Northland is a long finger of land that is less than 100 kilometres wide at its widest point. We have the Tasman Sea to the west and the Pacific Ocean on our east. Te Raupau, in the Waima ranges, is the highest point and stands just 781 metres above sea level.
As our region’s economy is primarily based on agriculture, approximately 54% of the land is in pasture, 10% is planted in forests and 0.4% in orchards or crops.
No part of Northland is more than 40km from the sea. The coastline is more than 3200km long, with lots of harbours. These harbours, together with a warm, mild climate, make our coast different from other areas of New Zealand.
The east coast has rocky headlands, sheltered deep water harbours, sandy bays and mangrove forests. Many islands lie off the east coast, including the Poor Knights, Hen and Chickens, and Cavalli Islands, and the Bay of Islands.
The west coast has a relatively smooth outline of long, wild beaches broken by the mouths of several large, shallow harbours.
Over thousands of years, rising sea levels have filled river valleys to create several harbours that go far inland. Because of this, our rivers drop quickly from rocky streams in the higher areas to become mangrove-lined channels winding into our harbours.
Here in Northland, we don’t get the earthquakes and volcanoes that other parts of New Zealand experience. The land around these parts has, for millions of years, remained calm. Because we haven’t had active volcanoes for so long, our warm, wet weather and the trees that have grown here for centuries, much of Northland is covered in strongly-leached, mature and heavy clay. You know the one – it sticks to you and everything else it touches when it’s wet!
The trees that grow here have a lot to do with the make-up of our soil. Trees whose leaves are acid when they fall, such as kauri, totara, rimu and kahikatea, have produced strongly leached soils – that is, not so rich in nutrients. As a result of this process, we have over 220 distinct soil types in our region.
There are other trees, the broadleaf trees that include puriri, kohekohe, taraire and tawa, which return nutrients to the soil. Their leaves, twigs and bark break down quickly, producing mellow, fertile topsoils.
Over 50 rock types are recorded here in Northland. Each has different properties which will affect the soils formed on them, or the stability of the land. These include several different types of:
- volcanic rock
- various sandstones
- shales and mudstones
- recent dune sand
- peat and alluvium
Land cover - 2012
|Land cover class||Class hectares|
|Urban open spaces||1620|
|Mines and dumps||710|
|Sand, gravel or rock||14,594|
|Lakes or ponds||4170|
|Estuarine open water||26,530|
|Short rotation cropland||3920|
|Orchard, vineyard or other perennial crop||5380|
|Herbaceaous freshwater vegetation||9150|
|Herbaceaous saline vegetation||3090|
|Flaxland and / or fernland||280|
|Gorse and / or broom||6700|
|Mixed indigenous shrubland||122,760|
|Mixed exotic shrubland||2520|
Land Cover Database 4, Ministry for the Environment.
People seeking information on the physical factors that are critical for long-term land use and management should refer to the New Zealand Land Resource Inventory and Land Use Capability Classification.
This classification of land, all mapped at a scale of 1:50,000, is publicly available and freely downloadable at:
A full description of the land use capability units shown on these maps is found in "Land Use Capability Classification of the Northland Region" by G R Harmsworth (Landcare Research publication).
Should you require assistance in interpreting the data or wish to discuss the topic further, please do not hesitate to contact the Land Management Team:
Email [email protected] or
Freephone 0800 002 004