• Rach Stewart

10 MUST SEE PHOTO LOCATIONS IN NORTHLAND NEW ZEALAND


Top Must See Northland Photography Spots New Zealand

Northland New Zealand is an area I hadn't explored a lot of until a couple of years ago when I was lucky enough to take a trip out to the Poor Knights Islands in Tutukaka. After coming home from that trip with a new appreciation for this epic part of the country, I decided it was time to explore Northland further and set about doing so.


Northland and the Far North sits right at the top of the North Island of New Zealand. The diversity this part of the country is truly incredible from white sandy beaches, to ancient Kauri Forests, to marine reserves teeming with life and we can't forget the northern most point of New Zealand Cape Reinga where the Tasman and Pacific Oceans meet.



There is so much to do in Northland and it is such an underrated part of New Zealand. Northland Photography locations are incredible and I am so happy to have made the effort to visit such inspiring places that sometimes seem to get missed off the standard travel itineraries for our little country.


Let's start from the top and work our way down. I have chosen each of these locations for their photogenic qualities, the awesome experiences you can have here, and although there are many more amazing spots to visit for Northland landscape photography, these are the ones I have personally visited and absolutely loved.



First up ...


1. CAPE REINGA LIGHTHOUSE


It has taken me too long to visit the top of the North Island ... my whole life in fact! It wasn't until July 2021 that I finally got to visit the famous Cape Reinga lighthouse with my partner and fellow photographer Peter May and I am kicking myself I left it so long.


Cape Reinga is the northernmost point of New Zealand's North Island. It is where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet and you can go no further than this point.

Cape Reinga Tasman Sea Pacific Ocean
The Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meeting at Cape Reinga

It is a sacred place to Māori and a significant anchorage for Pacific voyages. The Cape’s famous landmark, Pouakai Rock, is home to seabirds and has been used as a navigational aid for centuries by seafarers from this region.

WHERE TO SHOOT FROM?


The winding footpath that leads to the Cape Reinga lighthouse creates a great leading line and there are many spots to stop and take a photo.

There is also a path that leads up a grassy hill which provides a unique vantage point and view of the lighthouse from an elevated point. You can also watch the Tasman and Pacific oceans meet and form their Criss Cross pattern. From here you can look back onto the stunning Te Werahi beach and gaze far down the west coast.

Te Werahi Beach Cape Reinga
Te Werahi beach from the Cape Reinga walkway

WHEN TO SHOOT?


I shot most of these Cape Reinga photos at golden hour just before sunset. We woke up the following day to shoot the sunrise back at Cape Reinga lighthouse but unfortunately it was grey and windy so we didn't end up taking any photographs there. The lighthouse location will work for both sunrise and sunset however so you can make the most it!


Spend the night at the DOC camp at Tapotupotu Bay and wake up on a secluded beach which we had all to ourselves.

Tapotupotu Bay Cape Reinga
Tapotupotu Bay, Cape Reinga at sunrise

2. TE PAKI SAND DUNES


The Te Paki Sand Dunes are just a half hour drive from Cape Reinga Lighthouse and are a must do stop on your Northland Photography journey!

The Te Paki landscape has been carved out over millions of years from sand build up by volcanic activity in other parts of New Zealand, creating the dunes as they are today. The Te Paki sand dunes are constantly shifting and changing with the wind and weather, so every visit here will be slightly different.

People come from all over the world to sandboard down the Te Paki sand dunes ... why not have some fun while also capturing some beautiful landscape photography!


WHERE TO SHOOT FROM?


There is no specific place I would recommend to shoot on the Te Paki Sand Dunes as all the dunes are equally impressive! Leave your shoes at the car and walk barefoot over the dunes .. explore to your hearts content!

Te Paki Sand Dunes Northland
Te Paki Sand Dunes Northland

WHEN TO SHOOT?


We shot the dunes during golden hour and at sunset. We had explored the area earlier on in the day so we had a bit of an idea of what was waiting for us. The golden light was beautiful at sunset and showed all the patterns and gradients of the sand.


3. MAITAI BAY


Maitai Bay in the far north of New Zealand has been voted one of New Zealand's best beaches and it's really no surprise to see why when you're standing right in front of it. This stunning little bay sits at the top of the Karikari Peninsula and because of it's remoteness it remains unspoilt and somewhere you can have to yourself a lot of the time.

Maitai Bay Northland
Maitai Bay Northland from above

There is a Department of Conservation camping ground at Maitai Bay and you can walk the Maitai Bay Headland track to gain stunning views of both Maitai and Waikato Bays.

Maitai Bay and Waikato Bay Northland
Waikato Bay and Maitai Bay

WHERE TO SHOOT FROM?


Although super stunning from the ground, I found that the views that really gave Maitai Bay justice were from above with the drone. The perspective from the sky really showed off how stunningly blue the water is in the bay, and then the surrounding native forest looked incredible against the water in contrast. You can also see how prominent the curve in the bay is when you are looking from a top down position.

