An epic North Island Adventure

New Zealand, although relatively small, can take a lifetime to explore (just ask a Kiwi), and is often described as one of the most picturesque and photogenic places on Earth. The easiest way to plan your trip is island to island, coast to coast.



Bay of Plenty


New Zealand, although relatively small, can take a lifetime to explore (just ask any New Zealander) and is often (by us) described as one of the most picturesque and photogenic places on Earth. The easiest way to navigate the planning of your trip is to do it island to island, coast to coast.

The North Island of Aotearoa boasts untouched coastlines and natural hot springs. Northland, Bay of Islands, and the Coromandel Peninsula are blessed with rolling waves, golden sands, and a large scattering of old school beach shacks.

The South, and slightly bigger, of the two islands is often described (mostly by those who live there) as the ‘real New Zealand’. The awe-inspiring mountains and fjords make you feel everything all at once; the sheer grandeur of it is enough to make you declare that surely this island should be the eighth wonder of the world. The South Island is where you will find the Milford Sounds, The Southern Alps, and Aoraki/Mt. Cook. You can read our South Island Travel Guide here.

New Zealand is a sub-tropical country, and the climate varies wildly. The North Island tends to have warmer weather during the summer, whereas the South Island gets colder the further down and inland you travel. However, because most of the country is coastal, temperatures tend to be pretty mild. January and February are your 'togs every day' kind of weather, whereas July (the coldest month of the year) requires those sexy thermals you didn't think you needed to pack (definitely pack them).

Here are three recommendations for beach 'driveways’ in the North Island and some of the sights that surround them.


Kapowairua (Spirits Bay) Campsite, in the Northland region, is quietly famous for its sorbet pink and orange sunsets. This campsite is a DOC one and is happily simple in regards to facilities. You’ll have access to both showers, toilets, and a horizon line that wraps around the cape. Adults are $16 per night and a child is $8 per night. It's easy to book online through The DOC website.

Cape Reinga is half an hour's drive away and is an untouched and lonely part of the world, absolutely worth a visit. It is of great spiritual significance as the Māori (New Zealand’s indigenous people) believe that after death your spirit travels up the coast over the headlands to Cape Reinga to depart this land.

Spirits Bay is also only half an hour’s drive to the Te Paki Sand dunes, which are adored by many. Think giant golden sand dunes that stretch for miles and almost have you believing you are in the Sahara Desert or at least in a desert that refused to leave the ocean’s side. The views are breathtaking and the ride back down the dunes on a rented boogie board is a hoot.

Other campgrounds to note in the Northland area are Matauri Bay Holiday Park and Matai Bay on the Karikari Peninsula.

A favourite hike is the Duke's Nose (Kaiaraara Rocks) Track which generously offers you views over the coastline and Whangaroa Harbour.

If you have all the time in the world to frolic around in your camper, then my ultimate suggestion for Northland would be to follow the Twin Coast Discovery Highway (with the slight alteration of skipping Auckland – sorry Auckland). The Northland New Zealand website has great options for catering this drive to your time frame.


“Raglan, one of my favourite places in the North Island”, said with the weight of every other hippie, nomad, and surf enthusiast who ever landed on these shores. Raglan is a microclimate of shopping, mouth-watering eats (Ulos), and epic backyard gigs. During the summer it’s fizzing with out-of-towners and a great place to meet people. It also has one of the longest waves in New Zealand, but get ready to fight the locals for it. Alongside Ulos, Aroha Sushi and the fresh fish at Raglan Fish make for one happy travelling clam.

Unfortunately because of the number of tourists that visit Raglan, freedom camping is not favourable – it's there but on backstreet roads or gravel pull-offs. Although there are a number of campsites in Raglan, one of my ultimate favourites is Ruapuke Motor Camp, which is about 30 minutes (40 if you don't like gravel roads or stop to pat the cows) out of Raglan. Make sure you bring cash and be prepared for no reception. It’s a lovely setup, with a fresh-water stream, sweet nooks to tuck your camper away in, and a lovely (longish) walk to the almost remote Ruapuke beach. Facilities include a kitchen, warm showers, and a quirky manager.

Bay of Plenty

Back to the East Coast, my heart swoons over the Bay of Plenty and Gisborne, especially the scenic drive between the two named ‘The Pacific Coast Highway’.

Opoutere Beach Coastal Camping is the upper-crust of all campgrounds (in my absolutely biassed opinion). Family run, barista coffee, and a magical pine forest leading to a pristine golden-sand beach. It’s a staple that New Zealanders have been coming to for years. It is home to a humble longboard right hander, lovely locals, and bird song at dawn. The beach is long enough that if you wish to (like most families do) stay close to the campground entrance and facilities you can, or if you're feeling romantic, wander north and find a stretch of empty sand for some skinny-dipping and unabashed sun-bathing. Facilities are great and family-friendly, and include showers (gold coin donation), kitchen, fridges, cool postcards, and a somewhat well-stocked shop. If however, you're looking for a quiet campground, this might not be your favourite or first choice.  

Pokohino is my favorite spot to take out-of-towners to and always delights. It is, however, a mission preferably done when young and fit and in a sturdy camper. It feels like a remote island, a little untouched paradise. Travel down a gravel forestry track just before the town of Onemana, park up when the road ends, and continue on foot for twenty minutes. You will be rewarded with a pristine, tiny beach with a cave that mixes the sun's rays with the beautiful blue water so that it glimmers like powdered light.

Close by are the lazy towns of Tairua and Whangamata, each of which has its own campgrounds and slightly heavier/bigger surf breaks.


Hands (and wheels) down the best campground in Gisbourne is Tatapouri Bay Campground. The facilities are adorned with local illustrations and the bathrooms are nicer than my one at home (hot showers are included in the stay). During the summer, local music is often played well into the night, and an onsite food-truck-styled café decorated with festoon lights and shells offers up some tasty kai (food). Zephyr Wainui (just down the road) is the local’s spot for coffee.

Images by Amy Atkinson

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