The Karikari Peninsula is a unique formation located off the northern portion of the North Island of New Zealand. The rocky northern portion of the peninsula has an east-west orientation and is around 17 kilometres long. Originally a separate island, it is now connected to the rest of the Northern Region of New Zealand by an 11 kilometre long sandy strip.
The largest settlements on the peninsula are Whatuwhiwhi, which is situated on the south side of the northeastern part of the peninsula, and Tokerau Beach, which is at the northern end of the sandy strip. Maitai Bay, on the northeast coast, and Rangiputa, on the west coast, are also popular destinations for visitors to the peninsula.
Prior to European settlement, the Karikari Peninsula was one of the Maori’s favorite seasonal hunting and gathering spots. There is a lot of archeological evidence that shows there was a heavy dependence on the marine resources of the peninsula for a very long time.
Additionally, geologic evidence at Lake Ohia shows that the area was once a popular gum-digging spot as well as once being the home to a robust kauri forest.
Karikari is the traditional homeland of the Ngati Kahu tribe. In fact, in Maori mytholody, the waka (canoe) captained by Kaiwhetu and Wairere made its first New Zealand landing at the Karikari Peninsula.
What to Do – Karikari Peninsula
The Karikari Peninsula is a very well preserved nature site. As such, there are a number of beautiful walks that visitors can enjoy during their visit to the area. Here is a quick guide to walking on the Karikari Peninsula.
1) Fig Tree Track: Duration: 3-hours, Difficulty: Easy. This track will take walkers to the highest point in Maitai Bay, providing stunning scenic views over the peninsula and Puwheke. The track starts at the boat ramp at Waikato Bay and winds for 2.1 kilometres along the beach to Poroa Stream.
During high tide, the water level at Poroa Stream can be quite high. As such, it is recommended for walkers to do this particular walk during low tide. There will be a signposted junction at which point walkers should make a left turn towards Paraawanui.
Walkers will then climb up a relatively challenging climb to the summit of Paraawanui where they will be able to enjoy the stunning views mentioned above. The track is located around 40 kilometres northeast of Kaitaia. Walkers hoping to complete this track should be fit and self-sufficient. They should also contact DOC Kaitaia prior to starting the walk.
2) Karikari Bay Walk: Duration: 5-minutes, Difficulty: Easy. This is a very short, yet very popular, walk. This walk gives visitors access to the Karikaria nd Puwheke beaches. A short walk will also take visitors to the top of Puwheke. From there, walkers can enjoy beautiful views over Doubtless Bay.
3) Lake Ohia Gumhole Reserve Walk: Duration: 10-minutes, Difficulty: Easy. This track gives visitors a bit of a snapshot of the Karikari Peninsula’s history. It is a short walk that is perfect for families or history enthusiasts.
The track is metalled and connected with boadwalks. Along the way, walkers will pass by a number of holes excavated many years ago by gum diggers. Outside of this track, the Lake Ohia area is very interesting by itself.
Despite its name, the area only actually has water for around two months out of the year. During the summer, the lake dries out. This was once not the case as the area used to be covered with water year round. Now, it is an important habitat for ferns, mosses, and orchids. The track is only a 40-minute drive from Kaitaia.
4) Maitai Bay Headland Track: Duration: 1.5-hours, Difficulty: Advanced. This advanced level walking track starts at the Maitai campsite and wanders through farmland and native manuka/kanuka shrub. Walkers will start by walking along the fence line from the northwest corner of the campsite. When the fence stops, walkers will follow orange markers through native manuka/kanuka forest before finishing at the end of the headland.
At the headland, walkers will be rewarded for their time spent walking with gorgeous views over the bay area and all the way out to the Pacific Ocean. After completing the walk, walkers can enjoy a swim in one of the area’s best swimming areas at Maitai Bay. Prior to starting this walk, visitors should visit the Maitai Bay camp manager. Additionally, during the wet winter season, this track can become very muddy. As such, it is only recommended for the summer months.
In addition to any of these walks, Karikari Peninsula is a birdwatcher’s haven. The peninsula is home to a number of different rich bird habitats. Maitai Bay is home to both the oystercatcher as well as the New Zealand dotterel. It is very important that these birds are given space and not disturbed if they are found in their nests.
Likewise, behind Karikari Beach, just northeast of Rangaunu Harbour, there is an extensive are of sand dunes in which likes a very important wetland area. This area is home to a huge array of rare and native birdlife, including Australasian bitter, banded rail, and the North Island fernbird.
Karikari Beach itself is home to the endangered New Zealand dotterel, Caspian terns, marsh crakes, a shag colony, and several species of migratory shorebirds from the Arctic.
The settlements on the Karikari Peninsula are also full of interesting attractions for visitors to the area. The major settlement of Whatuwhiwhi has a dive centre, a wonderful café, various shopping options, and a general store with a petrol station.
The Karikari Peninsula is home to a variety of different accommodation options. Ranging from basic campgrounds and backpackers hostels to more upscale and luxurious villas and hotels, there is a wide variety of options to choose from. There are also a number of self-contained holiday rental options that are great for families or large groups that are travelling together. No matter your needs or your budget, there is something for you on the Karikari Peninsula.
Travelling from Abroad?
The closest airport is located in Kaitaia. In fact, Kaitaia has the only airport in the Far North District. The airport is serviced daily by Great Barrier Airlines from Auckland. From Kaitaia, it is only about a 40-minute drive to the Karikari Peninsula.