Some of the best things about our little country in the corner of the globe are the rich cultural hot-spots, breathtaking natural wonders to marvel and secret spots scattered amongst the Kiwi back-roads off main highways that make any summer road trip memorable.
Boasting a warm subtropical climate, contrasting coastlines of sheltered, eastern white-sand beaches and the wild shorelines of the west, the very top of New Zealand's North Island, Northland, is one of the best spots to venture to if you're looking to adorn the jandals and head to the beach.
As the very first pit-stop in our Rug Doctor road trip, this week we're exploring the top 5 hidden gems that Northland has to offer, from the tucked away giant and 'Lord of the Forest', Tāne Mahuta, to a coca-cola coloured lake nestled in the back roads of the Karikari Peninsula.
Without further ado, here are our top five spots to visit in Northland, New Zealand during the summer months.
1. Coca Cola Lake (Lake Rotopokaka), Karikari Peninsula
- Location: Ramp Road, Lake Ohia, Northland
- Suitable for: taking your friends and family out for a picnic on the lake-side followed by a swim
Picture a lake-sized bathtub filled to the brim with coca cola - that's exactly what the red-hued Lake Rotopokaka in the Karikari peninsula looks like. If you're after something a little different that's great for a quick dip on a hot day and the perfect spot for taking those Instagram photos that are guaranteed to spark intrigue, Coca Cola lake is a must-do.
Turned an off-red colour by the high levels of peat and natural tannins in the water, Coca Cola lake is completely safe to swim in and dip your head under. In fact, the locals even speak about the natural healing properties the lake possesses!
The one thing to note is that occasionally there is an algae present that is unsafe to swim in, but this will be signposted and you can check out public health warnings for the area here.
This hidden spot is a little tricky to get to if you don't know your way around the Northland back-roads, but follow the Google Map link above, head down the gravel road towards the beach until you hit a DOC sign post marking a spot for freedom campers, turn right, and a few hundred metres down you'll reach your destination.
2. Opononi Sand Dunes, Hokianga
- Location: Opononi, Hokianga Harbour, Northland
- Suitable for: a fun, whole-day out actioned packed with sand-boarding downhill and uphill hikes.
As you drive over the West Coast hillside, you'll be met with a magnificent view of a monstrous sand dune peninsula. The best part about this natural giant, is that it's absolutely perfect for a family trip out if you're into a bit of action.
Simply book in with the local Hokianga Express Charters in the morning (Adults $27, Children $17, Pre schoolers $7) and meet them at the ferry docks. From there, you'll be chartered across the channel, handed plastic-backed boogie boards and disembarked at the foot of the dunes.
From there, the dunes are your oyster! We'd highly recommend taking the hike up to the top of the dunes to see a panoramic view of the entire Far North west coastline, or trekking the sandstone formation walks (these take about 1.5 - 2 hours).
If you're only there for the sand boarding, it's a one-minute scramble up the hill with your boogie board in hand, followed by a very speedy descent down the dunes. If you're lucky, you might make it all the way to the water and skim across it!
3. Kai Iwi Lakes, Northwest of Dargaville
- Location: Kai Iwi Lakes, Taharoa Domain, Northland
- Suitable for: a full-day of swimming and water sports, or a few days worth of summer camping with family and friends at the on-site campground.
Known by locals for crystal clear water that's bath temperature on a hot summer day, sprawling white sand shores, a very friendly campground environment complete with playgrounds and food truck in the peak season, Kai Iwi Lakes are a without a doubt Northland must do.
Only a 45-minute drive out of the west coast township, Dargaville, the lakes are just far enough away to stay a hidden gem loved by locals, but close enough for a day trip with your family. Their bizarre combination of geographical remoteness but popularity with the people, makes for the unique vibe that the lakes a known and loved for.
We'd highly recommend bringing the full picnic set up and spending an entire day here - the lakes are perfect for swimming, jumping off the pontoon, having a BBQ in the sun and relaxing. If you're interested in water sports, kayaking, fishing, boating and water skiing are all encouraged. Just make sure to abide by the Normal Maritime Rules on all waterways.
4. Tāne Mahuta, Waipoua Forest
- Location: Tane Mahuta, Waipoua Forest, Northland
- Suitable for: a short board walk into a stunning native forest to see the 'Lord of the Forest', Tāne Mahuta, the largest known living kauri tree.
If you're looking for something to behold, nestled amongst the native Waipoua forest is New Zealand's largest living kauri tree, Tāne Mahuta. With a spectacular trunk girth of 13.77m (yep, metres) and a total height of 51.2m, this tree is genuinely a stellar sight to marvel at.
According to Maori mythology Tāne is the son of Ranginui the sky father and Papatuanuku the earth mother. Tāne was the child that tore his parents' parental embrace and once done set about clothing his mother in the forest we have here today. All living creatures of the forest are regarded as Tāne's children.
It's only a short 5 minute walk into the bush too, with on street parking so you can easily bring the kids along. If you head this way at peak season, you'll often be greeted by local tour guides who will tell you the mythology and history around the tree and it's canopy, and if you're really lucky - will share a waiata with you too.
This one's a definite stopping point in your Northland summer road trip!
5. The Hole in the Rock, Paihia
- Location: The Hole in The Rock, Paihia, Bay of Islands
- Suitable for: a half-day family boat trip in the beautiful Bay of Islands, with a chance of seeing dolphins, whales and other marine life, and a cruise through the Grand Cathedral Cave.
It wouldn't be a trip to the For North without cruising up to the bustling town of Paihia, soaking up the rays and heading out on a boat to view the wonders that the Northland waters offer. The 'hole in the rock' as it's locally know, is a natural cave sprouting proudly from the end of Motukokako Island (Piercy Island as it was aptly named by James Cook).
The hole is 16m high and 148 metres out at sea, meaning that you're able to pass through it on most vessels and marvel at it's full grandeur from the inside! There are many harbour cruises and jet boats that you can book to take you out, and if you're looking for a whole day activity that will no doubt be memorable, we'd recommend booking a dolphin and whale watching venture too.
There's a reason that this sea-bound formation is world famous, and we wouldn't do a Bay of Islands road trip without taking the time to visit it!
Download the FREE Rug Doctor 12 Stains of Summer Guide
We've put together the perfect companion for your great Kiwi road trip - the 12 Stains of Summer Stain guide. In the guide, we cover off all of the common summer mishaps from how to get tomato sauce out of the carpet, all the way to tanning lotion on the upholstery. You can grab the guide for free by clicking below.