Ace Rental Cars Blog

Summer Along NZ's North Island East Coast

With warm days and balmy nights, summer is the perfect time to venture outwards to New Zealand’s stunning beaches across the North Island’s East Coast. For those travelling solo, a beach holiday means relaxing and enjoying your own company, while for those travelling with friends and family, a trip to the beach promises laughs, memories and good times, from splashing in the sea to moments of connection while walking along the shoreline.

With so many beautiful beaches across the Northland’s East Coast, we’ve rounded up the best things to do on a summer holiday here, from lunches at coastal cafes to exploring local markets. The best way to discover the North Island in summer is in an Ace rental car - pick up the keys, turn up the tunes and set out for an unforgettable trip on the open road.

  • Whangārei Heads
  • Matakana
  • Te Whanganui-A-Hei (Cathedral Cove) Marine Reserve
  • Tolaga Bay

Whangārei Heads

  • Ocean Beach
  • Smugglers Bay Loop Track

No matter where you’re travelling from, the drive to Whangārei Heads is stunningly scenic. With long stretches of white sand along the shore and the striking shadow of Mount Manaia opposite, there’s natural beauty everywhere you look. At Ocean Beach, those looking to try something new can test their skills at surfing or boogie boarding, while onlookers will enjoy the calming sounds of the blue waves lapping. Head here for a day out climbing the sand dunes, relaxing under the summer sun, and soaking up the best of the North Island’s holiday atmosphere. There are rock pools to explore at low tide and keep an eye out for dolphins that frequent the ocean offshore. Looking for a summer activity to get you moving? The Smugglers Bay Loop Track is a simple walk on the opposite side of Whangārei. The 3km walk is suitable for children, with the path looping through forest scapes, past historic monuments and ending at Smugglers Bay Beach before returning. Pack a picnic to enjoy a sunny lunch at the Bay to break up the walk and pause at the WWII Gun Emplacement to learn about local war history.

Matakana and Omaha Beach

  • Matakana Village Farmers’ Market
  • Sculptureum
  • Omaha Beach

For a small-town adventure, head South to the locality of Matakana. Visiting on a Saturday? You’re in luck! The Matakana Village Farmers’ Market is the perfect place to try out local produce and tasty treats. With live music and entertainment, barista-brewed coffee and kids' areas, head here for a vibrant start to your time in the Auckland Region. Also in town, you’ll find the Sculptureum which features indoor and outdoor gardens and galleries to inspire and spark your imagination.

When it’s time to take to the beach, you’ll find one of the best bay beaches on the North Island just a short drive to the East across the estuary. Omaha Beach is a beautiful bay to walk in the summertime, with white sands and crystal-clear waters ready to be explored. Ideal for water sports enthusiasts, pack your kayak or paddle board in the rental car and take to the seas for an oceanic adventure. The contrast between the bright sands and turquoise waters makes for a beautiful photo to send back home, so pack your camera and snap some shots here.

Te Whanganui-A-Hei (Cathedral Cove) Marine Reserve

  • Gemstone Bay
  • Stingray Bay
  • Cathedral Cove

For the ultimate underwater experience, a visit to the Te Whanganui-A-Hei (Cathedral Cove) Marine Reserve in summer is a must. Dive into the pristine waters and snorkel your way through the Reserve to see an abundance of marine life, thick kelp forests and submerged rock formations. On your way to Cathedral Cove, you’ll pass through the Gemstone Bay snorkelling trail. Book a snorkelling or diving tour here to see an array of diverse marine life, like snapper and crayfish, up close. Further towards the Cove, head to Stingray Bay for clear underwater views and the chance to see stingrays. Ideal for beginners and younger participants, take a moment to relax on this smaller beach and bask in the summer sun. At Cathedral Cove, you’ll find fish and aquatic life hidden among underwater rocks and boulders. To see the best of Te Whanganui-A-Hei, book a boat ride or snorkelling tour and discover a magical world below the surface.

Tolaga Bay

  • Tolaga Bay Wharf
  • Tolaga Bay Inn

45 minutes North of Tairāwhiti (Gisborne), you’ll find the historic Tolaga Bay Wharf. Head here on your summer vacation to walk the 660-metre-long wharf, embracing the scenic beauty during the hour-long return journey. Beloved by locals and visitors alike, the Wharf brings a touch of unique history to the area and is regarded as an ideal fishing spot. In town, the Uawa Café at the Tolaga Bay Inn serves up classic New Zealand cuisine with warm hospitality, and the Inn itself offers comfy, budget-friendly accommodation.

When travelling in and around New Zealand, always remember to care for the land by leaving no trace and respecting the culture and local communities. From the picturesque Omaha Bay Beach to the underwater treasures of Cathedral Cove, a summer road trip across the Northland East Coast is a rewarding getaway, a scenic escape, and an adventure haven all in one.

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