A NORTHLAND SAFARI
The golden sand beach at Matapouri Bay
Quiet contemplation along the Aroha Island bush walk
Rainbow Warrior Memorial sunrise at the Matauri Bay Holiday Park
Shuping in rock oyster heaven in Matai Bay
Spirits Bay - just a short walk from the DOC campsite
Fishing from the Houhora wharf
Louis Toorenburg at his Labyrinth Woodworks
Sunrise over the Northern Wairoa river from the Dargaville Museum
Matakohe Kauri Museum
Just a little south of our Waipu Rally is Mangawhai Heads and Village, where you'll find great coastal walks, art galleries and cafes.
Every Saturday morning there's an excellent Farmers market where you can stock up with fresh local produce and other goodies.
Bennetts Chocolate Factory and cafe is just across the road and has a really nice cafe, with a range of chocolate that you wouldn't believe.
You can freedom camp near the beach, or stay in one of the two holiday parks
Further north, Whangarei welcomes motorhomers and you can park overnight in most public spaces - in the city centre as well as along the coast. There are also nice holiday parks if you're hankering for a nice shower, and a catchup with the washing.
If you enjoy just chilling out freedom camping, head out to Ocean Beach or up the Tutukaka Coast to Matapouri Bay.
If you like golden sand beaches, and need some excercise, the round trip walk from Matapouri Bay to Whale Bay and back is one of our favourites - we've done it twice already.
You can't overnight in Matapouri Bay parking areas, but there is excellent freedom camping at Wooleys Bay and Sandy Bay just a few minutes further north.
Bay of Islands
If the cafe scene, eating out, and tourist activities are your thing, then Russell, Paihia and Kerikeri have it in spades!
They don't allow freedom camping, but there are more holiday parks than you can shake a stick at.
You can check out Waitangi and Haruru Falls, take a cruise, or take the ferry to Russell. Kerikeri has a Farmers Market on Sunday mornings, while Paihia has one on Thursday afternoons.
Aroha Island is a unique location where you drive across a causeway to get to the campsite. There are kiwi in the protected forest, which you can explore at night using red-light torches. Or you can just take a leisurely walk around the island during the day.
It's run by a trust and is well worth visiting.
Having got that far north, it would be a shame not to continue on to Whangaroa, which is less commercial than the Bay of Islands, but even more beautiful.
If you can drag yourself out of bed for a morning sunrise, the Rainbow Warrior Memorial in the Matauri Bay Holiday Park, is just stunning. We've not seen anywhere else like it.
You'll also get some exercise, as you need to walk up a track to the top of the hill.
There's also a really nice campsite at Tauranga Bay, with beachfront parking, and it's own 'Hole in the Rock' where you can walk through to another sheltered bay.
Doubtless Bay and the Karikari Peninsula
But Northland doesn't stop there. You can continue north to Doubtless Bay, through Taipa and Cable Bay, and on up to the Karikari Peninsula.
There are plenty of places to stay, both free, and at campsites. And the DOC campsite at Matai Bay looks right out over the bay where you can fish, swim, collect rock oysters, or just go for walks along the beach.
I nearly lost my dear wife while staying there - she disappeared for a couple of hours, only to be found scrambling around the rock pools sampling the freshest rock oysters she's ever tasted!
The Far North
Of course, on a fine day, the trip to Cape Reinga, and the walk to the lighthouse is just stunning. There are excellent DOC campsites at Tapotupotu and Spirits Bay, as well as further south at Rarawa Beach.
If you like fishing, get your rods and bait out, and see what you can catch from the Houhora wharf. There's a good local campsite just across the road, plus a cafe that does really good fish n chips, just in case you don't catch anything.
If you enjoy museums, and NZ history, be sure to check out the Kauri Gumdiggers Park just north of Awanui, This is not a museum in the tradtional sense, but rather a lovingly restored Kauri gumdiggers camp where you get a real sense of what life was like in the gumfields 100 years ago. If you ask, you can stay there overnight.
If you want to try fishing but don't have the gear, the campsite owner at the Ninety Mile Beach Holiday Park is an enthusiast, and has been known to take visitors out to some of his favourite fishing holes on the west coast.
Back down in Kaitaia, the Te Ahu Centre is also an interesting location, with some stunning Maori carvings, and a museum. It has a large carpark and a dump station.
Take a guided night tour of Waipoua Forest with a Maori guide - it a truly unique experience - something I'd happily pay to do again.
We stayed at the Opononi Holiday Park where the tour guide picked us up to drive us down to the forest. But you can also stay at the Waipoua Campground, where the guided walks leave from right within the forest.
Or you can just stop a the forest carpark, and go say hi to Tane Mahuta yourself.
And, if you're driving down to the Waipoua Forest, take a detour to visit Louis Toorenburg's Labyrinth Woodworks.
Louis is a recidivist old time hippy who moved to the Hokianga in the 60s for its unique lifestyle. He has an unheathy fascination with wooden puzzles, and you can easily spend a couple of head-scratching hours trying to figure out how to open a box, or any one of hundreds of other brain teasers.
Be warned - Louis takes great pleasure setting challenges to unsuspecting visitors!
He has also created an outdoor maze, and there is a walking track up to the waterfall - just in case you need more exercise...
The Kauri Coast
On the way back down to Dargaville, you can stop at the fresh-water Kai Iwi Lakes, where there are two campgrounds, and walking tracks around the lakes.
Or you can stay at the Trounson Park DOC campsite, and do your own walk through the forest, night or day.
The best place to stay in Dargaville, is at the Dargaville Museum. It's on the top of a hill that has stunning views over the town and along the Northern Wairoa river. There's a small fee to stay, and they also have a dump station. The museum has an amazing collection of Kauri Gum, and if you look really hard, you'll find a picture of me in a former life!
On the way back to State Highway 1, you can freedom camp at the Ruawai wharf carpark overlooking the river, or call in to see the Matakohe museum.
This is the largest museum in Northland and attracts visitors from around the world, with a working sawmill display, and many other exhibits. You can park overnight for free, or stay at the Matakohe Holiday Park just down the road.
The link below takes you through to the RV Explorer Northland Safari Trip Plan. This lists all of these places, with more pictures and information, including how to get there.