Whangarei is Northland’s only city, and it’s an obvious spot to stop on any journey north.
There are art galleries and museums, lots of places to shop, along with a lovely setting on the harbour. Visit the Town Basin for shops, cafes and restaurants strung prettily in colonial buildings around the harbour basin. There’s a great playground for the children to stretch their legs at. Also quayside, at the Town Basin is Claphams Clocks, the National Clock Museum. If you’re interested in NZ art, visit Whangarei Art Museum, Te Manawa Toi: it holds an extensive collection of major NZ contemporary artists and heritage Northland-related material. If you want to stretch your legs, follow the Sculpture Walk and Heritage Trail along the Hatea River. Or you could head to Kiwi North, set on 25 hectares of farmland and bush, home to the Whangarei Museum, Kiwi House and Heritage Park. Take a stroll around the Whangarei Subtropical Quarry Gardens, or look for glowworms at Abbey Caves. Take swimming togs and a picnic and explore the Whangarei Heads Tourist Drive.
There are lovely coastal spots all around the Whangarei Heads, with sheltered beaches on the Whangarei Harbour, and the Pacific sweeping in at Ocean Beach and other lovely beaches beyond the Heads. Driving round from Whangarei, Parua Bay has boat launching facilities and a famous tavern. Continuing along the Whangarei Heads Rd, Mount Manaia is a good place to walk if you don’t mind a climb, with fantastic views of the coast. Further on there is a series of pretty harbour facing bays, such as McLeods Bay, Taurikura Bay and Urquarts Bay, while on the seaward side, the waves roll in along the golden sands of Ocean Beach. From Parua you can head north on the road to Pataua South. Divided north and south by the estuary, Pataua is a great place to jump off the footbridge, or dive through the waves at the ocean beach on the South side.
Drive about 20 minutes north east from Whangarei and explore the Tutukaka Coast, with its lovely coves and beaches, and easy access to the Poor Knights Islands. The road out from Whangarei meets the coast at Ngunguru, a settlement with a holiday feel, and a peaceful estuary to explore by kayak or boat. The Ngunguru river is sheltered from the sea by the Ngunguru Sandspit, Pī Manu, now protected by the Department of Conservation, because of its cultural and ecological value. The sandspit was the site of a major battle between Maori tribes in 1838. You’ll find cafes, takeaways and a superette at Ngunguru, as well as a 9-hole golf course, tennis courts, boat ramp and ski lane. On the seaward side of the sandspit lies Whangaumu Bay, where there is safe swimming, snorkelling and fishing. Further up the coast lies Tutukaka, with its shops, restaurants, marina and boat charters for big game fishing. It’s the gateway to the Poor Knights Islands, a marine reserve world famous as a diving and snorkelling destination, and for Rikoriko Cave, the world’s largest sea cave. Continue north for the beautiful beaches of Matapouri, with its pretty walks and Mermaid Pool, and Whale Bay, an arc of pristine white sand sheltered by pohutukawa trees. A 40 minute drive from Whangarei lies Sandy Bay, another lovely beach. Catch a wave, go fishing or swimming; children can play on the broad sands or in the freshwater creek, and explore the rocks at the end of the beach.
About 40kms south of Whangarei is Waipu, a little town set on the golden sweep of Bream Bay. The town’s Scottish heritage is celebrated at the Waipu Museum and in the Waipu Highland Games, held 1st January. If you don’t fancy sun and sand, take a torch and head underground in the Waipu Caves, to have a look at stalagmites and glowworms.
Where to stay
- www.northlandnz.com - Northland’s tourist information site
- www.nzmuseums.co.nz - Museums in Northland
- www.northlandnz.com - Farmers’ Markets and local markets in Northland
- www.kiwinorth.co.nz - Whangarei Museum, Kiwi House and Heritage Park
- www.whangareiartmuseum.co.nz - Whangarei Art Museum
- www.tutukakacoastnz.com - Tutukaka Coast’s tourist information site