the ultimate guide for a road trip on New Zealand’s Northwest Coast: how to get there, where to stay, + the spots you can’t miss

Let it be known that despite having approximately 10,000 blog posts drafted from the 18 countries I pranced around these last four months, I was so incredibly moved by the beauty of New Zealand that I hit publish on this post first. West of Auckland is one of the corners of this gorgeous, green island that I had never made it to. I suppose you take places for granted when you frequent them/live there.

This trip, I wanted to make sure I had heavy doses of nature— something that New Zealand is never in short supply of. I tried to make sure that nature was in places I wasn’t repeating yet again, just to spice it up a bit. So, with a rented car and some time, I headed down the road to Muriwai and Piha for cold ocean breezes and cosy golden hours.

This post has everything you need in it to plan your own road trip or getaway on the Northwest coast of my favourite place on the planet.


here’s your ultimate guide to the west coast of NEW ZEALAND


the ultimate guide for a road trip on New Zealand’s Northwest Coast: how to get there, where to stay, + the spots you can’t miss

getting there

The best advice I can give a first-time visitor to New Zealand is to rent a car. Seriously. You will want the freedom. Yes, there are buses that work to get you from city to city, but the best bits of New Zealand are found off the beaten track or away from public transport.

There are a good number of car rental companies, but none that I’ve found is cheaper or easier to deal with than JUCY. They make reserving a car online quick and painless, not to mention affordable. Picking up a car is also made easy thanks to their JUCY shuttle in Auckland. I’ve also hired a car from Hertz before, and can tell you for certain JUCY is the better deal all-around.

WHAT YOU NEED TO RENT A CAR AS A FOREIGN VISITOR:

  • Must be 18 years

  • A full driver’s license from an English speaking country or have a license in English

    • OR International Driver’s License or Certification

    • OR Temporary License {only NZ Temporary Licenses are accepted}

  • Passport at time of pick-up

HOT TIP: One of the many perks of visiting during the shoulder season is that car rentals are much more affordable! The weather might be more hit-and-miss, but you’ll get more bang for your buck as far as hiring a car is concerned.

recommended route

I highly suggest picking up your car in Auckland and heading to the southernmost point in suggested in this guide, then making your way north to Muriwai before returning back to Auckland. If you are planning your trip from Auckland down towards Wellington or the South Island, I’d suggest starting north and working your way down. A little forethought will save you petrol and time. There is a map at the end of this post to help you plan.

where to stay on New Zealand's west coast: my garden shed studio stay in Muriwai Beach
where to stay on New Zealand's west coast: my AirBnB studio stay in Muriwai Beach
where to stay on New Zealand's west coast: my AirBnB studio stay in Muriwai Beach

where to stay

I opted for my go-to accommodation website: AirBnB. I stayed in this studio space that was set a few steps away from the main house with a full kitchen and bathroom. Inside the cozy little studio is a proper workspace with a desk, which was perfect for smashing out an article while it rained in the early morning. A bed that was basically like a marshmallow gave me one of the best sleeps of my life {no, seriously} with the sound of the ocean and birds in the background.

Despite searching for stays nearer to Piha Beach, AirBnB’s website brought me a little studio that was about a 5-minute drive from Muriwai Beach and 40 minutes from Piha. Still, this site mishap ended up being fortuitous, because it meant I could see both beaches and make a few extra stops along the way.

A New World supermarket is less than 10 minutes down the road from this AirBnB to pick up picnic supplies or goods for dinner and breakfast.

where to stay on New Zealand's west coast: my AirBnB studio stay in Muriwai Beach
where to stay on New Zealand's west coast: my garden shed studio stay in Muriwai Beach
where to stay on New Zealand's west coast: my garden shed studio stay in Muriwai Beach
where to stay on New Zealand's west coast: my garden shed studio stay in Muriwai Beach

can’t miss spots

gannet colonies at muriwai beach

Muriwai Beach is one of only three places in the country where you can see the Gannets colonies. From August to approximately March, you can spot 1200 Gannets on the cliffs above the main beach. I visited in September, so I got to see the birds nesting in all their glory. I’m actually pretty terrified of beaked creatures, especially big ones like these, but seeing so many of them gathered in one area was pretty incredible.

PARKING: The colony at Muriwai is near a free car park, up wooden steps on the Southern end of the beach {you can’t miss the signs}.

the ultimate guide for a road trip on New Zealand’s Northwest Coast: how to get there, where to stay, + the spots you can’t miss

bethells beach

In my {probably not very popular} opinion, Bethells Beach beats Piha Beach. The beach had fewer people than Piha {though in September there weren’t very many people at either} and the fog on the coastline seemed ethereal. I’d highly recommend heading to Bethells {or Muriwai} for chill.

PARKING: You’ll find free beachside parking along Bethells.

karekare falls

The trail to Karekare falls is flat and easily trekked in sandals. It only takes about 10 minutes from the car park to get to the waterfalls, so this isn’t a day-long stop on your roadie. The horsetail waterfall is great for those who have a grasp on long-exposure photography, though I kind of enjoyed Kitekite falls better {maybe it was the hike??}.

