About our land

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.

Our coastline

It’s hard to avoid the coast in Northland

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.

Our soils

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.

Find scanned copies of the original soil classification maps for Northland

See the 'Erosion and soils' section for more information.

Rock types

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
  • greywacke
  • limestone
  • recent dune sand
  • peat and alluvium

 Find scanned copies of the original rock types maps for Northland.

Land cover - 2012

Land cover class Class hectares
Urban areas 8000
Urban open spaces 1620
Transport infrastructure 170
Mines and dumps 710
Sand, gravel or rock 14,594
Lakes or ponds 4170
Rivers 2020
Estuarine open water 26,530
Short rotation cropland 3920
Orchard, vineyard or other perennial crop 5380
Pasture 735,400
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
Indigenous forest 268,740
Mangrove 12,820
Exotic forest 187,550
TOTALS 1,416,124

Land Cover Database 4, Ministry for the Environment.

Land use capability

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).

Download "Land Use Capability Classification of the Northland Region" (PDF, 5.2MB)

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