Northland -- Te Tai Tokerau, or "Birthplace of a Nation" -- is one of nature's best playgrounds, but surprisingly, visitors often overlook it. The Bay of Islands is what most people know of Northland. This is home to the fabulous Waitangi National Reserve, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between Maori and European settlers in 1840; this is also where visitors are best catered to in Northland. Beyond that, the region offers an idyllic summer lifestyle that seems to last year-round.

Northland's peninsular shape offers two contrasting coastlines: white scenic beaches that curve around sheltered coves and harbors to the east, and long stretches of wild, dune-backed beaches and kauri forests pounded by the Tasman Sea to the west.

Northland is made up of five main areas: Whangarei and the east coast; the Bay of Islands; the Far North; Hokianga; and the Kauri Coast. The population is sparse -- just 148,000 for the whole region and in the Far North area alone, there are 7,250 sq. km (2,800 sq. miles) of farmland and forest occupied by just 56,000 people. Only three towns -- Kaitaia, Kaikohe, and Kerikeri -- have more than 4,000 residents. Clearly, you'll have large patches all to yourself, so start exploring.

The Coromandel region, like Northland, has long been a haven for New Zealand holidaymakers. It's closer to Auckland than most of Northland, but it has less to offer in terms of accommodations and organized tourism. Certainly the scenery is just as dramatic, and you'll get that same surfeit of remote beaches and laid-back lifestyle. Leaving Auckland and following the Pacific Coast Highway will take you into Coromandel's quaint, sometimes tatty seaside townships, around endless beaches and bays, and over rugged hill country into the heart of an area made famous by logging, gold mining, gum digging, alternative lifestyles, and artists. There's a raw quality to the Coromandel Peninsula that even the fledging tourist industry hasn't yet tamed.

Northland was the first region to participate in New Zealand's Environmentally Sustainable Tourism pilot project in 2002. It continues to actively promote and facilitate regional sustainability through its Sustainable Tourism Charter. Check for a list of participating tourism operators.