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Some Of New Zealand’s earliest history lies in the north. The 1700 km of coastline, 144 islands, sandy beaches and secluded bays make the Bay of Islands a favourite playground for holi­daymakers and a centre for big-game fishing

From Orewa’s beach north of Auckland, it’s a quick drive to Waiwera with its relaxing natural hot pools, then to Puhoi village with its museum, historic pub, and renowned boutique cheesery. This quirky township has a Bohemian village feel. Kayaks can be rented for the Puhoi River.

Further on is Warkworth, with nearby Matakana and its wine trails and Saturday markets, and then SH1 twists north past the bush walks of the Dome Valley to Wellsford with its many eateries.

After Te Hana, a right turn leads to the surf at Mangawhai Heads, for white sandy beaches, golf and fishing.

Pipiroa Falls near Waipu is the perfect spot for a swim and a picnic, and the Waipu Caves have caverns filled with stalactites and stalag­mites that take you back thousands of years in an instant. Further on lies Whangarei, the Town Basin full of quayside cafes, the galleries and studios a hub for talented artisans. Whangarei Heads offers some excellent walking trails and views, but closer to town are the Whangarei Falls and AH Reed Kauri Park.

In Tutukaka there are cafes at the marina, fishing charters, and diving or snorkelling at the Poor Knights Island Marine Reserve. Over the hill is beautiful Matapouri and the surf of Sandy Bay.

Russell can be reached either via the Russell road or by heading up SH1 to Kawakawa, a place famous for its toilets, the last works of Austrian-born artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. From Kawakawa, Russell can be reached by vehicle ferry from Opua. In the 1830s, this picturesque and quaint historic village was a lawless trading centre where whalers, seafarers and merchants mixed with adventurers, deserters and escaped convicts from Australia. Now it’s filled with cute cottages, galleries, cafes and restaurants.

Back in Paihia, there’s sailing, snorkeling, kayaking, fishing and parasailing, with plenty of accommodation, shops, restaurants and bars. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where New Zealand’s founding document was signed, are just over the bridge, with cultural shows and historical information.

Just north of Paihia is Kerikeri surrounded by orchards and roadside stalls. New Zealand’s oldest house (Kemp House, built in 1821) and the Stone Store (1832) are local icons. North­land is home to the largest remaining popula­tion of kauri trees in all of New Zealand. The two-hour Waihoanga Gorge Kauri Walk is a good example of local landowners working with DOC to preserve the delicate ecosystem of these majestic trees and their surrounds.

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