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Small Towns to visit in the North Island of New Zealand

1. | Titirangi Auckland

Titirangi is one of my favourite corners of the world, certainly my pick for undiscovered North Island towns. It’s underrated, under-explored, and truly magical. Technically this is a suburb, rather than its own town, but as soon as you arrive you instantly feel a million miles away.

Tucked away in the Southern entrance to the Waitākere Ranges, to the West of Auckland; Titirangi means either long streaks of cloud in the sky or fringe of heaven in Māori, depending on how you interpret it. Either way, the land’s ancestors knew a special place when they found it. Fringed with swaths of deep, green, native New Zealand bush; instead of traffic, the soundtrack is bellbirds, tuis and gently lapping waves. This is a far, far, cry from the Auckland most people imagine.

I lived in Titirangi for a few years, a number of years ago. It’s made a lasting imprint, and one of my favourite things is the character of the village; Think organic farmers markets, charming café culture & small, locally owned eateries. Titirangi is a haven for creatives, and is home to many artists, musicians, galleries, and theatre – for a long time my favourite Auckland suburb (err, let’s go with village) upheld a reputation as a bohemian hub.

Titirangi is the undiscovered jewel in Auckland’s crown, and I’m always eager to recommend it to any visitors I hear badmouthing Auckland city!


2. | Waikanae

Recommended by Jub at Chur New Zealand

Having grown up in Waikanae, I’ve come to appreciate my visits to see family. What used to be a town people would rarely visit as a tourist, is now an increasingly popular day trip destination from Wellington.

There are plenty of amazing walks in Waikanae with options for everyone. And being located on the west coast, the sunsets are amazing, even more so in the winter when the sun dips behind Kapiti Island.

Head to the beach in the evening for a stroll, and enjoy the sunset before heading to one of the restaurants near the beach.

This brings us to the food and drink scene in Waikanae. It has moved on from fish and chips being the only options. There’s Los Locos, The Front Room, and the Long Room Cafe, all near the beachfront. And grab one of the amazing pies from Olde Beach Bakery n the morning!

At the village, there’s the health-oriented Sunday Cantina and the Salt and Wood Collective serving locally brewed craft beer. Two of my favourites

Want more ideas you can include in your visit to Waikanae?

  • Visit Nga Manu Nature Reserve
  • Take a birding tour around the estuary
  • Swim in Waikanae River
  • Browse Mahara Gallery
  • Play 18 holes at Waikanae Golf Course

In my early 20’s I would’ve said that Waikanae is boring. 10+ years later, and I’ve grown to appreciate how great Waikanae is for a small town in NZ. The food options are better than ever, the trails are well maintained, and who doesn’t love a town close to both the beach and mountains (the Tararua’s aren’t far away).

Waikanae - Small Town New Zealand

3. | Waitomo King Country

Waitomo is a tiny little rural village which normally packs a massive tourism punch. Before pandemic times, the tiny town of Waitomo near the center of the North Island was a constant stream of tour busses thanks to the magnificent Waitomo Glowworm caves. At the time of publishing this (March 20201) New Zealand is still mostly shut off from tourism, and the delightful town of Waitomo is struggling!

It’s a place well worth the visit – nestled amongst lush rolling countryside, dotted with sheep (or adorable little lambs, if you visit in the spring) and full of gorgeous forest trails, walkways, glowworm grottos, waterfalls and a sprinkling of delightful eateries.

What to do in Waitomo?

  • HuHu Cafe is excellent, I would eat there again (and again, and again)
  • Make sure to explore the nearby Ruakuri Bushwalk, for an hour-long loop trail of bridges, caves, glow-worms, and waterfalls.
  • Go Zip Lining at the Waitomo Caves Zipline Park
  • Discover the Opapaka Pā Walk for some bird watching
  • Go blackwater rafting through caves of twinkling glowworms
Map of Waitomo, New Zealand

4. | Matakana Auckland

Recommended by Caroline at CK Travels

Picturesque Matakana Village is one of the best day trips from Auckland and located just 40 minutes north of the city. 

Matakana Village itself is quite small and has a handful of pubs, art and craft galleries and an arthouse cinema. Most people head here though to visit the weekend Matakana Village Farmers Market, located next to the river. The market is a foodies paradise and sells a wide array of delicious local organic produce and street food including amazing oyster platters and fresh paua fritters.

The town is also known for its award-winning vineyards and there is a Matakana Wine Trail where you can visit 15 different boutique wineries set amongst the rolling hills. Many of them have cellar doors where you can enjoy wine tasting, and some have stylish restaurants where you eat a gourmet lunch with a beautiful view of the vines (Plume Winery has a lovely outdoor dining area). You can also join a small group tour to take you to some of these wineries.

The nearby coast is also very popular and has pretty white sandy beaches where you can surf, snorkel, dive, swim, kayak or paddleboard, and nearby there are many scenic walking and cycling tracks.

Matakana

Ohope

Recommended by Nadine of Le Long Weekend 

Home to one of New Zealand’s most beloved beaches, Ohope is a small, almost single road settlement east of Whakatane in the North Island. It’s an excellent place to escape in nature, partake in water sports such as surfing or windsurfing, go hiking, or spot wildlife in their natural habitat.

