Summer walks: North Island

Summer walks: North Island

Summer means it’s time to strap on your favourite walking boots (or sandals) and get out into nature. Keen walker Shannon Williams shares some of her favourite beachside walks in the upper North Island, best enjoyed under the sun.

Te Tai Tokerau

If I had to name my favourite region of Aotearoa New Zealand, Te Tai Tokerau would win hands down. As a summer lover, nothing beats the Northland beaches and laid-back lifestyle. Home to multi-day hikes, coastal tracks, and leisurely boardwalks, there’s something for every traveller in the Far North, and thanks to long summers and mild winters, it’s easy to hit the trail all year. It’s worth allowing time to explore the ancient kauri forests and diverse coastlines, such as the Ancient Kauri Trail or Secret Coast Route.

Puheke Hill

This one is a bit off-the-beaten-track, but it’s located at one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. Puheke Hill is a quick 1.1km out-and-back trail up the hill situated next to the sugar-white sands of Puheke Beach on the Karikari Peninsula in Awanui. The trail starts in the bottom car park, and it’s a rough climb up to the top; it can be a bit steep at parts. It’s a quick walk, but it sure does get the heart racing. You’ll be rewarded with some amazing views at the top.

Urupukapuka Island, Bay of Islands

Head off on the ferry, which leaves Paihia and Russell at regular intervals, to Urupukapuka Island. The largest of the islands in the bay, it’s home to world-class beaches where you can walk, eat a picnic, and relax. The island offers a range of walking tracks, from one-hour strolls to five-hour hikes. The 7.3km Urupukapuka Island Walk is well worth the effort, providing panoramic views and dozens of preserved archaeological sites, including prehistoric Māori pa, villages, gardens, and food storage. It takes around five hours and is graded as easy. No dogs.

Paihia to Opua Walkway

Summer walks: North Island
The Okiato to Russell Walkway includes the ferry over to the historic Russell

Starting from Paihia’s town centre, this easy 5.8km walk takes you along the main beach onto a well-established coastal track. Take in the views across the channel to the Russell peninsula before finishing in Opua beside the car/passenger ferry. The walk takes about three hours one way, so arrange a pick-up or, if you want a longer walk, continue on across the water to start the Okiato to Russell Walkway, where at the end you can catch the passenger ferry back to Paihia. Best part, dogs are welcome – on the ferry too.

Whangārei

Whangārei is great for many reasons, from great cafés and cute shops to art galleries and museums in the city. But a quick drive out of the city to Whangārei Heads will bring you to loads of walking tracks and some of the most stunning beaches in the country, including the delicious Smugglers Bay.

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Busby Head Loop Track

Summer walks: North Island
The view to Smugglers Bay on the Busby Head Loop Track

The 3km Busby Head Loop Track should only take you about an hour and a half, but make sure to give yourself a lot more time than that to check out the views and have a picnic and swim at Smugglers Bay.

Starting from the Urquhart Bay car park, the track can be done in either direction, but I suggest leaving Smugglers Bay to last, as you can go for a dip after working up a sweat on the track, and then it’s only a quick walk back to the car park from there. The loop walk takes you to a historic gun emplacement at Home Point at the harbour entrance. There’s a fair bit of climbing at the start but the track offers excellent paths and good steps. A small detour leads to a spectacular viewpoint where there are breathtaking 360-degree views of Bream Bay. Carry on through the coastal forest track and you will arrive at Smugglers, before heading back over farmland to the car park. This area is grazed and livestock may be present, so keep an eye out for that. Hot tip: plan your arrival at high tide for the best swimming options, as it is quite rocky and can be slippery underfoot. No dogs.


Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

Auckland is a walker’s wonderland. You’ve got beaches in all directions, the Waitakere Ranges in the west, the Hunuas in the southeast, and if you head a bit further out, you’ve got Mangawhai. Need I say more?

Muriwai

West Auckland is home to arguably the best beaches in the world, and with them some excellent walking tracks. Muriwai offers a beautiful spot to swim or surf, a range of walking tracks, plus a place to park up for the night. The 5.3km Muriwai Beach Loop takes around an hour to complete, taking you through the dunes and on the beach. There are no shaded areas, so make sure you slip, slop, slap, and bring some water with you. A car park is located at the trailhead, and dogs are welcome.

Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway

Summer walks: North Island
The view is stunning from the Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway

The Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway is a favourite among locals and visitors alike. The walk provides stunning coastal views that extend from Bream Head in the north down to the Tāwharanui Peninsula in the south. The start of the track climbs quite steeply and will certainly get your lungs pumping, but don’t let that worry you, as after you get to the lookout point, it’s pretty easy going from there. The track winds past ancient pōhutukawa before descending to the stony beach below. You can then make your back either along the beach (eight kilometres) but only at low tide – make sure you check the tides before you go – or if water is surging through the rock archway, return via the cliff track. No dogs on this one.

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Top tips for walking during the summer months

  • Be sure to pack plenty of water and if it’s a long hike, take some snacks
  • Sunscreen, a hat, and bug spray are essential
  • Be sure to check the forecast before you head out
  • Check if your walk is dog-friendly – do not leave your dogs behind in the heat
  • Read reviews and make sure your fitness is well-suited to the trail
  • Make sure your phone is charged in case of emergencies
  • Always make sure you’re walking with someone or someone knows where you’re going

Kauri Dieback Warning

Kauri dieback disease is threatening the survival of the kauri tree – a native species to Aotearoa New Zealand. To manage the spread of the disease and protect the kauri tree populations, some trails may be temporarily closed. Please check with local councils to verify the status of your trail prior to arrival, and make sure you follow all instructions to help prevent the spread of kauri dieback.

Where to stay

Far North

  • Tokerau Beach at Karikari Peninsula offers fantastic beachfront freedom camping for self-contained vehicles.
  • If you’re heading to Puheke Hill, stay at the popular Matai Bay DOC campground – it can get fairly busy as Matai Bay is draw-droppingly beautiful.
  • If you’re heading to Urupukapuka Island, the Bay of Islands offers loads of camping facilities for motorhomes. But my favourite is the Bay of Islands Holiday Park, just out of Paihia. It is riverfront and offers a range of facilities. Best of all it is dog-friendly all year.

Whangārei

  • Whangārei offers a huge range of freedom camping options, but make sure you check out the council website for restrictions over the summer holiday period. At Whangārei Heads, Blue Heron Holiday Park is dog-friendly and offers sites and cabins.

Auckland

  • Mangawhai has two camping options – the beachside Mangawhai Heads Holiday Park, no dogs, and Riverside Holiday Park, which allows dogs at the end of the season, just call first.
  • At Muriwai, Muriwai Beach Campground sits adjacent to the beach, offering powered and unpowered sites and full facilities. Pets are welcome.
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