“Seriously, I’d rather not drive. No really, I’m scared, please no.” – that was me a week ago. In the past 12 years of owning a licence I have driven a total of 3 days, always clinging to the steering wheel with dear life, saying prayers at every stop light. When I was asked to drive from Hokianga to Bay of Islands, both in Northland, New Zealand, I was pretty much shitting my pants as to how on earth I would master driving on the left hand side. Talk of windy roads did not help the situation. Long story short, I decided to stop wimping around, picked up a big red car from the airport (am I the only one who’s heard of the statistic according to which 80% of car accidents involve a red car?) and got on the road. 10 minutes in I dared to turn on the radio. 30 minutes in I slowed down to take my first Instagram photo. Something along the lines of “Look mom, I’m driving!”. I bet my mother would appreciate her daughter taking photos while driving.


Seriously though, if you’re a total girl like me when it comes to cars don’t despair – New Zealand is your country. Pretty much no other cars near or far, just the occasional roadkill, mostly due to the possum plague they get over here. If however, you’d still rather not drive long distances, there are great affordable domestic flights being offered by Air New Zealand which can be booked up to an hour before departure, often they’re even cheaper then! Needless to say that I was pleased I could skip the 4-hour drive from Auckland to Bay of Islands by hopping on what locals lovingly call the tin can, an airplane so tiny it only seats about 20 people and doesn’t even fit a flight attendant.

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I’ve already told you about my stop in Hokianga, where I stayed at the incredibly charming Kokohuia Lodge. From there I drove to Paihia, on the other side of Northland, the East Coast, which is home to the infamous Bay of Islands. Both destinations are merely a 90-minute drive apart, so there really is no excuse not to check out both of them. On the way from Hokianga there are two noteworthy stops to make, both of which are definitely worth the little detour.

1. The Boatshed Cafe. Do yourself a favor and skip breakfast in Hokianga or, better yet, leave some room for a delicious homemade carrot cake and a sumptuous cappuccino at this wonderful gem, right by the water, with a charming terrace overlooking the bay. The Cafe sells breakfast, lunch and dinner, making any time of day a good time to stop by here. If you have a thing for romantic comedies like I do, you will appreciate this place even more. Throw in a pretty waitress and I could easily think of at least 5 feature length films happening in and around the Boatshed (8 Clendon Place in Rawene).

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2. Ngawha Springs is the other on-the-way spot not to be missed out on. It’s essentially a group of very basic but all the more charming hot pools, that are getting some serious rave reviews from those who have been. I unfortunately did not have time to check them out (what can I say, that carrot cake was REALLY good) but just from the look of it I can tell that this is fun stuff. Besides, where else in New Zealand will you get a top notch spa treatment / mud bath for just $4?

ngawha springs photo via go nomad

But back to me driving to the other side of the country. Paihia is a small but popular destination, due to its central location and the nearby islands. It’s a hub for backpackers, with several hostels lining up on and around Kings Road. I stayed in a private room at the YHA Paihia which has lovely wooden walls and gets a lot less noise than many of the other places around. People come to Paihia to spend time on the water, after all this is the Bay of Islands. Most notable bit of sightseeing is the Hole in the Rock, that has tourists snapping with delight. Best way to see the islands is by going on a dolphin cruise where you even often have the option of swimming with the dolphins, a once in a lifetime experience. On 90% of those tours wild bottlenose dolphins are being spotted and no matter how many times you’ve seen them, it never ceases to be special. Explore Nz offers tours twice a day for $89. Buy a small bottle of prosecco, let the sun shine in your face and enjoy the Bay as you cruise along.

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The other great boat tour on offer in Paihia is Darryl’s Dinner Cruise. Now the name alone is enough for you and I to think “Oh, please, really?” BUT I actually had a blast. No really, Darryl’s is one of those things you think will be lame and turns out the most fun you can have with clothes on. Boat Captain Dan has everyone introduce themselves to everyone else while wearing silly masks which is great for lightening the mood and breaking the ice amongst guests. As a first course mussels and grilled garlic shrimp are served, for mains they dish up a mean grilled steak (Kiwi size) or the fish of the day.

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Something else I loved about this dinner cruise, other than the food and the entertainment, was that it did not actually go out on the ocean, making dinner a choppy experience, but actually just slowly floated along a river, which is beautifully calm and terribly romantic during the sunset hour. A nearby waterfall helps make the romance peak. Darryl’s costs a well invested $95 per person, drinks are not included but you can (and should) bring your own wine.


If you just can’t get enough of cruises, you will probably LOVE this one: the Bay of Islands Rock Cruise offers private doubles and dorm beds for affordable rates, essentially a hostel on the water, which would explain why it’s with the YHA group.
I haven’t had the chance to try that one out for myself this time around, but maybe you should give it a go and then submit a guest post about it?


It’s nearly impossible to go to New Zealand and not spend a significant amount of time on the water. If up north, don’t miss out on the above.