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Auckland to Paihia: 15+ Stops heading north

Have you been looking for amazing things to do when driving from Auckland to Paihia? Read on for our top suggestions that will make the journey just as satisfying as reaching your destination

Travelling from Auckland to Paihia takes approximately 3 hours and 10 minutes if you’re driving up SH 1 without breaks.

But what’s the fun in doing the entire 230km drive in one go?

If you’ve been looking for ways to spice up the long journey from Auckland to Paihia (or from Paihia to Auckland), then we’ve got you covered.

We’ve uncovered the best things to do on the drive north (or south, depending on the direction you’re coming from).

Everything is easily accessible from State Highway 1 and suitable for travellers on a relatively tight timeframe – though if you have more time, there’s enough in this article to keep you entertained for days.

From adventure parks and charming shops to unforgettable waterfalls and hikes, there are so many things to do when travelling from Auckland to Paihia.

Just be warned that it’ll extend your trip slightly.

Don’t worry though, it’ll be worth it…

A woman walking along the track that's carved on the side of a grassy hill with trees and huge rocks on the surroundings, and a beautiful view of the ocean.
The Waipu Coastal Walkway, on the way north from Auckland. Photo: Whangarei District Council.

The best places to visit when driving from Auckland to Paihia

1. Snowplanet

Our first stop is right on Auckland’s doorstep.

Snowplanet is an indoor snow park that boasts 365 days of snow (8,000 square metres of it) and it’s tucked away on Auckland’s Hibiscus Coast.

Skiing and snowboarding are the most popular things to do there (and they have a full rental department if you need to borrow some gear), but you can easily stop by the restaurant and enjoy views of the skifield if you’re feeling tuckered out.

Plus, there are a handful of qualified instructors on hand to help if you’ve never skied before.

If you’re travelling with little ones, we highly recommend you stop by the Winter Wonderland section.

It’s particularly adorable during Christmastime, but it’s perfect for throwing snowballs and tobogganing at any time of year.

91 Small Road, Silverdale 0932, Auckland

Young girl in pink jacket learning how to snowboard with a Snowplanet team member on an indoor ski field in Auckland.
Photo: SnowPlanet.

2. Auckland Adventure Park

If you’re you’re travelling to Paihia with kids, you’ll want to make a quick stop in Stillwater to visit the Auckland Adventure Park.

Not only does it offer several exciting activities like luge tracks and zip lines, but there’s a pleasant in-house eatery for refuelling too.

Oh, and don’t forget the popular Kids’ Playzone that’s great for stretching tiny legs after being cooped up in the car (even better if you’re making the trip from north to south).

It’s essentially a regular playground, but you’ll also find a mini pirate ship and carousel that dials things up.

Just be warned that it isn’t open every day of the week, so check in advance.

2104 East Coast Road, Stillwater 0993, Auckland

An adult riding on a luge sled while young kids follow him close by on a downward sloping luge track.
Photo: Auckland Adventure Park.

3. Puhoi

Just north of Auckland, you’ll happen upon the charming settlement of Puhoi. It is right on the banks of the Puhoi River.

This is a great place to visit if you’re interested in heritage sites like the Church of Saint Peter and Paul.

But you can also take the water for kayaking or visit the nearby Muhurangi Regional Park for glorious views over the lake.

If you’re feeling peckish, we highly recommend stopping by the historic Puhoi Pub.

And if you need to stretch your legs, the Puhoi Lookout Loop is a glorious 4.8km trail that takes you above the main village.

It’s a relatively steep climb but is manageable for most.

A park with an outdoor umbrella and tables and chairs on the green grasses in front of Puhoi Pub having white exterior colour and light blue rooftop while cars parked on the side.
The much-loved Puhoi Pub was established in 1889. Photo: GPS 56.

4. The Honey Centre

Next on our list of things to do on your way from Auckland to Paihia is the Honey Centre in Warkworth.

This iconic honey farm is known for producing some of the most gorgeous mānuka honey in New Zealand (which we’re famous for!)

It’s a relaxing place to stop for a coffee and a bite to eat, but you’ll also want to stop in the Honey Shop before leaving.

There, you can pick up everything from creamed mānuka honey and royal jelly to bee pollen capsules. And each product is more therapeutic than the last.

Their fresh honey isn’t exactly cheap but we think it’s worth shelling out for.

7 Perry Road, Warkworth 0983

A hive with so many bees crawling over the honeycomb.
Photo: Jeff.

5. Warkworth

While you’re checking out the amazing Honey Centre, why not visit a few other places in Warkworth?

The Parry Kauri Park is great for short walks and the Warkworth & Districts Museum is worthwhile if you enjoy learning about local history.

If you’re feeling adventurous, the Old Cement Works is a very cool place to learn about the history of New Zealand’s manufacturing industry. Plus, it’s supposed to be one of New Zealand’s most haunted places (which could be a selling point or a drawback) and is a great spot to swim.