Maitai Bay Northland
Maitai Bay Northland

WHEN TO SHOOT?


To capture the stunning blues of the water and greens of the forest I would suggest shooting during the day preferably the early afternoon. However for golden light on the sand and that early morning glow I would suggest shooting just after sunrise. The weather had other ideas for us at this spot so I was very happy to have the little bit of sunshine we were given!

Maitai Bay Northland
Maitai Bay Colours

4. THE DUKES NOSE (KAIRARA ROCK)


The Dukes Nose (Kairara Rock) is a bit of a hidden gem for many visitors who come to New Zealand. This New Zealand North Island Day hike offers incredible views above the Whangaroa Harbour and beyond, and definitely makes you believe you've been transported to some far off islands in Thailand or South East Asia!

The view from the summit is absolutely stunning with tropical blue water from the Whangaroa harbour surrounding the dense North Island coastal forest and the islands dotted throughout the harbour.


There are a couple of options available in getting to the Dukes Nose:


The Walk in: Take the Wairakau Stream Track from Totora North and hike the 5.6km to the Lane Cove Hut (approx 2 hours). This is the option we took and I highly recommend it. The track starts off up an old 4wd track but you will soon be walking through beautiful coastal New Zealand forest, towering volcanic valley walls and along the stunning harbour's edge. We saw our first Ruru (NZ Native Owl) by taking this option! Once you reach the Lane Cove Hut, have a rest/drink/refuel, and then continue on up the 500m to the top of Kairara Rocks (approx 45 minutes). This part is not for the faint hearted and includes 2 x steep climb grab rails up vertical cliff face. It is very much worth it for the views however!!

Water taxi in: To skip the first part of the hike, catch a water taxi from Whangaroa Harbour to Lane Cove Hut, then continue the rest of the track up to the Dukes Nose Kairara Rock path (45 minutes).

The Dukes Nose Whangaroa
Sunset from The Dukes Nose Whangaroa looking east

WHERE & WHEN TO SHOOT?


By far the best view is from the summit of Kairara Rock facing North. We started the Dukes Nose hike in the early afternoon so that we could shoot it at golden hour and at sunset. The light was stunning over the harbour lighting up the surrounding forest and landscape around the islands. This is another one of those spots that will work well at sunrise also.



5. WAIPOUA FOREST


The Waipoua Forest is one of New Zealand's most spectacular sights and one that just can not be missed on your Northland photography adventure. This ancient kauri forest is New Zealand's largest remaining intact broadleaf and sub tropical rainforest and home to our oldest and largest living native Kauri trees.

Waipoua Forest Kauri Trees
Ancient Kauri Trees in the Waipoua Forest

New Zealand's history is a very sad one when it comes to deforestation. When the first Europeans came to New Zealand the northern parts of the North Island were covered in vast Kauri forests, estimated at around 1,200,000 hectares in total.


Today barely 4,000 hectares of original forest remain, the rest having been felled for timber or cleared for farming. That leaves just 0.5% of forest left. It's a heartbreaking fact and New Zealand's worst environmental disaster in my opinion.


Did you know if you buy a print from my print store a portion of your purchase goes to the Kauri 2000 New Zealand Trust, a charitable organisation planting and restoring New Zealand's Native Kauri Forests

WHERE TO SHOOT FROM?

Tane Mahutu Waipoua Forest
Tane Mahutu Waipoua Forest

The Waipoua Forest is the home of Tāne Mahuta, New Zealand's largest kauri tree and at an age of 2000 years old. You can view Tāne Mahuta from two separate viewing platforms in the forest. Just go through the gates and complete the short walk to both.


Important: New Zealand's Kauri trees are battling a disease called Kauri Dieback. Please follow all the Department of Conversation signs, use the cleaning stations and abide by the rules at each site so that we can stop the disease spreading.

Te Matua Ngahere Waipoua Forest
Te Matua Ngahere Waipoua Forest

I would highly recommend you book a tour with Footprints Waipoua to see other significant Kauri trees in the area. We were able to visit New Zealand's oldest Kauri Tree on their guided tour "Te Matua Ngahere" - Father of the Forest, which was a truly humbling experience. This ancient tree is approximately 3000 years old and an absolutely incredible sight. Our guide was amazing and so informative, I learnt so much about this forest, it's significance to Maori and took away a lot from the experience.


WHEN TO SHOOT?


If possible I would suggest shooting early in the afternoon as the forest is quite dark and some light from the sun really does help.



6. KAI IWI LAKES


Around 30 minutes past Dargaville you will find the stunning Kai Iwi Lakes, Northland's crystal clear fresh water dune lakes created almost 2 million years ago by rain water and sand dunes.

Kai Iwi Lakes Northland
Kai Iwi Lakes Northland

There are three lakes nestled amongst 538 hectares of recreation reserve surrounding the Taharoa Domain. With a trio of white sandy foreshores, absolutely stunning warm crystal blue water in the shallow areas, and deep emerald blue in the deep areas, these lakes really are a magnificent sight.

