The city of Whangarei is the biggest city north of Auckland with a population of around 52,000, with the small farm and villages nearby adding another 20,000 or so people to the region. Whangarei has beaches up and down the coast, a stunning harbour and marina, with islands such as Poor Knights Islands just off the coast having some of the best dive sites in the world.
Whangarei on the Hatea River on the east coast is around 2 hours north of Auckland and about an hour south of the Bay of Islands. The whole area is very scenic with mountain ridges, headlands, bays, beaches, lookouts, islands off shore, wreck diving and great little village centres in and around Whangarei such as Waipu – a village that celebrates its Scottish Presbyterian and Nova Scotia heritage. There is also the Waipu Caves nearby, the Piroa waterfalls and a museum there too. Another village is Sandy Bay where you can ride horses along the beach (See www.sandybayhorses.co.nz), but there are many other villages in the area too from Bream Head in the southern side of the city to the Tutukaka Coastline on the northern side.
In Whangarei look for Town Basin – where there are cafés, the marina, walkways, galleries and shopping as well as the Clapham’s National Clock Museum in Dent Street. This is a great place for both kids and adults to spend time in. (See www.claphamsclocks.com ). Deep sea fishing expeditions heading out from Whangarei are also a great experience, and seafood is some of the best you will find in New Zealand.
Whangarei has a number of parks including Botanica on First Avenue, a tree top walk at the A.H. Reed Kauri Park, Mair Park and Cafter Park. Also look for the Waka and Wave stone sculpture at Hihiaua Point, and about 5 kilometres from the city is the 26 metre high Whangarei Falls. Also look for Abbey Caves also just out of the city about 4 kilometres and Mt Parihaka Lookout – site of an original Maori ‘pa’ village.
The city is home to a number of artists and crafts people, and in town look for the Quarry Arts Centre and other galleries. There is also a large museum called the Kiwi North Museum set on 25 hectares at 500 State Highway 14 in Maunu. (See www.kiwinorth.co.nz). The Museum has a heritage buildings, photographic displays, a large insect collection, military and Maori historical collections including a 200 year old Waka canoe. You could easily spend a day here looking at the collections.
Being a city, Whangarei has all the amenities of a city with lots of accommodation options to choose from – and for nature and animal lovers head to the Kingdom of Zion to see tigers, lions and other big cats, about 20 minutes north of the city on Gray Rd at Kamu (See www.kingdomofzion.co.nz ); Adventure Forest on Maruata Road, Glenbervie Forest – a tree top walk and other action activities (only open in summer) (See www.adventureforest.co.nz) and the Nature Bird Recovery Centre (See www.nbr.org.nz ) which is at Maunu close to the Kiwi North Museum.
Dargaville – is located on the west coast about 85 kilometres or an hour heading westward from Whangarei by car. The town has a population of around 5000 people and is located on the Wairoa River in the middle of dairy farms and kumara growing properties – the biggest Kumara growing area in New Zealand. Kumara (Sweet Potato) is one of New Zealand’s favourite vegetables to eat. If you have never tried Kumara Chips – it is something that you should look out for, and an absolute must vegetable to have with a lamb roast.
A number of the early European settlers came here from the Dalmatian Coast (today’s Croatia) to farm here. The town has a number of older buildings dating back to the 1870’s, cafes and places to stay and is on what is called the ‘Kauri Coast’. The local museum (www.dargavillemuseum.co.nz) at 32 Mt Wesley Coast Road has a great collection of memorabilia relating to the district, the kauri gum days, shipwrecks including the Rainbow Warrior Greenpeace ship that was sunk and even a collection of Piano Accordions – one that rivals the collection in Port Lincoln in South Australia where there is also a large Croatian population too.
Close by Dargaville is the longest white sand beach in New Zealand – that runs from Pouto in the south where the Pouto Point Lighthouse is located to Maunganui in the north. It is longer than the better known 100 mile beach in the far north, and you can also travel on it by 4 WD vehicles.
BAY OF ISLANDS – on the East side Pacific Ocean Coastline
There are 144 islands in the Bay of Islands – and the Bay and the small towns in and around the Bay contain lots of history and culture. If you read the History section of this website, you will learn more about the history of the Bay of Islands where the Maori and European cultures first encountered each other in the 1800’s. This is also where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840.
The Bay of Islands is around 3 hour’s drive north from Auckland, or a short trip by plane from Auckland to the Kerikeri Airport.
