Northland’s transparent waters are a favourite playground for lovers of anything aquatic - there are few places in the world that can match what Northland has to offer.
Scuba Diving and Snorkelling in Northland
Some of the world’s top and most easily accessed dive and snorkelling sites exist in Northland. Spectacular reefs, walls, pinnacles, archways, tunnels and the worlds’ largest underwater cave provide a unique marine habitat not seen anywhere else in the world. Magnificent mixtures of subtropical and temperate marine species inhabit the local reefs, with great wreck dives on sunken warships and the Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior. The warm waters of Northland make this New Zealand’s natural playground.
The Poor Knights
Unique in their own right for an abundance of flora, fauna, bird life and reptilia that has evolved in glorious isolation from the mainland for over two million years, the Poor Knights stand sentinel over a marine reserve of spectacular topography, extraordinary diversity, and unique life forms – not to mention the world’s largest sea cave, Riko Riko. This mammoth watery cavern is flamboyantly painted from top to toe with lichen and moss and no visit to the Poor Knights is complete without a thrilling speed boat ride to experience its amazing acoustics, while schools of bright fish dance in the waters below. Over 125 species of fish share this environment with soft corals, encrusting sponges, vibrant anemones, ecklonia kelp forests, mating sting rays, gorgonian fans and myriad other life forms.
A dive at the Poor Knights is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a microcosm of underwater diversity with precipitous walls of rock, dense kelp forests, sand gardens, giant sea caves, archways and massive underwater caverns. Fish find shelter in the rocks and thick kelp forests, where cnidarians, bryozoans, sponges and ascidians construct their intricate scaffoldings, while giant black stingrays gather in archways to meet before they mate. Unexpected visitors from warmer climes include Lord Howe coralfish, spotted black and toadstool grouper, yellow banded perch and banded coral shrimp. Most don’t survive the cooler winter temperatures but some, like the Kermadec angelfish and Morsecode trigger fish, have found their own niche. Other regular passersby include manta rays, sunfish, turtles, NZ fur seals, whales and orcas.
On 10 July, 1985, two bombs exploded on the Greenpeace flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, in Auckland harbour. The explosion killed a crew member and rocked the world. It was decided that the ship was irreparable and after much deliberation and discussion it was moved to the Cavalli Islands at Matauri Bay in Northland on 12th December 1987. Since then The Rainbow Warrior has become a popular dive spot, and featured recently in the Lonely Planet Blue List – the best in Travel 2007 which was published in November 2006. According to the book the Rainbow Warrior is in the top ten of the World’s best dives: “Coated in colourful corals and populated by goatfish, moray eels and other fish, the Rainbow Warrior sits upright in 25 metres of water, wedged into the sandy ocean floor. Anemone sponges and algae of all colours cling to the wreck; in it’s gave the Rainbow Warrior is far more rainbow than warrior”.
The HMNZS Canterbury (former Navy Frigate Canterbury F421) is a 113m Leander Class frigate scuttled in the tranquil waters of Deep water Cove, Bay of Islands. The wreck sits completely upright and fully intact, and her position in Deep Water Cove is protected in most conditions. She lies at a depth of between 12 metres at the middle funnel, and 38 metres at the stern, where visibility can range between 8 and 30 metres.
Northland is New Zealand’s narrowest region, which is fantastic news for surfers. If the waves aren’t pumping on one side, you can quickly swap coasts to find some action.
Learn to surf
If you don’t surf, but want to, you’ve come to the right part of NZ. There are surfing schools operating at several key beaches, so learn while you sample the best breaks on both coasts.
Northland’s beautiful east coast is famous for white sand beaches, sweeping bays and clean, well-formed waves. There are more than 60 surfing spots to discover, so boredom is out of the question.
Travelling south to north, here are some highlights:
Mangawhai Heads interesting left-hand break peeling across the river bar.
Pakiri Beach has a good beach break that performs well around high tide. You can snorkel at nearby Goat Island, a marine reserve.
The Whananaki Bar is a regional classic – a left hand sand bar break that’s fast and fun.
Sandy Bay on the Tutukaka Coast is a popular location for surf competitions.
Beyond the Bay of Islands, Matauri Bay gets a five star rating from the locals.
Tauranga Bay is best in a southerly wind and has both lefts and rights.
Fabulous Taupo Bay has a sheltered beach break that’s wonderfully reliable.
In the very far north, Spirits Bay and Tapotupotu Bay have great beach breaks.
The energetic Tasman Sea conjures up freight train sets that pound against the west coast beaches. You’ll find excellent breaks from Ninety Mile Beach to Ripiro Beach in the south.
Here are some highlights from Ninety Mile Beach:
Scott Point, near the tip of the North Island, has challenging beach and point breaks.
Half way up the Ninety Mile Beach is a prominent reef called The Bluff, which has exciting beach breaks on both sides.
When the ‘Old Man’ southerly is pushing up the waves, the place to be is Shipwreck Bay.
Warm sunshine caressing the contours of perfectly-groomed fairways; vast Pacific Ocean views framed by subtropical splendour; challenging holes that draw on your entire repertoire of skills - golf in Northland is unforgettable.