We also recommend paying a visit to the charming Of Hand & Heart Art Gallery for locally crafted pottery.

And finally, swing past the historic Warkworth Jail (right in the centre of town). It was which was built in 1912 and is teeny tiny.

Time to spare? Make optional detours to Matakana (for the Saturday farmers’ market and Sculptureum), Tāwharanui Regional Park (with its beautiful calm beach and bird-spotting), Pakiri (with its exciting surf beach) and/or Leigh (to snorkel at the Goat Island marine reserve).

Omaha, Snells Beach and Algies Bay are all great spots to spend the night in a bach (beach house) if you have the time too. Or you can depart from Sandspit for Kawau Island for a relaxed Kiwi getaway, or head further north on the mainland to Mangawhai.

6. Sheepworld

Sheepworld is very close to Warkworth, but we felt that this unique attraction deserved a spot of its own.

This is one of the best things to do on the trip north as you can watch hundreds of sheep in action and discover how wool is made!

If you’re visiting between Thursday and Sunday, you’ll even be able to watch the sheep get rounded up and their coats shorn.

Trust us – kids love it (and so do lots of adults).

If the sheep aren’t reason enough to visit, you can spend time at the adorable farmyard meeting the horses, emu, cows and deer.

And if you’re looking for a spot of retail therapy, the gorgeous gift shop is a fabulous place to grab sheepskin anything.

324 SH 1 (4km north of Warkworth), Warkworth

A child with a light pink hat wearing a pinkish dress with flowery designs is feeding a goat with her hand while holding a teddy bear on her right.
Photo: Sheepworld.

7. Brynderwyns Scenic Lookout

While you’re on your way up SH1, you’ll want to stop by the Brynderwyns Scenic Lookout.

This is an extremely windy stretch of road that peaks at 450 metres above sea level. It stretches on for 4.9 km but as it’s quite a challenging road, it’s important that you only stop at a signposted lookout or well away from traffic (and never on a corner).

You can spend as long as you want enjoying the rolling hills and lush countryside before starting your drive again.

But we think you’ll struggle to pull yourself away!

If you’re struggling to find the lookout on the right-hand side, just follow this handy Google Maps pin.

4800-4482, State Highway 1, Waipu 0582

8. Waipu Gorge Scenic Reserve

As you continue driving from the Brynderwyns, you’ll hit the Waipu Gorge Scenic Reserve which is well worth stopping at.

It’s home to the stunning Piroa Falls which is a 20-metre-high wonder that you can reach from a dedicated car park at Waipu Gorge Road.

We’ve always found that the 5-minute walk to the falls is a great opportunity to stretch your legs.

But don’t be afraid to take a quick dip in the shallow pool if you’re visiting during the summertime too – though it will be chilly.

Remember also to wear adequate walking shoes as it can get slippery around here.

Waipu Gorge Road, Waipu 0582

A small waterfall falling from atop a river down to a rocky bottom where the water slowly find its way to the pool basin.
Photo:  Russell Street.

9. Waipu Caves

If you’re looking for free glow worm caves to visit, look no further than the Waipu Caves. There, you’ll find stalactites, stalagmites and our famous glow worms.

The caves themselves are just on the edge of the grassy reserve and near the car park, so they’re really easy to get to.

Be warned though, they are wet and slippery inside. Good footwear and a torch are essential – and if at any stage you feel uncomfortable, turn back.

This area is also home to the Waipu Caves Track. The name is a little confusing as it doesn’t actually take you to the caves… it just starts near them, but it’s worth doing all the same.

The walk is 2km each way (4km return) and skirts along karst limestone formations, farmland and regenerating bush.

At the top, you’ll enjoy views out to the Whangārei Harbour, Bream Head and the Hen and Chicken Islands.

The Waipu Caves with rocks, sands, and waters leading to its deeper part and stalactites forming on the ceilings.
Photo:  Russell Street.

If you have the time, it’s worth detouring to Waipu to check out the Waipu Coastal Walkway. This trail includes beautiful coastal views, native bush, the Waipu pancake limestone rocks and access to a small rocky beach. Take a picnic and enjoy exploring this 2.9km track (5.8km return if you go the whole way there and back).

10. Uretiti Beach

If you’re keen to relax on this drive, then be sure to stop by Uretiti Beach.

You’ll find this gorgeous beach between Ruakākā and Waipu on Bream Bay (which is just south of Whangarei).

It boasts several sand dunes and incredible waves for surf fanatics, and if you travel a bit further along, you’ll even find a nude beach.

Honestly, you could easily spend your entire visit walking along the beachfront with sand between your toes, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to stay.

