Bream Bay in Northland: The Complete Guide

wispy clouds in deep blue sky with rocky headlands in the sea and white sand beach

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About two hours' drive north of Auckland is Bream Bay. The 13-mile sweep of white sand begins at Marsden Point in the north and ends at Langs Beach in the south, and contains the small towns of One Tree Point, Ruakaka, Waipu, and Waipu Cove. The beaches are the most obvious reason to visit Bream Bay, as they're among the best in the country, but that's not all the region has to offer.

Bream Bay's proximity to Auckland means it sees many visitors in the midsummer period, but the beaches are much more likely to be deserted, or only populated with locals, if you visit just outside of peak season. Read on for everything you need to know about visiting Northland's Bream Bay.

The Beaches

The beaches of Bream Bay deserve their own category because they are the primary reason most people visit, and there are many choices, each with a slightly different character.

  • Marsden Point/One Tree Point: The beaches around Marsden Point and One Tree Point, at the north of Bream Bay, are very calm and have a large tidal range because they are at the entrance to Whangarei Harbour. They're good for a paddle and a stroll, and for kids to play. The views across to the Whangarei Heads are close and impressive, although the country's only oil refinery nearby is a bit unsightly.
  • Ruakaka Beach: The surf beach at Ruakaka is a sweep of white sand south of the mouth of the Ruakaka River. It's ideal for swimming and surfing/bodyboarding and is patrolled in the summer by surf lifesavers. Swim between the flags, if there are any.
  • Uretiti Beach: Uretiti Beach is south of Ruakaka Beach, and best reached by turning off at the highway. There's a popular Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite here. Uretiti is also famous as a nudist beach. The nudist part of the beach is a few hundred feet to the right of the campground. On other parts of the beach, families and visitors who want to keep their clothes on can swim and play without disturbance.
  • Waipu Cove: Like Ruakaka, Waipu Cove offers golden-white sands, great swimming and surfing, and beach patrols in the summer. Families, in particular, love the Cove because the small river at the southern end of the beach and where it meets the sea is a calm, shady place for kids to play without being bowled over by large waves.
  • Langs Beach: Over the hill from Waipu Cove, Langs Beach is at the southern end of Bream Bay, and is really a small bay in itself. There are some very expensive houses in the hills. The swimming at Langs is fine but there is often a very steep drop off after you enter the water, creating powerful, dunking waves.
Piroa Falls Downstream
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Other Things to See and Do

  • Brynderwyn Lookout: Driving north from Auckland, the first glimpse of Bream Bay is from the top of the Brynderwyn Hills, the natural border between Auckland and Northland. It's a very impressive view, with the bay, farmland, hills, Whangarei Heads and Mount Manaia in the distance, and the Hen and Chicken Islands out to sea.
  • Piroa Falls: Most people around Waipu know these waterfalls as the Waipu Falls, so you might get a blank look if you ask the direction to the Piroa Falls. These lovely waterfalls are a short walk through bush from the parking spot on Waipu Gorge Road, in the hills west of Waipu, and are great to swim in on a hot summer's day.
  • Waipu Caves: These fantastic caves are filled with stalagmites, stalactites, and glowworms offering a free alternative to the ever-popular Waitomo Caves. Take a flashlight if you want to step into the caves to see the glowworms, but don't go too far in without a local who knows their way around. The caves are west of State Highway 1, between Waipu and Ruakaka.
  • Waipu Museum: Travelers with an interest in Scottish colonial history should check out the Waipu Museum, which tells the story of Waipu's first European settlers, who came from Scotland via Nova Scotia, Canada.
  • Waipu Highland Games: Because of its Scottish heritage, Waipu hosts the annual Highland Games on January 1 every year. Athletes come from all over the country, and the world, to toss the caber or partake in a Highland Fling.
  • Horse trekking: Apart from the beaches, Bream Bay is largely rural farming territory, so horses are still an important part of life and work for many locals. Horse treks along the beach or in the hills are a fun alternative to spending all day soaking up the sun, especially for kids.

How to Get There

Bream Bay is around a two-hour drive north of Auckland, a 30-minute drive south of Whangarei, and a 90-minute drive south of the Bay of Islands. This makes it a convenient place to stop on a road trip north (or south) through Northland.

Most travelers find having their own vehicle the most convenient way of getting around New Zealand, but the main Northland to Auckland Intercity bus stops in Waipu. The nearest airport is in Whangarei, north of Bream Bay.

Where to Stay

Waipu is the largest town in Bream Bay, with around 2,700 inhabitants, followed by Ruakaka, with around 2,300. Boutique, family-run local accommodation can be found in and around these towns, and around Waipu Cove, and small beachside settlement a few miles from Waipu town. Many New Zealanders have "baches," or holiday homes, around Bream Bay, and some of these can be booked for longer stays.

Privately and government-run campsites are dotted along the coast, most famously at Waipu Cove. These can book out months in advance for the midsummer period, and are often full of New Zealand families who return every year. Be aware that "hotel" in rural New Zealand is often synonymous with bar, pub, or tavern, or at least lodging that is attached to one. While there are some hotels around Bream Bay, do some research into the kind of accommodation they might offer, if any.

What to Eat and Drink

Like other parts of coastal New Zealand, fish and seafood are highly prized in Bream Bay and are usually fresh and of good quality. You can fish on your own, either from the beach or by chartering a boat. A number of good cafes and restaurants can also be found around Waipu, Waipu Cove, and Ruakaka.

The Pizza Barn and Bar in Waipu has been serving popular pizzas and other meals for over two decades and also brews its own craft beer, Macleod's. It gets very busy in the summer and the restaurant doesn't take reservations so you may have to wait a while to be seated. Down at Waipu Cove, The Cove Cafe serves food throughout the day but is a particularly good spot for brunch before a day at the beach.