Where to stay in Northland, New Zealand

There is a wide range of accommodation options in Northland, which make this region awesome and accessible to travel on any budget. If you love to rough it in the great outdoors, the camping opportunities here are some of the most beautiful  in the country, surrounded by ancient forests and golden beaches! However, if you prefer to enjoy travelling with the luxury of home comforts, there are plenty of boutique hotels and apartments, perfect for families and romantic getaways. 

When we visited Northland, we did so in November, and so were lucky not to be visiting in the height to peak tourist season. We were travelling around in our self-contained van, and so I used the freedom this gave us to try and find the most scenic campgrounds possible!

The 5 Best Campgrounds in Northland

Camping in Northland is an awesome way to be able to explore the region on a budget! The camping grounds vary in amenities and prices, so you can pick and choose how much you are happy to spend, and what kind of adventure you are wanting!

For the first part of our travels, I was following Timo slowly northward as he continued to hike the Te Araroa Trail, walking up the west coast of Northland before crossing inland and finishing the hike along 90-Mile Beach to Cape Reinga. If you guys haven’t heard of this trail, it’s the walkway that travels the whole length of New Zealand, from Bluff to Cape Reinga, and it was Timo’s goal to finish it during his time here!

While he was walking, I was following along in the van, and hunting out some pretty amazing campgrounds to stay at! This is a list of my 5 absolute favorites:

1. Tapotupotu Campground

This campground was one of my absolute favourites to stay at in Northland, as it felt so wild. It is the most northern campground in New Zealand, and is found in Tapotupotu Bay (around 5 minutes drive from Cape Reinga!

The campground is one of the most scenic places I have ever stayed, with a backdrop of hills covered in lush native bush, facing the stunning beach and breaking surf, and a lagoon where you can swim and kayak. It felt incredibly special to stay here, so far away from the nearest town, and waking up with nothing but the sound of the ocean and birdsong. 

The campground itself is very basic, with a grassy area to park your van or pitch a tent, rustic toilets, and a cold shower for those feeling brave. The location, however, makes up for the simple amenities!

Taputaputa is a significant Ngāti Kuri cultural site, and so this campground is maintained by the local iwi, along with the Department of Conservation. Staying here was an incredible experience, and you could see their connection and love of the land. As it is a place of cultural significance, it is important to be respectful when staying here, including removing all rubbish when you leave! There is a small fee of $15 per person per night, which can either be dropped in the donation box when you arrive, or can be paid to the manager as he comes around in the evening. Luckily, there was a tiny bit of internet there, and so if you need to you can pay by bank! Though I would bring cash, just in case. 

When we visited in November, the campground was moderately busy, but there was still a good amount of space to park up and enjoy the view with some privacy. During the peak summer months, it is recommended to book a space, as it can be very popular! 

How to get to Tapotupotu Campground:

If you are heading from Kaitaia, drive north on SH1, and follow the road up for an 106kms. There will be a turn off to the right, onto the road that will take you down to Taputaputa Bay. This is a long gravel road, and it’s quite windy and steep, so take it slow, however it is motorhome friendly. The views on this road are incredible!

2. Matauri Bay Holiday Park

Only 30-minutes drive north of Kerikeri you can find the stunning Matauri Bay Holiday Park, one of the most well-known holiday parks in New Zealand! It is in the perfect location, situated on the peninsula with beautiful Matauri Bay on one side and the more rugged Putataua Bay on the other. The camping grounds are wide and well-maintained, with lovely grassy sites right next to the beach. We were lucky enough to be there during a quiet season, and so had a gorgeous view of the long, golden beach and crystal clear waters right from our van bed!

The campground managers also run a small grocery store, a petrol station, and are able to assist in LPG bottle filling, so you have everything you need on your doorstep! This is helpful, as the nearest stores are a decent drive away. The owners were lovely, and really made me feel at home for the few days I was there – enough that when I picked up Timo we went straight back!

Although you are a little bit of a drive from other towns and attractions, there is heaps to do in the bay itself. From the campground, you can walk up the (very steep) track and see the Rainbow Warrior Memorial at the top of the hill, and enjoy the incredible view over the bay and the Cavalli Islands nearby. The bay is also known for its excellent diving and fishing, with crystal clear waters that house a number of different fish species. 

If you are looking at staying at this campground in the summer season, I would highly recommend booking as it is such a popular destination. However, in November there was plenty of space, and we had no problem getting a primo site!

How to get to Matauri Bay:

Matauri Bay is a 30-minute drive from Kerikeri, and makes you feel as if you are completely away from the hustle and bustle of the Bay of Islands. From Kerikeri, drive north up SH10, and turn right onto Matauri Bay road. From here, the road goes past farmland, through the Matauri Bay township, and over the hill down into Matauri Bay. If you can, have a stop and take in the view at the view point! The road is windy and it can be difficult to stop, but the view over the bays is just incredible!

3. Aroha Island Eco Centre and Campground

We decided to stay at this lovely campground after hearing about it from some of our friends, and we are so glad we did! This gorgeous campground is located on an eco-sanctuary on the edge of the Kerikeri inlet, known as Aroha Island. The sites are surrounded by native bush, and have views stretching over the inlet and the surrounding hills. There is a mix of powered and unpowered sites, two wonderful ‘glamping’ tents, and a couple of cottages if you feel like enjoying a few more of life’s luxuries!  It is incredibly peaceful and quiet, and the perfect place to base yourself for a few days of exploring the nearby town of Kerikeri and the Bay of Islands. 