If you need somewhere to rest your head for the evening, there’s also a campsite with coin-operated showers to freshen up. Being a DOC campground, the facilities are simple, but they do the trick.

3149 SH1, Waipu 0582

A sandy trail leading to the magnificent turquoise waters of Uretiti Beach.
Photo credit: Shellie Evans.

11. Whangārei

Once you’ve had your fill of Uretiti Beach, drive along to the city of Whangārei.

Not only can you spend your time exploring the impressive Whangārei Falls and Quarry Gardens, but the views of Mount Parihaka are seriously gorgeous.

If you want a taste of history, you might want to stop by the Kiwi North museum, kiwi house and heritage park and/or the Claphams National Clock Museum.

And for travellers who want to spend a bit more time outside? The Hatea Loop Walkway is a 4.2km walk that features sculptures from local artists.

If you can’t get enough of Whangārei’s artwork, we highly recommend stopping by the Hundertwasser Art Centre which is packed with original work from Māori artists and of course, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, a famous Austrian artist.

And finally, before you leave Whangarei, we suggest taking the popular canopy walk through the A H Reed Memorial Park.

It’s home to tons of mature kauri trees and native bush, plus a waterfall, making it an unparalleled spot for a nature walk.

Just glorious!

Two people walking through the bush and trees on a raised wooden platform in Whangārei.
Explore Whangarei. Photo credit: Alistair Guthrie.

12. Te Ruapekapeka

To enrich your cultural appreciation, we highly recommend checking out Te Ruapekepeka.

It’s a historical site that’s approximately 35km from Whangarei and educates visitors about Māori warfare and traditions.

You’ll find fascinating information about the Northern War and the Battle of Te Ruapekapeka here. Plus, you’ll also learn plenty about how Māori warriors would actually fight.

It’s said that these warriors didn’t want to bring death and destruction to the enemy. But they did want to seek justice for any wrongs committed.

We won’t give too much away, but it’s a fascinating place to visit if you’re even remotely interested in New Zealand’s cultural history.

Ruapekapeka Road, Towai 0182

A tourist standing close by a tall red structure surrounded by grasslands in Te Ruapekapeka.
Photo: Department of Conservation.

13. Waiomio/Kawiti Glow Worm Caves

The Waiomio Glow Worm Caves (which are also known as the Kawiti Caves) are a must-visit spot on your way from Auckland to Paihia.

We’ve already mentioned the free Waipu Caves (which you’ll have already driven past by now, if travelling from Auckland to Paihia), but we think the Waiomio Caves are far more impressive.

And that’s because there are thousands of glow worms turning the caves luminescent.

Not only will you see stalactites and stalagmites inside the 656-foot-long caves (that’s 200m), but you’ll also be able to see those famous glow worms from just inches away.

You’ll need to join a tour to see these caves but we think it’s a worthwhile expense (and it’s cheaper than most glow worm cave tours in NZ).

49 Waiomio Road, Waiomio 0243

Glow worms shining while hanging on the cave ceiling.

14. Kawakawa

Once you’ve made it to Kawakawa, you’re well and truly on the home stretch!

This cute little town is best known for the Hundertwasser toilets and artwork scattered throughout the village.

These quirky toilets and designs were the passion project of Friedensreich Hundertwasser. This famous Austrian artist used to live in town.

Quirky architecture and colourful art paintings on the pavement of Kawakawa with cars parked on the side while people pass close by.
Quirky Kawakawa shows off the art and architecture of Hundertwasser.

Kawakawa is also the only place in New Zealand where you can ride on a train through the middle of town. Yep, the track is literally in the middle of the road!

The Bay of Islands Vintage Railway was built during the region’s coal mining days but now shows tourists the countryside. It is suitable for people in wheelchairs and cyclists too.

The journey takes 1.5 hours return, making it pretty good value for money.

Driving my car on the road of Kawakawa with other vehicles ahead on a beautiful sunny day.
The train tracks running through the main street of Kawakawa.

15. Opua

The final thing on our list of places to visit between Auckland and Paihia is Opua. By now, you’ll almost have made it to your destination!

This charming town is in the Bay of Islands and it’s best known as a port for overseas yachts.

While you’re here, you can check out the Opua Kauri Walk, go for a cycle near the beachfront, or just chill out by the Paihia Wharf.

Can’t get enough of waterfalls in New Zealand?

The gushing Haruru Falls has got you covered (and you can even get here by kayak if you wish).

Whatever you choose to do in Opua, you’re unlikely to be disappointed in this final stop. And after that, you will reach Paihia where you can enjoy more awesome things to do.

There you have it: the ultimate guide on where to stop if you’re travelling from Auckland to Paihia (or Paihia to Auckland)

Have you ever been to any of these amazing areas?

Do you have any hidden gems between these two popular New Zealand cities that are worth visiting?

Jump on into the NZTT Facebook group to share them!

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