People are often pressed to decide where they will concentrate their few days in New Zealand. If you only have a week, then many people barely touch down in Auckland and then proceed to the South Island to see the many national parks or for the adrenaline adventures. If you have two weeks you might add Auckland or Wellington. It seems only when people have 3 weeks or more that people make it to the Northland (the long peninsula of land North of Auckland).
I have visited New Zealand over a half dozen times and lived in St Heliers for 5 months and yet I never made it north of Matakana. I was going to borrow a car and go for a few days on my own, and then my friend UK Sarah asked if she could come along. And bonus! she did all the driving. This allowed me to really enjoy the landscape as we drove along.
The Northland region is subtropical and as you drive north on Highway 1 you can feel a shift in vibe. There is a strong Maori influence and definitely more relaxed.
There are a number of places to stay along the way. We stayed over three nights along the way–one night each in Omapere, Pahia and Whangarei. The last place we stayed was a low key but exquisitely restored Lupton Lodge. We reserved a table for dinner and selected our entrees ahead by email. Everything was delicious. I relaxed and Sarah took advantage of the pool to go for a swim.
The whole experience was too brief! I was texting back and forth with my son and I realized that I would really like to spend 2-4 weeks every winter in New Zealand. I can imagine staying in Kerikeri or some other bach in the Northlands.