PARKING: Utilize the free car park along Lone Kauri Road.

the ultimate guide for a road trip on New Zealand’s Northwest Coast: how to get there, where to stay, + the spots you can’t miss
the ultimate guide for a road trip on New Zealand’s Northwest Coast: how to get there, where to stay, + the spots you can’t miss
the ultimate guide for a road trip on New Zealand’s Northwest Coast: how to get there, where to stay, + the spots you can’t miss

lion rock

Known for its black sand beaches, Piha is a quintessential piece of New Zealand landscape that is worth a stop. Piha is also home to Lion Rock, the most iconic landmark on the beach. A recent rockfall has made a hike to the very top no longer feasible, but you can still hike up most of the way for photos and views. The rock has a few monument plaques near the bottom and there are informational signs along the climb to explain the cultural significance of Lion Rock to Maori people.

PARKING: There is free parking alongside the road near Piha {it’s impossible to miss}.

kitekite falls

While you’re in Piha, you simply cannot miss Kitekite Falls. My friend {if you follow me on Instagram, you’ve definitely seen me invading his personal space and mocking him endlessly}, Keegan, suggested I make the hike to the waterfalls. He hit the nail on the head: it was magic. Unfortunately, almost none of my photos turned out due to high winds and lots of water spray {i.e. me not having a lens cover and not wanting to risk camera damage}, but let me tell you none of the photos I would have gotten could have done it justice anyway. The green surroundings leading to the waterfalls made me really happy I call this place home. The hike takes about 1-2 hours roundtrip depending on your physical fitness and the weather conditions {take your time when it’s wet out there!}.

PARKING: There is a free carpark on Glenesk Road that is the trailhead to Kitekite falls.

the ultimate guide for a road trip on New Zealand’s Northwest Coast: how to get there, where to stay, + the spots you can’t miss

a note about surfing…

I didn’t get to go surfing in Piha or Muriwai, as the weather conditions weren’t suitable for low-level wave riders like me. Piha and Muriwai are quite dangerous beaches anyway, as I found out after I’d gone on a golden hour dip in the freezing cold water. Piha is particularly well-known for its swell, but I figured I should leave a little note of caution for those novices looking to get there saltwater fix.

the ultimate guide for a road trip on New Zealand’s Northwest Coast: how to get there, where to stay, + the spots you can’t miss

what to pack

Some of the items on this list are essential for any road trip, but I threw them here just in case it’s your first time cruising.

  • Aux cord/USB plug: The radio tends to go in and out in some places along the coast and there is nothing worse than a road trip void of road trip jams. Check your rental car to make sure it has some way of playing your travel tunes.

  • Towels: two are good so that you have one for swims and one for showers

  • Eco-friendly toiletries: please consider wearing eco-conscious suncream!! aquatic life and reefs all depend on us

  • Warm clothes/ Merino wool socks: I don’t actually travel anywhere without my Merino wool socks, but they feel especially good post-shower in the crisp New Zealand spring after a day of adventuring.

  • Car rental agreement + license: in case you get pulled over for speeding or another traffic infraction, it’s likely the police will want to see your rental paperwork and your license

  • Road trip snacks: my Kiwi favourites are a cod L&P, Whittaker’s chocolate {palm oil free!},

  • First aid kit

  • Sunglasses, suncream, sun hat/baseball cap: protect yo’self

  • Change of clothes, including warm layers: I wore my Merino wool socks pretty much anytime I wasn’t hiking or at the beach

  • Camera: trust me, you’ll want to capture the magic of this part of the country

  • Road map: this is especially important in case your phone dies or your online map doesn’t save properly

  • Swimwear/togs

helpful apps to download

  • Gaspy {found via Abigail Hannah}: stay fueled up on your trip using the Gaspy app so that you’re never stranded on the side of the road with an empty tank

  • Weather App: super basic, but essential for moody New Zealand weather if you’re planning an outdoorsy adventure

  • Swellmap Surf: keeps you updated on the swell at beaches near you

  • Google Maps: if you aren’t traveling with a SIM card or portable WiFi, make sure you save your route on Google Maps so that you don’t get lost on your journey


map

Not sure where to start? Don’t worry! I’ve made a map for you so that it’s extra easy to plan your trip around the Northwest Coast of New Zealand.


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the ultimate guide for a road trip on New Zealand’s Northwest Coast: how to get there, where to stay, + the spots you can’t miss #newzealand #newzealandtravel #whattodoinnewzealand
the ultimate guide for a road trip on New Zealand’s Northwest Coast: how to get there, where to stay, + the spots you can’t miss #NEWZEALAND #NEWZEALANDTRAVEL
the ultimate guide for a road trip on New Zealand’s Northwest Coast: how to get there, where to stay, + the spots you can’t miss #newzealand #newzealandtravel #whattodoinnewzealand