New Zealand has long been a dream destination for us. Once our kids get a little older and we can afford to spend at least a few weeks there, it is definitely going to be a vacation for us. But, just because we haven’t been yet, doesn’t mean we don’t want to share its beauty with our awesome readers! So, we invited popular travel blogger Ariana Ananda (who also helped on this Sydney article) to share with us some of her favorite hidden gems from her experiences on the North Island of New Zealand.
Muriwai Gannet colony
The Muriwai Gannet Colony is an important nesting ground for Gannets who raise their chicks here each year. It is on the southwest side of the North Island, about 40 minutes by car from Auckland City.
Ariana describes it as a place with incredible wild beach seascapes, walking trails, and as a photographer’s paradise.
The Gannett colony, which includes approximately 2,400 birds can be observed between August and March each year. The peak breeding time is usually in November.
We recommend visiting before December to avoid the summer crowds, but if you are going between December and March, it is best to go on a weekday or early in the morning as the small parking lot can fill up.
Goldie Bush Scenic Reserve, Mokoroa Stream Track
The Mokoroa Stream Track is a challenging hiking trail that comes of the Goldie Bush walkway in the Goldie Bush Scenic Reserve.
Ariana describes the Mokoroa Stream Track as an exciting tramping track with stream crossings and waterfalls, all nestled under the canopy of the rain forest. She also notes the trek can be extended to a longer loop via the Goldie Bush Walkway, where coastal forest and regenerating kauri trees dominate the landscape.
The Mokoroa Stream track is found between Muriwai and Waitakere, on the North Island’s southwestern side, not far from Muriwai and approximately 35 minutes by car from Auckland City. It is an additional track which can be accessed from Goldie Bush Walkway
You should plan on arriving early in the day as there is limited parking. Take caution not to park in areas posted “No Parking” as you may be towed.
Whangarei Heads, Busby Head Track to Smugglers Bay
You can find the gem of Whangarei Heads further north, on a peninsular on the east coast of the Northern Island. It is about 3 hours north of Auckland City. It is just outside the Bream Head Scenic Reserve.
Ariana describes the Busby Head Track (or trail) to Smuggler’s Bay as An easy 3km loop walk that passes WWII gun emplacements, rolling green hills, and scenic coastal vistas. From Ariana’s pictures, it is easy to see that this is one of those places that just encapsulates the beauty of New Zealand.
Ariana says a highlight of this location is a stopping point along the route at Smugglers Bay, a picturesque beach worth a swim! As you can see in the image below, this beautiful location is well worth the trek by itself.
Ariana says another highlight of her trip to Smuggler’s Bay was meeting friendly cows hanging out near the path on her trip back to the car park (or parking lot).
Karangahake Gorge and Owharoa Falls
Most people head up towards the Coromandel Peninsula for the beaches, but on the way there, Ariana says Karangahake Gorge and Owharoa Falls are an often overlooked gem sits waiting to be explored.
This great location is about an hour and a half southeast of Auckland City, near Paeroa. It is the little spot on the map directly between the Coromandel Forest Park and Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park.
According to Ariana, the windows walk at Karangahake Gorge leads you up and into the forest, through old mine tunnels, over suspension bridges, and along the cliff side overlooking the river. Seeing these pictures reminds me a bit of the beautiful Leutasch Gorge in Germany.
Just a 5 minute drive up the road from the Karangahake Gorge, you can visit the Owharoa waterfall. With just a 30 second “hike,” you are rewarded with the beautiful waterfall below.
Scandrett Regional Park
Scandrett Regional Park lies on the Mahurangi Peninsula near Algies Bay, about 1.5 hours north of Auckland. This is another beautiful location that encapsulates the amazing landscapes that make New Zealand a photographer’s paradise.
According to Ariana, this beautiful regional park has several hiking trails, beaches, and a historical homestead open for touring.
This park is known in particular for its grasslands, regenerating coastal forest and rocky headlands, as seen in these images from Ariana.
In 1998, the property in this area was purchased and converted to a regional park. The land included a fantastic collection of farm buildings dating from the 1880s or earlier, and rather than demolishing all the old buildings, the ARC retained and preserved all the buildings so you can see and explore them today.
The Mullet Point area of Scandrett Regional Park was known to the native Māori as “Purahurawai,” which beautifully translates to “the expansive, sparkling waters”. It is said that the Māori people anciently came from throughout the Hauraki Gulf to the Bay to catch and dry sharks for winter. As such, there are a number of historical sites of Māori settlement to be found within Scandrett Regional Park.
Warkworth Old Cement Works
The Warkworth Old Cement Works site is an interesting and worthwhile stop on your drive to Scandrett Regional Park. It is about an hour north of Auckland City, along the Mahurangi River southeast of Warkworth.
Ariana describes the location as an old cement quarry turned popular swim hole among local. The ruins of the old quarry provide a neat, albeit ominous backdrop to your swim.
The location includes a basic restroom and some picnic tables. Overall, people report enjoying the low numbers of people, the ability to explore and stroll through the interesting ruins and the peaceful swimming hole.
Along the east coast of the North Island, Puhoi is another stop along the way to Scandrett Regional Park, but Ariana says you will want to spend more than just a quick stop there. It is located just off Highway 1, about 30-40 north of Auckland City.
Ariana describes Puhoi as a charming tiny village that is often a quick stopover on the way back down to Auckland from farther north, but she thinks the area is worth a trip in itself.
Ariana recommends making Puhoi an easy day trip complete with waterfalls, regional parks, historic cemeteries, and cheese tastings.
According to Ariana, from high tea at the Puhoi cottage tea room to the local delights from the Puhoi valley cheese company, the food stop in itself is a reason to come.
But, Ariana says other gems in the area include Wenderholm regional park, a short drive south (hiking, beaches, picnics), and the Pohuehue falls, which are down a 15 minute trail a short drive north.
More to Find in New Zealand
New Zealand is trule the land of plenty, with so much to offer any traveler. These hidden gems from Ariana are definitely amazing. Another place we have featured that is not so hidden is the Beautiful Milford Sound. We would love to have you join our Facebook Group and share with us your favorite places in New Zealand (or anywhere else)!