Looking for things to do in Leigh? This guide has you sorted with 10 attractions, activities and events and something for everyone.
Leigh, just north of Auckland, often gets missed off the tourist route in favour of Matakana or the Bay of Islands further north. However, Leigh is an idyllic beachy small town and one of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand. It’s a great place to escape the crowds and chill out by the sea.
I first visited Leigh with a friend who had a family beach house here and most of the people you meet in Leigh are like that, if not locals then families who have been spending summers here for generations. It’s the kind of place where everyone knows each other, nobody expects you to wear shoes and you definitely won’t see a tourist bus.
If you don’t have the time to get up to the Bay of Islands or just want a beach escape close to Auckland then Leigh is the place to go.
If you’re looking to see more of Northland, head up to Whangarei. My guide has plenty of ideas for things to do in Whangarei.
The Best Things to do in Leigh, NZ
1. Swim at Mathesons Bay
Leigh is a beach down so swimming at the beach has to be number one on the list of things to do in Leigh right?
There are quite a few beaches nearby and the locals each have their favourite but Mathesons Bay is my pick. It’s very flat and calm so perfect for kids or less confident swimmers.
Pakiri Beach is another great option with large stretches of white sand. It is about 10km out of Leigh centre however so you’ll need to drive.
2. Listen to live music at The Sawmill
No matter the time of day, The Sawmill is the place to be in Leigh. It’s a pub/hotel/concert venue/community meeting place/beer garden/bottle shop.
It’s the perfect place to chill for an afternoon over a woodfired pizza and a few locally brewed beers. The vibe is very family-friendly during the day and early evening but picks up at night.
There are gigs on every month at The Sawmill, as well as lower-key live music acts. The best gigs are on during summer when some of the biggest Kiwi (and sometimes international) acts will play here during their national tours. Tickets can be booked on the Sawmill website.
3. Visit the Ti Point Reptile Park
One for the kids (or big kids) Ti Point ReptilePark is the only reptile park in New Zealand and home to scaly creatures from the tiny to the enormous.
A converted zoo, the park houses both local reptiles, like the endangered tuatara and international varieties like American alligators.
The park is open from 10 am-5 pm daily and entry costs $22 for adults or $12 for children. Tickets have to be bought at the gate as there is no pre-booing system.
4. Hike along the coast
Being a small town, you don’t have to go far from the centre of Leigh to find some great hiking tracks. Whether you prefer following the coastline or want to summit some hills further inland, there are great day-walk options.
Along the coast, there is a one-hour (return) track starting from Leigh Harbour or a two-hour (return) option around Ti Point.
Or, you can take on the challenge of Mount Tamahunga, a three-hour return hike that will earn you the best views in the area. You can see all the way across to the Coromandel Peninsula on a good day.
5. Pop down to the Matakana Markets
While Matakana isn’t technically Leigh, it’s super close and if you’re anywhere within a few hours of Matakana then heading to their Saturday markets is a must-do.
These are one of, if not the, best weekend markets in New Zealand if you ask me. With tons of locally produced food from organic fruit and veg to artisan chocolate.
Plan to arrive early (the markets start at 8 am) and with an empty stomach so you can make the most of the food stalls for breakfast (the whitebait fritters are the best when they have them).
The markets are on Matakana Valley Road, just off the main street and are held every week.
There are picnic tables available to eat at but you are encouraged to bring your own baskets/bags as the market is zero-waste.
6. Visit Matakana Country Park
This one is not in Matakana, I promise. It’s on the road between Matakana and Leigh and one of the most family-friendly things to do in Leigh.
There is an insane number of activities on offer here. Everything from playgrounds and animal encounters for younger kids to pony rides and carriage rides for a romantic experience.
In October 2022 they are opening Action Ninja World which looks like something straight out of the Ninja Warrior TV show.
There is also a cafe, a restaurant and a bar onsite so you can grab a bite between activities.
7. Take an eco-cruise on a glass bottom boat
If you aren’t keen to get in the water yourself or want to explore further beyond the shore, the best way to see Goat Island is by taking a tour with Glass Bottom Boat Tours.
These 45-minute cruises take you around the island (including the caves at the rear of the island) in search of marine and wildlife. The small boats and clear floor give you the best chance of getting close to and seeing undersea creatures.
While there are no guarantees of spotting any specific species, it’s not uncommon to see dolphins, whales, seals or penguins as well as fish of all colours.
You also have the benefit of a professional guide helping to point out wildlife and fill you in on the history and geography of the area.
