Want to know our most favourite place in New Zealand?
Okay, this is a hard one because there *may* be a few places contending for the #1 spot – but Northland’s Kerikeri is sure hard to beat, particularly Aroha Island (which we’ll get to in a minute!).
As you travel up to Northland (the northernmost point of New Zealand’s North Island), you start to feel the hustle and bustle of Auckland wash away as you get about an hour out of the city. The landscape becomes even more green (if that’s possible), and you get glimpses of the ocean as you wind your way up north and more north.
Kerikeri is about 3.5 hours north of Auckland, in the famed Bay of Islands region. While you’ve probably heard of Paihia, the most popular of the Bay of Islands towns, chances are Kerikeri has skipped your radar – but we’re here to tell you not to miss it! Paihia is quite overcome with tourism, whereas Kerikeri is off-the-beaten-path and is just simply a lovely place to hang out for a while. If we could live there, we would!
More specifically, you need to go to Aroha Island in Kerikeri. Like, need to.
About Aroha Island
The word “aroha” in te reo, or Māori, translates to “love” in English – and it was certainly love at first sight when we initially visited Aroha Island in Kerikeri. Since our first visit, we can’t stop going back at every chance we get; it’s that magnetic. While it feels isolated and away-from-it-all, it’s not technically an island (as it’s attached to land on one side), so you can drive right in – basically, there’s no reason not to visit if you can make it up to Kerikeri!
There is something simply magical about this eco-sanctuary, which is home to a small group of native kiwi and is situated right along the water, amidst natural bush and a small citrus grove. You can camp here, or stay in a cabin – you’ll kayak by day, and search for kiwi by night.
…And the kiwi
Maybe we should back up a little bit… have you heard of kiwi?! They’re New Zealand’s iconic bird, and they’re super adorable – and are also extremely rare to see out in the wild. Kiwi are an endangered, flightless bird with a long curving beak and nocturnal habits; these little guys are elusive to say the least!
At Aroha Island, there’s a beautiful track amidst the bush that circles the “island” – at night, you can walk this track with a headlamp or flashlight (covered in light-dimming red cellophane, which is provided free of charge), to search for kiwi. You literally just walk around on your own and carefully listen for them, whether that’s their eerie calls or the rustling of their beaks as they hunt for grubs to eat. We’ve spotted kiwi at Aroha Island a few times now, and needless to say, it’s been a pretty special experience each time.
…And the accommodation
We haven’t even mentioned the accommodation options at Aroha Island! You can camp here, in a tent or campervan ($15/pp), or stay in one of their great little cottages (starting at $100/night). There is also an apartment-style option that would be great for a group or family, and sleeps 6 people.
If you stay in the cottage/apartment options, you’ll be fully self-contained with your own bathroom, small kitchen and barbecue. If you choose to camp, there is a spotlessly-clean shared bathroom and kitchen, along with an awesome covered outdoor barbecue area.
…And the kayaking
You can rent kayaks at Aroha Island and go right out onto the water from the island – we highly recommend this! You just need to time it right, i.e. at high tide, as the water recedes a lot when low tide hits. Bring water, snacks, and maybe some beers in case you decide to anchor down at one of the nearby little islands for a bit. Just make sure to leave yourself with enough time and energy to get back!
More about Kerikeri
Kerikeri has some great spots to check out – if you’re in the area, be sure to visit the following places:
Charlie’s Rock swimming hole: A 10-minute walk takes you to this waterfall with a swimming hole beneath it. On a sunny day, it’s a popular cool-down spot.
Rainbow Falls: An impressive waterfall super close to the town centre – and it’s only about a 5 minute walk from the carpark to the falls.
The Village Cafe for breakfast/brunch
La Taza Del Diablo for excellent Mexican food + margaritas
The Old Packhouse farmer’s market (on Saturdays) for great local produce + food (and craft beer!) stalls. Kerikeri’s subtropical climate allows for many things to grow up there year-round, so the produce is really something special!
Bay of Islands Honey Shop: Local honey and beeswax candles
Molly’s Little Book Shop: A great used book store – we once found a copy of an awesome guide to New Zealand’s native animals, which we keep in the car at all times now.
We hope you enjoy your stay in beautiful Kerikeri – and good luck spotting kiwi!