Northland’s economic minerals include aluminium, antimony, copper, iron, manganese and mercury. All were once mined, as were coal, gum and silica sand, but no longer.
Mining now focuses on non-metals or industrial minerals – clays, limestone and road metal. Ceramic clay is mined at Matauri Bay. Limestone is recovered for agricultural purposes and cement manufacturing (Portland quarry and cement works south of Whangārei is the country’s largest). Good-quality road metal is available over most of Northland.
Northland’s production of industrial minerals began in pre-European days when Māori quarried obsidian from the Mokohinau Islands. This volcanic glass was used to make tools, especially cutting implements.
Most manufacturing is based in or around Whangārei, Kaitāia, Kaikohe and Dargaville. Northland’s exports are handled at the neighbouring ports of Whangārei and Marsden Point. Major industries include milk processing, meat processing, cement and fertiliser works, wood processing and clothing manufacture. Boats are built and ships repaired at Whangārei and on the Kaipara Harbour.
New Zealand’s only oil refinery, built in the 1960s, was at Marsden Point. In 2015 Marsden Point Oil Refinery produced half of New Zealand’s petrol, nearly 80% of its diesel and over three-quarters of its bitumen for roads. The refinery closed in 2022 and Marsden Point became solely an oil storage facility.
A pipeline extends from the oil refinery to a terminal at Wiri in South Auckland. For most of its 170-kilometre length it shares a trench with a natural-gas pipeline running from Westfield to Whangārei.
Fishing and aquaculture
The region’s coastal waters support a substantial commercial fishery, based on finned fish such as snapper, flounder and mullet. There are also crayfish, scallop, cockle, pipi and tuatua fisheries. Marine farming, long a profitable venture, by 2015 produced around 35% of the country’s Pacific oysters.
In the 1920s Russell was already a holiday resort and deep-sea fishing mecca. As roading improved, the Bay of Islands became the focus of tourism. By the last decades of the 20th century the region’s mix of historic, cultural and natural attractions, and its benign climate, guaranteed a booming tourism industry.
Domestic and international tourists increasingly visit the region over the summer months, and cruise ships make an important contribution to the local economy, especially in the Bay of Islands. Initiatives that aim to get a better spread of tourism and its income throughout the region include the Twin Coast Discovery Route, an 800-kilometre circular driving tour which traverses both the east and west coasts, and the Twin Coast Cycle Trail – Pou Herenga Tai, which stretches between the Bay of Islands and Hokianga Harbour.