Bay of Islands by Car
Driving from Auckland to Paihia is a 3-hour trip (non-stop) on a busy New Zealand state highway. It's a good idea to allow extra time for rest breaks, a meal or a wander around one of the towns along the way.
If you're visiting from overseas, make sure you're familiar with New Zealand road rules before you head north. We drive on the left-hand side and our roads are often narrower, windier and steeper than you might expect. For more information about driving on New Zealand's roads visit nzta.govt.nz.
Travelling to the Bay of Islands by car gives you the flexibility to stop at some of the interesting towns and attractions. We think you'll enjoy taking your time and spending a couple of days exploring Northland and the Bay of Islands.
Here are two options for driving from Auckland to the Bay of Islands: a scenic route, with some suggestions for stops and activities along the way, and the faster, more direct option that includes a toll road. Auckland to the Bay of Islands (the scenic route)
AUCKLAND TO OREWA - TRAVEL TIME 30 MINUTES
Journey north over the Auckland Harbour Bridge towards the bays and beaches of Auckland's North Shore. Continue driving on the northern motorway and exit at Orewa, a seaside town on the edge of a long, white sand surf beach. Take a stroll through the small shopping centre, explore one of the northern bush trails, or take a quick dip in the ocean.
If you're travelling with kids, Orewa's seaside playground is a great spot for a quick run around.
OREWA TO WARKWORTH - TRAVEL TIME 30 MINUTES
Continuing north from Orewa towards Paihia, you'll pass a small beachside settlement called Waiwera. This means 'hot water' in Māori. Here you'll find Waiwera Thermal Resort, New Zealand's largest water park. The next place you can stop is Puhoi, a historic rural town renowned for producing good cheeses. Stop for a bite to eat and grab some delicious locally-made cheese to go! If you're visiting the famous Puhoi Valley Cheese Factory, the road is unsealed for approximately 3 kilometres (1.8 miles) of the journey.
As you continue on to Warkworth, enjoy lush native forest and scenic farmland.
WARKWORTH TO WHANGAREI -TRAVEL TIME 1 HOUR 25 MINUTES
Warkworth is a lovely town situated on the banks of the Mahurangi River and is central to many surrounding attractions on the Matakana Coast. From Warkworth you can explore surf beaches, vineyards, art galleries, golf courses, marine and wildlife sanctuaries and regional parks. Stopping for a short walk along the riverbank is a good excuse to take a break from driving.
WHANGAREI TO PAIHIA - TRAVEL TIME 1 HOUR
Whangarei is New Zealand's northernmost city. Sitting at the edge of the Whangarei Harbour, it offers lots to see and do and we suggest you stop here for a look around. You'll find many stylish cafes and restaurants, museums, art galleries and shops at the Town Basin as well as an interesting art trail and loop walkway. If you're stopping in Whangarei, a short walk through native forest to Whangarei Falls is worth it!
Between Whangarei and Paihia, stop at the Kawiti Glowworm Caves and use the famous Hundertwasser public toilets in Kawakawa for a good laugh.
After Whangarei, the road to the Bay of Islands becomes twisty and hilly. Make sure you stick to the recommended speed when turning corners, and keep to the left-hand slow lane if you need to let other cars pass. Auckland to the Bay of Islands (direct route)
If you're driving to the Bay of Islands and you'd prefer to take the fastest route, stay on the northern motorway (instead of exiting at Orewa). By doing this you'll save up to 25 minutes of travel time and avoid long traffic queues during the busy months.
You'll bypass Orewa and use the Northern Gateway Toll Road through the Johnstones Hill Tunnel. As it's a toll road, you'll be charged to take this route. Your car's registration number is electronically recorded so you're able to pay online in advance, or within five working days of travelling on the toll road. You can also pay by cash at one of these petrol stations
. Visit NZTA
for more information about the Northern Gateway Toll Road.
If you're not used to travelling on New Zealand roads, or you want to make the most of this country's picturesque landscape of beaches, rolling hills and native bush, we suggest you take a relaxing luxury coach journey with GreatSights from Auckland to the Bay of Islands (see above).
Driving to Russell
Many people don't realise that the lovely town of Russell, across the Bay from Paihia, can be accessed by road! Russell is on a peninsula, so you can drive there. The quickest way is to drive to Opua and take the vehicle ferry across to Okiato. If you're planning to drive to Russell, be aware that some GPS navigators don't recognise the Opua car ferry as the direct route to Russell, and will suggest the much longer coastal road instead.