When tripping the North Island, a jaunt up to Northland feels like a South Pacific mini-break.
The weather and foliage is seductively sub-tropical and the sun-kissed beaches are absurdly gorgeous. Northland’s thriving capital Whangarei is a city of adventure, culture and natural beauty, and has much to offer visitors.
Here are just some of the reasons to visit Whangarei and the surrounding region. Book your stay with Choice Hotels.
You can enjoy great views and a glimpse of the past
Head for the summit of Mount Parihaka, the city’s highest point, which was once the site of the largest Māori pā (fortified village) in New Zealand. The excavations are still visible and are accessed by a pleasant walk from the summit through native forest.
You can get a slice of cosmopolitan city life
The Whangarei town basin is a sophisticated yet leisurely hub for eating and entertainment – particularly around The Quay. The modern cityscape blends artfully with colonial architecture, housing a slew of stylish cafes and restaurants, museums, art galleries and specialty shops. Do the self-guided city centre street art walk to 15 large scale art murals, and visit the Hundertwasser Art Centre and Wairua Māori Art Gallery.
Another absolute unmissable is Claphams National Clock Museum, a world-acclaimed storehouse for one of the largest and most historically significant collections of timepieces in the Southern Hemisphere. You’ll be enthralled by the surprise discoveries within this ticking, time-warped wonderland.
You can do some stunning coastal drives
When you’ve had your fill of the city’s finest features, set your sights on some short and sweet scenic drives from Whangarei. Striking out from Onerahi, the Whangarei Heads Road serves up a rolling medley of saw-toothed mountains, gleaming beaches, winding walkways and craft galleries, strung along the peninsula’s pencil-thin road. Every princess-pretty bay, including Munro, McLeod, McGregors and McKenzie, reveals new water vistas framed by gnarled pohutukawa trees and time-honoured holiday cottages sitting on volcanic slopes.
Nestled beneath the mighty presence of Mount Manaia, McLeod Bay is a family favourite for its sheltered swimming. The quaint white wooden St James Church, which has graced the foreshore since 1858, completes the picture. McGregors Bay is another crowd-pleaser, with crystal-clear waters for snorkelling and fabulous rock pools to keep the kids enthralled.
You can admire (and climb!) Mount Manaia
At the base of Mount Manaia, a plaque pays tribute to the district’s early European settlers – Scottish Highlanders – who as you might have guessed, gave their names to many of the region’s beaches. Soaring above the harbour entrance, majestic Mount Manaia’s jagged peak, crowned with fang-like pinnacles, dominates the skyline. It’s a thousand-step-climb to the top for the sizzling 360-degree views.
Back in the car, Whangarei Heads Road travels on to Ocean Beach, a powerful Pacific sweep of big surf, bounded by hulking sand dunes. After the sweet serenity of those inner harbour coves, Ocean Beach is all muscle, raw and wild.
You can explore the Tutukaka Coast
Tracking back to Whangarei, head north to the Tutukaka Coast. This two hour-long loop road roams past fruitful orchards, historic drystone walls, undulating emerald farmland and formidable rock walls, before kissing the Pacific Ocean. The Tutukaka Coast’s necklace of seaside villages revel in their seclusion. They’re stout little settlements abuzz with creative types, small convivial pubs and out-of-the-way restaurants.
You can visit towering Tane Moana
Follow the road towards Matapouri and make your way to the Tutukaka Forest Conservation Park – home to Tane Moana. Moana may not enjoy the rock-star billing of big brother Tane Mahuta in the west, but Moana is a treasure too – the largest surviving kauri tree on Northland’s East Coast. Reaching nearly 30 metres in height with a stunning crown, and boasting a circumference of 11 metres, an audience with Moana requires a work-out. It’s a four-hour return walk through tracts of native bush to commune with this east coast giant.
Just north of Matapouri Bay is the crescent-shaped show-stopper of Whale Bay. Thickly fringed in native forest, ablaze in the crimson pohutukawa flowers, off-set by custard-coloured sand and translucent blue water, this pocket of coastal splendour is accessed by a short walk through a grove of ancient puriri trees.
You can research the region’s Scottish roots
After taking in the coastal charms north and east of Whangarei, here’s one final must-do. Saunter south down the main highway to lap up Bream Bay’s sprawling arc of white sandy beach around pint-sized Waipu Cove. Steeped in Scottish heritage, the Waipu Museum showcases the great migration of the town’s original 940 settlers via Nova Scotia, and Waipu still proudly hosts New Zealand’s biggest annual Highland Games.
Need a place to stay?
Comfort Hotel Flames Whangarei offers a fabulous location overlooking Whangarei Harbour. The hotel has a popular on-site restaurant, two bars and a tropical-style pool. For those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, head to Quality Hotel Oceans Tutukaka. It’s just 30 minutes by car from Whangarei, and features stylish accommodation options with a coastal vibe.
About the writer
As a writer, Mike Yardley mixes his life-long passions for travel and current affairs. Born and based in Christchurch, he is a travel editor and syndicated columnist for several newspapers nationally, and can be heard as a contributor on New Zealand’s number one radio station – Newstalk ZB.