North of the Bay of Islands everything gets a lot quieter. There are few towns of any consequence along the coast and it is the peace and slow pace that attract visitors to an array of glorious beaches and the lovely Whangaroa Harbour. The first stop north of Kerikeri is tiny Matauri Bay, where a hilltop memorial commemorates the Greenpeace flagship, Rainbow Warrior, which now lies off the coast. A sealed but winding back road continues north, offering fabulous sea views and passing gorgeous headlands and beaches before delivering you to Whangaroa Harbour, one of the most beautiful in Northland, and an excellent place to go sailing or kayaking. Further north is the idyllic surfing and fishing hideaway of Taupo Bay.
Continuing north brings you to the huge bite out of the coast called Doubtless Bay, which had two celebrated discoverers: Kupe, said to have first set foot on Aotearoa in Taipa; and Cook, who sailed past in 1769 and pronounced it “doubtless, a bay”. Bounded on the west and north by the sheltering Karikari Peninsula, the bay offers safe boating and is popular with Kiwi vacationers. In January you can barely move here and you’ll struggle to find accommodation, but the shoulder seasons can be surprisingly quiet, and outside December, January and February room prices drop considerably. Most of the bay’s facilities cluster along the southern shore of the peninsula in a string of beachside settlements – Coopers Beach, Cable Bay and Taipa Bay – running west from picturesque Mangonui.