Kerikeri is where New Zealand’s oldest buildings are located – Kemp House and the stone Storehouse on the water’s edge. It is also where Hongi Hika (see history) lived too, with his pa (fortified village) was located. Today Kerikeri has a number of cafes, interesting shops and buildings that date back to the 18 and 1900’s.
Paihia is about 23 kilometres from Kerikeri and is the main tourist town in the Bay of Islands. Its wooden houses, shops, walking trails, jetties and ambience make it a favourite destination, and from here you can kayak, sail, cruise to different parts of the Bays and inlets, snorkel, wreck dive, dolphin watch and catch a ferry across the Bay to Russell where the old ‘Pompallier’ Catholic mission is located as well as other historic buildings. Just out of Paihia is the Waitangi treaty grounds (walking distance) and here you can visit the Treaty House and hear and see information about the ‘Treaty of Waitangi’.
Just inland on the river is Haruru Falls (about 3 kilometres) which is a great place in summer to swim below the waterfalls. Head to the Waipoua Kauri Forest to see one of the biggest ‘Tane Mahuta’ Kauri Tree in New Zealand and to Kawakawa to see ‘Gabriel’ – a restored steam train and the Hundertwasser Public Toilets designed by the renowned Austrian artist Friendenreich Hundertwasser who came to live here in New Zealand.
One of the ‘must sees’ is about 30 minutes inland from Paihia, and that is the Kaikohe Pioneer Village – with a number of restored buildings, a library, historic photographs and interesting history from both the Ngapuhi Iwi tribal group who lived in this area for over 500 years and the early settlers who arrived in the 1800’s. (See www.pioneervillage.org.nz)
NORTHLAND – from the Bay of Islands to the northern tip of New Zealand to Cape Reina is takes around two and a half hours if you don’t stop on the roughly 200 kilometre journey.
Cape Reina has a lighthouse that looks out over the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean that meet just offshore, and according to Maori history, the 800 year old Pohutukawa tree that is located here is where Maori spirits jump from this tree into the ocean to return to their ancestral home in Hawaiki.
Cape Reina is the most northern accessible point of New Zealand, although there are a few islands further north of it, and also another Cape – North Cape.
On the way from the Bay of Islands to Cape Reina you travel along the Aupouri Peninsula on Highway 1 starting at Kaitaia. Kauri Gum was once a big industry here between 1870 and 1920 and the Far North Regional Museum also has lots of interesting information about the industry and also Maori culture. There is also a winery just out of town –corner Okahu and Pukepoto Rds.
Just north of Kaitaia is Awanui – which is where you will find Gumdiggers Park at 1/171 Heath Rd Awanui (a must see) (See www.gumdiggerspark.co.nz) . Here you can learn about the Kauri Gum industry – where 100,000 years ago the forest was buried by a climatic event. The ancient logs and fossilised resins of the trees have to be seen to be believed. Take a look at the website. It is something you really don’t want to miss.
The Peninsula varies in width from just 10 kilometres to 30 Kilometres, so you are never far from either coastline.
Ahipara is at the southern end of the Ninety Bay Beach which is on the Tasman Sea side of the peninsula. You can drive along the white sandy beach itself which is classed as road –either on a 4WD, tour bus, quad bike, on horseback or even Blocart (land yacht). Most rental cars don’t allow you to travel on the beach however.
In Ahipara (See www.ahipara.co.nz) you will find an 18 hole golf course and just north of Ahipara (229 State Highway 1) stop at the Ancient Kauri Kingdom – where you will see and learn more about this ancient wood. The factory and showroom are both here. (See www.ancientkauri.co.nz) . Board riders head to Tauroa Point for great surf, and if you enjoy fishing there is a fishing club at Ahipara, or cruises can be organised by Mk Charters (See www.mkcharters.co.nz) .
At the northern end of the 90 mile beach are the Te Paki sand dunes – about 20 kilometres from Cape Reina off Highway 1 on the Te Paki Stream Road. Some of the dunes are close to 200 metres high – so it is a fun experience for both kids and adults too where you can hire and learn the skill of ‘Harihari Onepu’ (sand surfing) – either lying on a board or standing up, if you have the talent – definitely a great experience.
The whole of the Northland area is a place you can spend a day in, but there is so much to see, that it is worth planning for an extra day or more to discover this great part of New Zealand.