Kai Iwi Lakes Northland
Kai Iwi Lakes Northland

The Kai Iwi Lakes are a very popular holiday destination for many New Zealander's and travelers alike, and there are two campgrounds situated near the lakes meaning you can take your time and spend a few days in the area.

Kai Iwi Lakes Northland
Kai Iwi Lakes Northland

7. DAISY BAY TUTUKAKA


Daisy Bay is one of the first beaches you will encounter along just one of the amazing Tutukaka walking tracks you can do while visiting the area.

Daisy Bay Tutukaka Northland
Daisy Bay at sunset

Daisy Bay forms part of the Sandy Bay to Whananaki South Walkway which is a 12km return hike over farmland surrounded by stunning coastal scenery.


My friend and I did this walk in 2017 to photograph a particularly old and beautiful Pohutukawa tree that I had seen in a few photographs from Daisy Bay. I was sad to find that the Pohutukawa had fallen since those photographs were taken and was dying most likely from possum and predator attacks. Nevertheless the scene was still magical and I was so happy to see it with my own eyes and add this photo to my Northland Photography portfolio.


WHERE & WHEN TO SHOOT?


Park your car at the top of McAuslin Road at Sandy Bay, Tutukaka Coast to start the walk. Daisy Bay is only around 5 minutes along the walk and easily accessible.


We aimed to shoot golden hour and sunset here but there was a lot of cloud around. I would suggest trying to shoot Daisy Bay at sunrise and wait for the golden light to hit the beach and the surrounding coastline.



8. MATAPOURI BAY TUTUKAKA


Matapouri Bay is just 40 minutes from Whangarei and you couldn't feel more away from the crowds if you tried. I would rate this as one of the prettiest beaches I have ever been to in New Zealand both for its stunning white sandy beach and for its absolute peace and tranquility.

Matapouri Beach Tutukaka
Matapouri Beach Tutukaka at sunrise

There are no crowds, it is secluded and sheltered, there is a stunning beach, rock pools and coastal walks. Matapouri Bay really has it all! The Matapouri Headland Track starts from Matapouri Bay and follows the coast all the way to Whale Bay, where both beaches are absolutely magical


There is freedom camping available at Matapouri Bay for self contained vehicles.


WHERE & WHEN TO SHOOT?


Sunrise is the best time to shoot Matapouri Bay. There is a perfect wooden boardwalk leading down to the bay which I took advantage of as a leading line for my photograph. There are lots of tussocks and dunes that make interesting foreground also.



9. THE POOR KNIGHTS TUTUKAKA


Poor Knights Islands
The Poor Knights Islands with Dive Tutukaka

The Poor Knights Islands were the first place I visited in Northland for underwater photography. Having had a fascination with underwater photography for quite some time, in early 2019 I decided it was time to give it a go. I went out and bought an underwater housing and there was only one place I knew I wanted to go to get the shots I had dreamed of, and that was The Poor Knights Islands.

Poor Knights Islands Tutukaka
Diving the Poor Knights Islands Tutukaka

I was very lucky to be hosted by the amazing team at Dive Tutukaka who took my two best friends and I out on a day of exploring and snorkeling around the Poor Knights Islands. My mind was blown as I couldn't believe how pristine and beautiful the Poor Knights diving was.

Northern Arch Poor Knights Islands
Northern Arch Blue Maomao Poor Knights Islands

Poor Knights Islands is part of the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is an important breeding ground for many species in the Hauraki Gulf.

Poor Knights Islands
Snapper School at Poor Knights Islands

The Poor Knights Islands, which is also known as Puketutu Island, was created by volcanic eruption and is made up of three islands - Tawhiti Rahi, Tawhiti Pounga and Tawhiti Atua. The marine reserve provides a safe place to feed for many sea animals such as sharks, dolphins, seals and penguins. It has an area of 220 hectares and has been under protection since 1925.

Jellyfish Poor Knights Islands
I shall call him Squishy

WHAT YOU WILL NEED?


If possible I would suggest borrowing or purchasing an underwater housing for either your camera or your phone so you can snap away while snorkeling or diving. If you're going to go the full hog and use your DSLR or Mirrorless camera in an underwater housing, I would suggest fitting a wider angle lens which will allow you to capture the whole underwater scene.

Demoiselle school Poor Knights Islands
Demoiselle school Poor Knights Islands

For split shots (half water half land) a dome port for your underwater housing is needed. If you are aiming to do split shots, set a narrow aperture to try and get everything in focus. It can be tricky, but persevere and you should be able to get a shot in focus.


You will most likely need to set a higher ISO so that you can keep your shutter speed fast enough to capture the moving fish and sea creatures without blurring.


Dive Tutukaka can provide you with all the underwater diving and snorkeling gear you need, so all you need to sort is your camera!