scenes. I took my Canon 6d with my 17 – 40mm lens, a tripod, a 128MB memory card, a polarising filter and a ND6 filter. Don’t forget the charger – I needed 3 charges over the holiday to hold my 2,000 photos I took!
The other essential is a phone or action camera. I took the iPhone for all the times I didn’t want to carry the camera (like on the back of a horse or up the sand dunes).
For those of you rolling their eyes at all this tech I have (I am a photographer so it is work equipment if it makes it better) – remember that the skill is in the photographer and not the gear and some of the best photos come from you phone…
All up, it was the best holiday we have ever had. The kids were super well behaved and we were so relaxed. It seems Northland rubbed off on us all. It made us a little kinder, more tolerant, braver and more laid back. Thanks Northland and to all the amazing people we met on our travels who made it such an awesome spot to visit.
On my list for next time…
A week wasn’t long enough to do all we wanted to do. Luckily that means we will need to go back. Top of my list are the Waiere Boulders and Ngawha springs – we had so many people recommend them so definitely going back to try these out!