Cruises run in the summer season only (generally October-April) and cost $40 for adults or $20 for kids.
For a more DIY option, try Clearyak, glass-bottomed kayaks available for hire around Goat Island.
8. Snorkel or DIve Goat Island Marine Reserve
Goat Island was New Zealand’s first Marine Reserve but it remains an under-the-radar spot for diving and snorkelling. Here you can skip the crowds and get to experience all the undersea life for yourself.
You can hire gear from Goat Island Dive & Snorkel or the Glass Bottom Boat company. Both companies only operate seasonally but you probably don’t want to get in the ocean in winter anyway! Prices start from $20 for just a mask and snorkel and go up from there if you want fins etc.
You can start your dive or snorkel from the beach by the carpark so it’s super easily accessible.
Shag Rock, about 150m off the shore is a known hangout for fish.
Guided snorkelling and diving as well as scuba courses are on offer from Goat Island Dive & Snorkel, starting around $80pp.
9. Have fish and chips on the beach
Nothing says summer in New Zealand more than fish and chips on the beach. The greasier the better. Leigh was originally a fishing village so you can expect the seafood to be super fresh.
The imaginatively named Leigh Eats on Cumberland street is the (one and only) place to go in town for a fried feed. Go for the kumara (sweet potato) chips to mix things up.
It’s only a short walk from there to the wharf where you can find a spot by the water – it’s mostly rocks here though so you’ll need to head back to Mathesons Bay if you want to sit on the sand.
10. Learn about the underwater world at Goat Island Marine Discovery Centre
Another great option for things to do in Leigh with kids is the Goat Island Marine Discovery Centre is run by the marine research institute at the University of Auckland and is both a working scientific research centre and a tourist attraction.
Budding undersea explorers of all ages can enjoy learning about the marine life of the area through interactive displays and videos.
The Centre is open from 10 am – 4 pm on weekends only and entry costs $9 for adults or $5 for children.
How to get to Leigh from Auckland
Leigh is a 1.5-hour or 80 km drive north of Auckland. It’s not a long trip but it’s best to allow extra time as the traffic often gets very clogged on the way out of the city and through Albany.
Take State Highway 1 as far as Warkworth then follow the signposted turn-off for Matakana Road (it turns into Leigh Road once you pass Matakana). On the way make sure to stop at Charlie’s Gelato for a road trip treat.
There is no public transport option for getting to Leigh.
If you are doing a day trip from Auckland then I’d recommend spending most of your time at the beach, swimming, going for a short walk and doing some of the water activities (snorkelling, paddle boarding, kayaking) with a lunch at The Sawmill.
For a weekend/ overnight trip then try focusing one day on the main part of Leigh and the second day on Goat Island, doing one of the guided tours or hiring glass-bottomed kayaks.
Where to stay in Leigh
Leigh is a very small town so there are no real hotels here. Most of the accommodation is beach houses which work great for families or groups. However, if you’re a solo traveller or couple/pair, the accommodation selection is a bit more limited.
- Leigh Central – many of the rooms here are converted boat cabins which are super cute and good for privacy. Cheaper rooms have external bathrooms.
- Leigh Apartments – these self-catered apartments are a good option for longer stays or larger groups (more affordable than a whole house)
- Camping – Leigh Central allows motorhome/campervan parking although not tents. There are no freedom camping sites near Leigh but there are holiday parks at Goat Island and Whangateau.
I would recommend booking well in advance for Leigh accommodation if you are planning to visit in the summer. If your trip is in December or January then book ASAP as these are by far the busiest months.
Compare Leigh accommodation prices on Booking.com
Frequently asked questions about Leigh
When is the best time to visit Leigh?
While Leigh is very much a summery beach destination, I would suggest going to Leigh in the shoulder seasons of November and February to Easter. That way you’ll still get great weather but avoid any crowds and have an easier time finding accommodation as many of the local bach owners put their places up on Airbnb when they return to work in January.
Many local businesses reduce their hours in winter so if you visit in winter you won’t have many options for places to eat etc.
How long do you need in Leigh?
While most of the Kiwis in Leigh will be there for a full summer holiday, you definitely don’t need that long to check out most of the things to do in Leigh. A weekend trip is plenty of time, or if you want to slow down and relax then stay 3-4 days.
Visiting Leigh was one of my first trips north of Auckland and it inspired me to see so much more of the stunning region. I’m sure you’ll feel the same after setting your eyes on the picture-perfect beaches!