It’s not practical (or fun) to make the drive between Auckland and the Bay of Islands in one session.
The drive takes between three and four hours, depending on how much of a hurry you’re in. But in their haste, many travellers miss some excellent places to stop.
Here are five suggested diversions from travel writer Kit Packer:
Stop 1: Ignore the toll road on State Highway 1 and take the scenic route along the coast. It’s only an extra 20 minutes of driving (and if you stop to pay the toll at a coin-operated booth you could waste half of that in a queue!), and there’s plenty to see.
Turn off at Silverdale and you’ll come into Orewa, a pleasant township favoured by retired Aucklanders. It has a magnificent beach and a strip of cafes. Or call into the local surf club on the beach (they welcome visitors) for a drink.
Stop 2: Continuing the coastal route, turn off at Waiwera if you fancy a dip at the local pools and spa. You won’t find a public pool in more scenic surroundings, and there’s a pleasant beach at the end of the road.
Stop 3: Visit New Zealand’s first marine reserve at Goat Island. Turn off SH1 at Warkworth and follow the signs, and you’ll find the reserve at the end of Goat Island Rd, five minutes past the town centre of Leigh.
If you want to get into the water, you’ll see an amazing range of sea life; but if you just want to wander, you’ll still find plenty to see (some fish are so people friendly, they’ll take food from your hands).
Stop 4: It’s tempting to save time by driving around Whangarei (a city of 50,000+ population), but if you fancy lunch or a stretch of the legs, follow the signs to the Quay area.
There you’ll find an interesting collection of tourist shops and cafes, and the local information centre which has everything you need to know about what’s happening in the city and surrounding area.
Whangarei is often omitted from the “must see” itineraries in tourism guides but the city can surprise – and it’s an excellent base for those who want to explore the hundreds of nearby beaches and islands.
Stop 5: The entrance to the Bay of Islands is a small town called Kawakawa. It’s worth pulling over for a toilet stop – whether your bladder needs it or not.
The town boasts the most photographed toilets in New Zealand.
Designed by famed Austrian architect Frederick Hundertwasser, the toilets are a piece of art and it may be a while before you get another chance to buy a postcard celebrating the existence of a public loo.
Source: Kit Packer blog, New Zealand Holiday Travel