Maitai Bay Road, Karikari Peninsula
The golf course is the jewel in the crown of the Carrington Resort, a 3000-acre resort with a 4km coastline of secluded white sand on the Karikari Peninsula. Designed by noted American course architect Matt Dye and opened in 2003, the course, that varies from rolling vales to challenging water holes, features one of New Zealand's longest par-5s (at 569m) and one of the shortest par-3s (at 113m). The course is sited to provide a variety of vistas, with ocean views to the north and east, and hillside vineyards to the south. It is a hilly, parklands-style course with natural wetlands.
The resort also offers a vineyard, winery, a Black Angus stud farm and a beach while the hotel features an infinity swimming pool. If you play Carrington, be prepared for the par-3 seventh, a challenging hole that plays over water and flax to a severly sloping green.
Matauri Bay Road, Matauri Bay
New Zealand golf enthusiasts should be eternally grateful that New York billionaire Julian Robertson and his late wife discovered this country because they fell in love with it so utterly they made it their 'other' home. And how richly they endowed it, by creating the marvellous golf resorts at Cape Kidnappers in the Hawkes Bay and at Kauri Cliffs in Northland.
The Kauri Cliffs course was designed by David Harman, ranks among the world's top 50 courses. It isn't a cheap outing, but what an experience. Fifteen of the holes view the Pacific Ocean with six of them playing along the cliffs that plunge to the Ocean. The beautiful inland holes wind through marsh, forest and farmland. The complex includes a world-class practice range plus putting and chipping greens. In 2008 and 2009 the Kiwi Challenge brounght four of the world's best players to New Zealand to play the Roberton's courses. The New York billionaire was awarded an honorary knighthood last year. We say, well deserved.
Tau Henare Drive, Waitangi, Paihia
Way back in 1932 Lord Bledisloe, the then Governor General, purchased over 1000 acres on the Waitangi Peninsula and donated it to New Zealand as a place of historic significance and for recreational enjoyment. What joy it brings to golfers, particularly the back nine which presents stunning views. The native fauna and flora make this course a special experience, while the brightly coloured rosella parrots, tuis, quail, wood pigeons and pukeko abound. The par-4 11th, which plays toward the Bay is being redesigned to become one of New Zealand's great holes.
State Highway 1, Ruakaka
A genuine links course, Waipu offers panoramic ocean views. If your golf is below par, just relax and soak up the stunning scenery. The course has been established on 52 hectares of coastal land between Waipu and Ruakaka, extending down to the dunes of Uretiti Beach on Bream Bay. The club will host the New Zealand secondary school and men's age group championships in September. It's also the site of the annual Bream Bay Classic, a pro-Am event. An easy walking course, Waipu has fast, true greens. It's a delight to play, but challenging when the easterly whips up from the ocean.
Millington Road, Maunu
A secluded setting, situated beneath the Maunu volcanic cone in Whangarei. Its rich soil, sub-tropical climate and groves of native trees, complemented by stone walls and water hazards, give this course a unique atmosphere. The club hosted the inter-provincials in 2002, after the clucb had a full-course irrigation system installed at a cost of $250,000. The signature hole is the par-3 14th at 188m which plays over a couple of ponds is rated among New Zealand's best holes. Sherwood Park started life as a nine-holer.
Denby Cres, Tikipunga, Whangarei
This is the course where Sir Michael Hill first aquired his passion for golf, which ultimately led to the establishment of his fabulous course at Arrowtown, The Hills. Originally known as Mt Denby, it is Whangarei's oldest club (dating back to 1917) and is located on the road to Whangarei Falls and Tutukaka, only 5 minutes from the city centre. The course features bush-covered walkways and is a true test for any golfer. The club's most famous landmark is the twin pine (split by lightning) aside the par-4 sixth hole. This is a beautiful course with tight driving holes.
Bay of Islands
Golf View Road, Kerikeri
A Flourishing club with more than 400 members, Bay of Islands offer some of the finest scenery of any course in New Zealand. Meticulously maintained, it makes great use of the contours sculpted by the Puketotara Stream and Kerikeri River and offers great views of native bush in which tuis abound. The club dates from 1936, although it operated with only nine holes until 1941 before going into recess. In 1969 a fresh group of golfers got active, purchased land and were playing from 1974. Five years later they had 18 holes and in 1985 they built their clubhouse, which has recently been refurbished. The signature hole is the par-3 13th which plays over a steep drop to a green protected by bunkers and water hazards. Kerikeri itself, a stunning town with many historic sites, has become one of New Zealand's must-visit places for tourists.
Source: The Cut (NZ's No1 golf magazine)
Molesworth Drive, Mangawhai Heads
Situated near the coast in the holiday hamlet of Mangawhai , the course was originally designed in 1979 by Harry Dale a designer of over 60 courses. Meticulously maintained the course is a demanding mixture of wide and narrow fairways, undulating greens landscaped in a picturesque setting surrounded by native bush and wetlands that attract a wide range of bird life. Developed on a sandy base, weather does not affect Mangawhai even during the wettest winters due to its excellent drainage qualities. This is a magnificent course in both winter and summer. and is located less than 90 minutes north of Auckland
Northern Wairoa Golf Club
Baylys Coast Road, Baylys Beach
The Northern Wairoa Golf Course has been referred to as "the hidden gem". A classic links style course featuring excellent true greens, wide fairways lined with pohutukawa trees - but no bunkers. The attractive sea views make for a pleasant and enjoyable course to play all year round - and it is never closed. The clubhouse is open daily with catering and bar service on club and tournament days. Visitors are always welcome.