Around the glum provincial capital of Kaitaia, the North Island narrows into the Aupouri Peninsula, a 10km-wide strip of land that projects out into the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Moving northward travellers encounter an increasingly isolated and sparsely-populated subtropical landscape.
The main reason visitors press onward from the Northland is to reach Cape Reinga, a spiritually important Maori location, and a dramatic point from which to watch the ocean and sea churn together. Running along virtually the entire west side of the peninsula, from lovely beach town Ahipara to Scott Point is Ninety Mile Beach (which is really only 88km long).
The beach is actually a highway, but rental car companies generally won’t let their vehicles drive on it and many people get their cars stuck in the sand. Tours are a better idea; a number that drive up the beach to Cape Reinga can be arranged from Kaitaia (tours are also available from the Bay of Islands, but they make for a much longer day). On the east side of the peninsula, the state highway winds through tiny towns, bays, and forest.
This is a remote and un-touristy part of New Zealand where the journey is as much a part of the experience as any actual destination. The far north can be a very refreshing alternative to the beaten tourist trail.