What makes this campground extra special is that it is the home of the native North Island Brown Kiwi! You can borrow night-light torches from the office as you check in, walk the paths around the island at night, and see if you can spot one of these mysterious birds.

Getting to Aroha Island:

Aroha Island Campground is located super close to the touristy town of Kerikeri, and is only a 16 minute drive around the inlet! From Rangitane Road, follow the road around to the right, and you will see a driveway heading down to the island on the left. There are a few signs pointing the way, however I managed to miss them on our drive, so keep your eyes peeled! The road is well maintained, but the drive down to the camping sites is quite steep. 

The gate to the island is open from 9am to 6pm, so if you are arriving outside of these hours it’s best to call ahead and arrange access! Also, the campground is closed during the winter season of June-mid September.  

To book a campsite or for other information on this awesome eco-sanctuary, check out their website here!

4. Puketi Recreation Area Campsite

This is a DOC-maintained campsite located right on the eastern edge of the Puketi Forest, around 20 minutes from the tourist town of Kerikeri. The campground itself is pretty basic, with long-drop toilets (bring toilet paper!) and a cold shower, however we found it to be the perfect base to enjoy the surroundings in a peaceful and quiet setting. The campground itself is near the stunning Kauri forest, and there are a few walks leading from the hut out into the bush. If you’re lucky, have a walk around in the evening, and see if you can spot one of the resident North Island Brown Kiwi, or hear a Morepork! 

The campground costs $10 per person per night, and you can book online or bring cash to place in the donation box on arrival.

Manginangina Kauri Walk

This is a short-but-stunning walk from the road into the Kauri Forest, where you can admire the tall and incredibly ancient Kauri trees! The walk is beautiful, with a well-maintained boardwalk winding through the forest. It takes about 15 minutes to complete the loop, and remember to bring your camera!

Puketi Nature Trail

This walk is a slightly longer loop trail that heads deep into the Kauri Forest, where you can admire these trees and other beautiful natives. The plants are often named, which is a cool way to get to know the forest a little better. If you do the walk in the

and have the chance to see some glowworms! The loop is around an hour long, and the track is easy for all fitness levels.

Where to find Puketi Recreation Area Campsite:

From Kerikeri, get onto the SH10 heading northboard. Soon there will be a left hand turn down Pungaere Rd, which will take you on a lovely windy road past farmland and towards the forest. After about 15 minutes drive, there will be a T-junction, where you follow the road road to the left, onto Waiare Rd. You should see a drive heading off to the left, which takes you down to the campground! The last 7kms of road from Waiare road is gravel, however it is often travelled and easy driving, just take it slow.

5. Around Tutukaka!

This may be a little bit of a cheat for my ‘Top 5’, but I really had to include all the incredible places that we stayed in Tutukaka! The bays around the area were some of my absolute favourites to freedom camp in, and we ended up spending 4 nights in the area! These camping grounds are only suitable for those living in a van or motorhome, as they were designated car parks, however they were perfect for us! They are allowed for people travelling in non-self contained vans, as they have public toilets and picnic tables, which is awesome!

The area around Tutukaka is gorgeous, with beautiful clear water and golden sand, and the best part is, it’s so quiet! These are an awesome place to stay while exploring the coast or if you are catching a tour to the Poor Knights Islands, as the tour boats leave from the Tutukaka Marina. 

Note: These sites are closed to campers from the 18th December – 8th February each year, to minimise the impact of heavy tourist season on the local area.

Matapouri Beach (Wehiwehi Road Carpark)

This was one of our favourite freedom camping spots of the area! It is located on Matapouri Beach, where there is space for about 3 vans to park up overnight down the far end of the carpark. There are good toilets and a big grassy area with picnic tables, which is perfect for cooking up a good dinner after a day of swimming and exploring! The beach itself is stunning, with soft white sand, small waves and awesome rock pools protected from the wild ocean by the headland. We spent the afternoon diving around the rocks, looking at fish and kelp forests in the shallow waters – lush! 

From here, you can also make the small trek over the sand dunes to Whale Bay, which is a perfect, sheltered beach for swimming, snorkelling, or just relaxing in the sun. It can only be accessed by a track through the native bush, and so is often a lot less busy than some of the other beaches in the area – a real hidden gem of Northland!

Sandy Bay Freedom Camping Area

The car park at Sandy Bay is beautiful, and is located right next to the ocean. You can climb out of your van and walk straight down the beach! There isn’t heaps of room to park, so arrive early to make sure you get a spot for the night.

Kowharewa Bay

Kowharewa Bay is located just 5 minutes around the headland from Tutukaka Marina, and so is the perfect place to camp up after an evening adventuring the Poor Knights Islands. The car park is directly on the waterfront, so you have lovely views of the bay and the boats from your bed. There is a small grassy area and a couple of picnic tables, and when we were there, we had it all to ourselves!

I hope you enjoyed reading my post on the best camping grounds in Northland, New Zealand! It was an incredible adventure to explore this awesome region, and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. If you a heading up and want to see more on things to do in Northland, please check out my post here!

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