How to get from Auckland to Whangarei
The fastest route from Auckland to Whangarei takes you along State Highway 1. The 2-hour journey is around 160 kilometres long, though it offers plenty of opportunities to stop along the way and explore, indulge or treat yourself. The alternative route follows State Highway 16 through Helensville and Woodhill Forest. It’s a great choice during the school holidays as it is usually less congested. It connects back to SH1 in Wellsford and with 190km is only slightly longer, offering picturesque scenery along the way.
Both options are part of the Twin Coast Discovery, taking you to Northland’s most scenic locations including its finest beaches, native forest and historically significant places.
Option 1: State Highway 1 to Wellsford
It’s definitely the quickest route from Auckland to Whangarei, but you can easily spend a day or two making various detours and stops on the way.
Detour 1: Hibiscus Coast
If you have enough time to spare, don’t waste it on the motorway. Driving along the Hibiscus Coast is not only more scenic. The townships of Silverdale, Orewa and Waiwera offer stunning beaches and ample water sport opportunities as well as boutique shopping experiences. Visit Snowplanet for a unique indoor winter wonderland ski resort experience, go kitesurfing at Hatfields Beach or soak at the geothermal hot pools in Waiwera. Afterwards take a relaxing stroll through Wenderholm Regional Park, one of the region’s most popular ones.
Heading east from Silverdale you can take a detour to Whangaparoa Harbour, a tranquil piece of heaven with sheltered beaches and magnificent views over the Hauraki Gulf. Choose between water sports, hiking through Shakespear Regional Park or playing a game of world-class golf.
Detour 2: Matakana Coast
One of New Zealand’s most famous wine regions, Matakana Coast has plenty of activities to offer for lovers of gourmet food and drink. Visit the boutique township of Puhoi and sample some of its famous cheese or grab some fresh oysters at the local historic pub. Leave the main highway in Warkworth towards Matakana and explore the region’s many sights.
Stock up on fresh produce at the Matakana Village Farmers Market (Every Saturday 8am to 1pm, in the Market Square) before heading out to Leigh and taking a glass bottom boat around Goat Island Marine Reserve. Enjoy beautiful coastal views at Tawharanui Regional Park, follow the Matakana Wine Trail or go for a swim at one of the stunning white sandy beaches.
At the end of your tour, you can either reconnect with SH1 in Wellsford or continue taking the backroads towards Mangawhai Heads.
Option 2: State Highway 16 to Wellsford
Some call the western route from Auckland into Northland a gem due to its iconic scenery and views of green rolling hills and endless blue skies. First stop is Kumeu just 20 minutes west of Auckland. The region is famous for its boutique vineyards, delicious eateries and locally brewed craft beer. Grab a drink and a bite at New Zealand’s oldest riverside tavern or, if you prefer adrenaline, visit Tree Adventures in Waimauku for some flying fox and rope fun through the Woodhill Forest.
Next on the itinerary is the classic country town of Helensville, nestled on the south edge of the Kaipara Harbour. According to locals, Helensville was once named among New Zealand’s Top Ten Small Towns by North & South Magazine. Helensville itself has 2 museums, one devoted to its early settlers, the other one to its railway heritage.
In addition to numerous vineyards and stunning beaches the Kaipara Harbour is famous for, the region is also a popular tourist spot due to its hot pools at Parakai. The geothermal springs offer fun for old and young all year round with indoor and outdoor pools, hydro-slides and BBQ areas.
Before completing your journey to Whangarei make sure you keep an eye out for the unique sculpture collection at Gibbs Farm. Situated on private farmland of roughly 1000 acres, the giant works by renown artists are clearly visible from the main highway between Makarau and Glorit. Gibbs Farm is only open to the public on selected days throughout the year.
Wellsford to Whangarei via SH 1
Just past Wellsford is the little town of Te Hana. Once forgotten and plagued by crime and unemployment, Te Hana is now home to the region’s largest centre for Māori culture and heritage. The Te Ao Marama Māori Village offers a unique insight into the life of the indigenous people back in the 1700s. Choose between a tour through the village replica or experience an overnight stay at a traditional Marae.
Detour 1: Mangawhai Heads
For a more scenic drive along the coast take a turn towards Mangawhai Heads. Book a charter boat for a fishing trip along the beautiful coastline or go for a walk through the large sand dunes to spot fairy terns, oystercatchers and dotterels. Satisfy your sweet tooth with a sample from Bennett’s Chocolate Factory before continuing your drive along the coast. See if you can spot whales or dolphins at popular Lang’s Beach or Waipu Cove and stop at the old Scottish settlement of Waipu before heading back to the motorway towards Whangarei.
Detour 2: SH12 via Dargaville
Leaving SH1 towards Dargaville just before entering the Brynderwyns will take you along the Kauri Coast, named after New Zealand’s ancient and giant trees. The historic settlement of Paparoa offers a unique shopping experience in the old town shop. Several other buildings depict the life of the early settlers, such as the old church and graveyard and the butcher’s shop. A 5km loop walk will take you from the Village Green through farmland and regenerated kauri forest, past an ancient Māori village and an estuarine salt marsh. The track is signposted and takes about an hour.
A must-do along this route is the Matakohe Kauri Museum which houses one of the biggest kauri logs ever found along with award-winning displays of gum, numerous exhibits and fascinating stories of pioneering settlers. The local cafes are also a popular spot to stop for lunch or snacks.
From Matakohe the journey continues to Dargaville, with more than 17,000 tons per year New Zealand’s kumara capital. The historic town on the banks of the Northern Wairoa River is the largest town on the Kauri Coast and was famous in the 1870s for its buzzing timber and kauri gum trades. The local museum houses shipwrecks, a Māori waka (canoe) and a large collection of old instruments such as pianos and accordions.
Via the old milling towns of Tangowahine and Tangiteroria, the road then ventures inland towards Whangarei.