Life here is in the slow lane, and it’s especially great for an easy family holiday. Rent a holiday home and spend your days building sandcastles, swimming, and playing ball games on the large sandy beach. There are also two great playgrounds situated on the grassy banks next door, where children will be entertained for hours. Adult visitors can browse the small selection of boutiques, and enjoy a leisurely brunch at the popular Moxi cafe. If you’re up for a more strenuous adventure, hit the trails in the Ohope Scenic Reserve, or the Kohi Point Scenic Reserve – both will afford you unbeatable views over the small town, coastal area, and both Whale and White Island off in the distance.

Ohope is one of those places that wins you over with its relaxed way of life, and you’ll want to keep on returning for years to come!


Rawene

Recommended by Roxanne of Faraway Worlds

Travelling along the rugged coastline of the west coast of Northland, I was pleasantly enchanted by scenic Hokianga, with its ancient forest and wild beaches. We had passed other towns along the way, but Rawene was a surprise – a jewel in a jagged landscape. First settled in the early 19th century, Rawene is New Zealand’s third oldest European settlement. Set on the water, the small town has a number of colourful, historic buildings, art galleries and craft shops, which are slightly incongruous with its surroundings.

It’s a quiet spot – Hokianga doesn’t get anywhere near the number of visitors of the east coast – but that just adds to its calm. Take a leisurely walk through the village, gaze out over the water, and stop for lunch in a local café. While you’re there, be sure to take a peek in Clendon House. Built in the 1860s, it was the home of an early New Zealand trader and is beautifully preserved.

Then catch the ferry to Kohukohu, the largest town in Hokianga, and the isolated north. Kohukohu is worth a visit, but it can’t compete with beautiful Rawene, with its quirky storefronts, interesting murals and historic buildings. However, it’s the streets and people of Rawene that will catch and keep your attention, unassuming but somehow managing to embody the wild and beautiful spirit of the Hokianga region.


Kerikeri

Recommended by Cassie of Cassiethehag.com

Kerikeri is a small town in the Northland area of New Zealand and is famous for its important history and natural attractions. Located in the subline coastal region appropriately named ‘the Bay of Islands’, it makes an attractive stop for road trippers, though I visited as a Summer weekend away from Auckland. 

Once home to Maori chief Hongi Hika, you can still visit his old settlement, which was strategically located along the Kerikeri River, which is now also popular for local hikes. New Zealand’s second mission station (which now remains here as New Zealand’s oldest building) is in the heart of the town. These buildings are the Stone Store and Kent House, which you can still visit today.

From these buildings, a walk to Rainbow Falls is a must-do in my opinion. But one of the best things to do in Kerikeri is visiting the wonderful nearby Northland beaches. Matauri Bay and Tauranga Bay are amazing beach stops for Summer, and the drive from Kerikeri has stunning elevated views too. For families, you may also enjoy visiting the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway.

Finally, don’t miss a visit to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in nearby Paihia – this is where the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed, thus forming New Zealand as we know it today. 


Hahei

Recommended by Trisha and Modi from Try Wandering More

Hahei is a small beachside village located in the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand’s North Island, just a 2.5-hour drive from Auckland. We chose to stay here only because of its proximity to popular attractions. We didn’t expect much from the village before we got here. However, we were happily surprised by this charming settlement which has only two restaurants, a brewery, an ice cream cum pizza parlour, a general store, a gift shop, a gas station, and some holiday-related businesses.

Hahei’s low population combined with immense greenery lends to the serenity of the village. Yet, Hahei has a happy vibe with its colourful flowers, chirping birds and nosy seagulls. The beach too is a beautiful white-sand one with calm waters – perfect for a relaxing swim. Our time at the village was made even more memorable by our lovely B&B and friendly hosts.

That being said, Hahei is not just about the village but also about the incredible vistas around the area. It has spectacular seaside walks to the famous Cathedral Cove and to Te Pare Point. One can swim, snorkel, boat, kayak, fish and dive to explore the Te Whanganui-A-Hei marine reserve here. Hot water beach, near Hahei, is a fascinating one, where you can dig your own spa pool at low tide.

We would love to return for the delicious food, the relaxing walks, the picturesque sceneries and the many things to do that we missed. 


Waiheke

Recommended by Angie from Where Angie Wanders

Waiheke, a quick ferry ride across the water from Auckland, is one of the most beautiful islands in all of New Zealand. This tiny island with only 10,000 residents, is a popular day-trip destination for both Aucklanders and tourists to the North Island, thanks to the 30-plus boutique wineries that are scattered around its countryside. I headed to the island to experience wine tasting in Waiheke’s vineyards and loved every minute of my trip.

From the wine and the food to the beautiful settings of the wineries it was perfect from start to finish. In the daytime the views from Waiheke island across the Hauraki Gulf are sensational, and in the evening as the sun sets, you feel like you are in a magical place – especially if you happen to have a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc in your hand.  

But it’s not just wine that attracts visitors to Waiheke. Other activities include ziplining across the vineyards to cycling around the island with stops for wine tasting on route! Walkers are also catered for with several hiking trails stretching across the countryside. Waiheke also has some fantastic sandy beaches, my favourite being Oneroa lined with indigenous pohutukawa trees perfect for offering shade on hot summer days.

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