Ace Rental Cars Blog

Top 5 Towns to Stop at Between Auckland and Cape Reinga

Ready to swap the city streets of Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) for lush rainforests, sandy beaches and small towns? From popular tourist spots to lesser-known destinations, your journey along Northland (Te Tai Tokerau) is bound to be a captivating experience you’ll remember for years to come. The drive to the northern tip of the country takes just over five hours non-stop, so we’ve listed points of interest and towns along the way that’ll break up your trip. With engaging landmarks, unique attractions and plenty of places to stop and take in the view, it’s time to pick up your Ace rental car and start your journey.

  • Whangārei

  • Paihia

  • Kororāreka (Russell)

  • Kerikeri

  • Kaitāia


On the Hatea River, Whangārei is a popular starting point for visitors exploring Northland. As the largest town in the region, Whangārei is known for its rich cultural history and bustling arts community. Natural beauty is everywhere you look, with the Otuihau Whangārei Falls being the main attraction for visitors. A 10-minute drive from the city centre, the cascading falls offer breathtaking views and a tranquil spot to take a dip. From here, you can marvel at an ancient volcano and check out the structural remains of Māori settlements on the nearby Mount Parihaka. Before visiting these sites, double-check that they are open to avoid disappointment. The Town Basin is the epicentre of the lively town, with the main strip of shops and eateries located here. We recommend visiting the Hundertwasser Art Centre for cool and quirky art.


As you head up North, discover the historic coastal town of Paihia - also known as the gateway to the Bay of Islands (Īpipiri). As the name suggests, the Bay is home to over 140 islands including Urupukapuka Island, Motuarohia Island, and Motukokako Island (three that are accessible via day trips from Paihia). The highlight here lies in the array of water-based activities undertaken in crystal-clear waters and waterfall pools. Popular choices include dolphin and whale watching, kayaking and waka (traditional Māori canoe) paddling. On land, you can take the Haururu Falls Walk which passes through the stunningly scenic waterfall and finishes at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds - an important historical site. Here, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 between the British Crown and the Māori community. Visit the Treaty House and explore the Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi to learn more about this event that shaped New Zealand into the country it is today.

Kororāreka (Russell)

On the opposite side of the Bay is the town of Kororāreka (Russell). To get here, you can take your rental car over on the vehicle ferry. The ferry ride is about 15 minutes and offers breathtaking views of the Bay. Upon arrival, head to the waterfront for a peaceful stroll among cultural monuments and a collection of restaurants and cafes. While you’re here, visit the Russell Museum for a deeper look into the history of the area with displays showcasing local Māori culture and Captain James Cook’s visit in 1769. Halfway through your road trip, it’s the perfect time to take a break from exploring and truly relax among the coastal backdrop. A short drive from Russell, Long Beach is a serene spot where you can swim in the waters of Oneroa Bay and connect with the peaceful atmosphere.


Journey on over to the picturesque river town of Kerikeri. Known for being one of New Zealand’s oldest towns, Kerikeri offers a combination of intriguing attractions set against the backdrop of the flowing river. Visit Kerikeri Mission Station to discover and explore the heritage of the town. Here you’ll find The Stone Store and Kemp House - two of New Zealand’s oldest standing buildings - and a museum showcasing the town’s history. A short drive away is the stunning Rainbow Falls (Waianiwaniwa). Head on over, park the car and become one with nature. There are scenic walks and hikes in and around the area, and you can even swim in the natural pool at the bottom of the waterfall. Remember to clean your shoes before and after your walk to protect the country’s precious ecosystem. For a sweet day out, treat yourself with a visit to the Makana Confections Chocolate Factory. Watch chocolatiers at work, sample sweet treats and take home a range of delicious chocolates!


Before wrapping up your journey in Cape Reinga, stop by Kaitāia for a look at the local town and surrounding areas. With small-town charm and impeccable scenery, you can head to Commerce Street in the city’s centre to browse the various shops, cafes and restaurants that make up the town. For an affordable, interactive and fun day out, discover the unique history behind gum digging and see the largest living Kauri tree, Tane Mahuta, at Gumdiggers Park. A 20-minute drive out of town, a visit to the park gives both kids and adults opportunities to touch, feel and experience authentic gum digging history. Your stay in Kaitāia provides the perfect opportunity to reflect on your journey so far and gear up for the rest of your road trip. On your last drive towards Cape Reinga, we recommend making a quick stop at the famed Ninety Mile Beach. Here you can watch the sunset over the shore and stretch your legs along the coastline.

Once you’ve arrived in Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga) you’ll want to kick back, relax and bask in the serenity at your final destination. For stunning views, head to the iconic Cape Reinga Lighthouse that overlooks the point where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet. After your monumental trip, you’ll have a lifetime of memories to share and the urge to explore even more. Travelling in a rental car gives you all the opportunity to discover the ins and outs of Northland and journey at your own pace, and there’s no better way to do it than in an Ace!

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