Kai Iwi Lakes: Northland’s freshwater paradise


Kai Iwi Lakes is the colloquial name given to a series of three lakes located about 30 minutes north of Dargaville, on Northland’s west coast. It’s a camping spot I hadn’t heard of until after we moved to Auckland, but when I did it immediately sounded like something I would particularly enjoy. Lakeside camping, freshwater swimming and yet, white sand! There is the choice of two campgrounds – Promenade Point, which is slightly more rustic, and Pine Beach, which has shower facilities, a playground and assigned camping sites.

Ten of us journeyed up for a weekend of swimming, walking, relaxing and indulging. We had three sites booked at Pine Beach and our five tents, four cars, two gazebos and a pantry (!) ended up having plenty of space to laze around in. Our arrival times were staggered across the evening: the arrival of our car saw three girls putting up three tents, in the dark! Not without help from the earlier arrivals, we made light(ish) work of it and were settling in for a catch up while the night was still young. The campground was rather meticulous in requiring everyone to be quiet from 10.30pm, so somewhat surprisingly we were also all in bed at a decent hour. I hate having to start a new book on a group trip, so I downloaded Lucy Foley’s latest novel ‘The Paris Apartment’ on my Kindle right before we went to ensure I had something that would hook me in from Chapter 1. I chose right, and I ended up reading until almost midnight as I just couldn’t put it down.

As always when camping, I woke early and I picked up my book where I’d left off the night before. When I heard others stirring, I got up and over the making of a luxurious breakfast featuring eggs, bacon, avocado and sourdough, we made our plans for the day. We headed off for a walk around lake Kai Iwi – it took us about 45 minutes, and we were all disappointed to find that there was basically nowhere easy to access the lake the entire way around. We’d been hoping for somewhere to paddle without jet skis invited, but no one was keen to wade in through the reeds to access the water. Instead, we completed the loop and headed back to the campsite where we blew up some floaties and got ready for an afternoon in the sun.

Lake Taharoa is the biggest lake (it’s about 8km to walk around) and comprises of white sand ringing shallow azure coloured water, then drops off to very deep, very blue fresh water. It was positively beautiful! The only downside is that motorised watercraft are permitted on the water, so there are plenty of jet skis zipping around and rippling the water. There was a bit of a breeze which kept us from getting too hot, but the water was warm enough that everyone ventured in for plenty of paddles. In between swims we read our books, drank some beer, and played some spike ball – which is always a good time. A few of us popped back to get lunch ready, and after a brief intermission for some food we headed back down to the beach.

That evening, we encountered a breath-taking sunset, enjoyed a BBQ and indulged in s’mores, alternating between hangs in each of the gazebos (one had walls so was particularly good for keeping out bugs and keeping in the warmth as temperatures started to fall). Quite a few other campers arrived on the Saturday, so the campsite was a bit fuller that evening, including freedom campers across the road from us. While the campground workers still came around on there quad bikes at 10.30pm quietening everyone, it felt slightly more relaxed than the night before. It was a beautiful evening – the stars were out in full force. I did my best to capture it on camera, but my amateur photographer skills definitely prevented me from doing it justice.

A lazy Sunday morning pack up saw tents come down, our pantry emptied, and our competitive selves come out in the fun game of dividing the left-over food to take home. We took turns choosing from the pantry and the activity kept all of us engaged for much longer than it needed to! With a box full of unexpected goodies, Andy and I peeled off from the others (who were heading back down to the lake) to drive up to Waipoua Forest, home to Tāne Mahuta – New Zealand’s biggest kauri tree.

It was a stunning 45-minute drive along a mostly winding forested road, with kauris creating a canopy and other NZ natives rising beneath. We first stopped at the ‘Kauri Walks’ sign and carpark and ventured through the bush to reach Te Matua Ngahere, NZ’s oldest kauri tree (over 2000 years old) – a real sight to behold! The Seven Sisters trail was temporarily closed due to kauri dieback, so fingers crossed that reopens soon. After that wee adventure we continued up the road for a few minutes until we reached the carpark for Tāne Mahuta, New Zealand’s largest living kauri tree. Words and pictures do nothing to convey just how insanely big and impressive this tree is, it’s something you have to see for yourself!

After visiting the forest, Andy and I headed back to Kai Iwi for a lakeside picnic before beginning the journey back to Auckland. A weekend well spent exploring and with friends, and thankfully summer also came to the party!


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