Road Trip through North Island, New Zealand: Secret Pit Stops

So you made it to New Zealand! Congratulations. If you’re there, chances are you’re on a Road Trip or will be going on one soon. How can you not? It’s like driving from one postcard through to another. I travelled through North Island, NZ recently and was lucky enough to have a local (of sorts) in the driver’s seat. I saw some pretty stunning sights, some you might have heard of and others that are quite off the typical road trip grid. Here are some spots that have stayed with me and the memories of which I’ll carry around in my head for a long long time:

Piha: Located west of North Island, I don’t know what it is about Piha that I loved so much. The beach itself is gorgeous, yes, but also the headlands, the grassy dunes, the forests around it and of course Lion’s Rock. Lion’s Rock is a giant- surprise surprise- rock that people can climb up and that has some seriously awesome views. Piha is primarily a surf beach and a scary one at that with solid rips.

North Piha Beach and the headlands


View of Piha Beach from Lion’s Rock

Karekare: Not too far from Piha on our way back into the city an impulsive right turn took us to Karekare. This is another giant surf beach with dark sands, rivulets, a waterfall and forest walks. The entire walk looks a little prehistoric and we happened to be there at sunset which made it all the more eerily beautiful.


The walk through the forest leading to Karekare Beach

East Coast Road (Around Firth of Thames) : When you’re coming out from Paeroa, you know of the L & P fame, head towards the little village of Miranda and get on the East Coast Road. Once you’re on the road, you’ll be tempted to stop every couple of meters because over to your right there will be some pretty mind blowing views. A lot of the road along the coast here is a bird sanctuary so you’ll see plenty of colourful feathers along with shells, white sandy shores, the mountains across the firth and little streams crisscrossing the entire beach. I was so overwhelmed by the calm and the beauty around me here that I could hardly talk and just had to go off by myself for a walk so that I could take it all in.

Looks like it’s home time for the birds. Somewhere along the East Coast Road, North Island, New Zealand

“Little streams crisscrossing the entire beach” , Firth of Thames

Hoka Falls: Not always well advertised and one of the few free natural spots around, Hoka Falls with all its might and peppermint blue waters manages to look incredibly scary and inviting at the same time. There are a couple of viewpoints close by and if you have the time there are a few hiking trails around as well.

Hoka Falls at sunset

Ocean Beach, New Zealand: This might just be one of my favourite spots in all of North Island. The headlands and the beaches beyond the main beach are spectacular. It takes a little bit of scrambling around the rocks on the east side of the beach (it was hard work with my iPad in my hand) or you can go up and over the hill. Before you know it you’re on a little slice of paradise complete with dunes, Narnia-like caves, tiny pools, lone trees and brightly coloured moss covered rocks. The only bad guys are the seagulls who will have their beady eyes on your sandwich.

Over on the other side of Ocean Beach lies a completely isolated beach accompanied by rocks, caves and dunes


Ocean Beach with its natural pools and vast empty beach


View from the dunes on Ocean Beach

Long Bay Regional Park: Not too far from Auckland and a hop skip and jump from Torbay, we headed here after being massively disappointed in the Harbour Cruise (not worth it at all). I don’t know what we were thinking going on a Harbour Cruise. The name sorts of gives away how dreary it will be. We needed some salvation so we drove to Long Bay. On sunny days it can get quite busy here just because it’s a great BBQ spot. Walk along the coast heading north and you’ll see shallow pools with eco-systems of their own, rock bridges and lots of fascinating natural formations. Try spotting the pigeons camouflaging themselves in the exposed cliff facade.

Long Bay is made for seemingly endless walks

Honorary Mentions:
There were plenty of times when we’d see a beautiful location and just stop to have a little picnic (we always keep food in the car) or stop to just…I don’t know… breathe, I guess? I don’t recall where this exact spot below is but it’s in the town of Rotorua…the one with all the hot springs and that smells like sulphur.

A dear old lady we met said to us “I like Rotorua, it keeps my feet warm” , I thought that was so adorable and true.

I liked Rotorua too even though it smelled A LOT. The spot in the photos below is over to the west of Lake Rotorua and we sat here for ages while the sun was setting and as we ate our Pizza Bread. At first, we were near the bit of the lake that’s in the town centre but we both wanted to get away from the crowds. We decided to take a road that looked like it was going towards a more remote bit and this is what we found, just in time for sunset:

Away from the crowds: We chanced upon this spot perfect with its lacy branches to the west of Lake Rotorua.
Lake Rotorua at Sunset

INSIDER TIP: Instead of hiring a car from one of the expensive companies at the Airport, try ABC Car Rentals. They have some really good deals.

Happy Exploring! If you’ve got any favourite North Island spots I haven’t covered feel free to share them with me.

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