Whangarei has recently opened a popular walkway loop that runs beside the river through a sculpture walk and over a funky footbridge to the lifting bridge over the Hatea River and back on the other river bank. This is a lovely hour’s saunter with the probability of seeing the bridge lifted as yachts go to and fro.
There is freedom camping for self-contained vehicles at the Town Basin but it is a popular spot and often full, as it is within easy reach of a supermarket and the town centre. However, there are other freedom camping places around the town and three camp grounds. One backs onto Mair Park, while another is beside Whangarei Falls.
Both these reserve areas are connected to pioneering Whangarei families. The Mair family settled in Whangarei in the 1840s. Mair Park was given to the city by Robert Mair in 1914. It had been part of his estate and still contains his old coach road which meanders through native bush to a grassy area beside the river, popular with families.
Another track runs alongside the river upstream to Whareora Road where there is an entrance to the A.H. Reed Memorial Park. A.H. Reed is well known for his publishing and charitable works and for his epic walks throughout New Zealand. His family came from England to Whangarei in the 1880s and their homestead was adjacent to the reserve car park.
Back in Whangarei township there is plenty to see and do. Claphams Clock Museum and the Whangarei Art Museum are at the town basin, while on the other side of town 25 hectares of farmland and forest is home to Kiwi North. Here is a nocturnal kiwi house, Whangarei Museum and Heritage Park.
The Heritage Park is home to many old buildings that have been relocated to the site. These include the Clarke Homestead, a chapel, school, women’s jail and Jane Mander’s study. Jane Mander was one of New Zealand’s first female authors; her Story of a New Zealand River, written in 1920, is set locally.
Whangarei is situated at the head of the harbour and there are beautiful bays and beaches within the harbour as well as along the adjacent coastlines. Whangarei is said to mean ‘the gathering place of the whales’ and the harbour has been important for Maori and later for European settlers, many of whom were Scots. McGregors Bay and McCleod’s Bay reflect this heritage.
One of our favourite walks is around Reotahi/Mount Aubrey, a volcanic lump which looks down on Reotahi Marine Reserve and across the harbour to Marsden Point. It is just below the more imposing Mt Manaia, which has a strenuous walk to the summit and the reward of amazing views along the coast.
One of Whangarei’s earlier slogans was ‘the city with 100 beaches’ or words to that effect. The district has 270km of coastline so there certainly are plenty to choose from if you like lazing under pohutukawas, swimming, surfing, kayaking or fishing (and who doesn’t?).
South of Whangarei is the long expanse of beach within Bream Bay, so named by Captain Cook in 1769 after having a feed of snapper. The bay is still a popular spot for fishermen and also surfers. DOC has a camping ground at Uretiti Beach and there is a holiday park at nearby Ruakaka.
Heading north from Whangarei, there are roads to several coastal settlements. Pataua North is at the end of one such road, while Pataua South can be reached from the harbour-side road. They are joined by a long footbridge which is popular with kids who love to jump from it.
The Tutukaka Coast – described by National Geographic as one of the best coastlines in the world – is just north of Whangarei. There is a loop road that leads through farmland and orchards bounded by historic drystone walls that takes in the settlements of Ngunguru, Tutukaka, Matapouri and Sandy Bay before heading back to SH1.
The Tutukaka Coast loop goes inland to Hikurangi where you turn right onto SH1, then right again. This is the Russell Road which leads out to Oakura, Helena Bay, Teal Bay and Miniwhangata before leaving the Whangarei District and meandering up to Russell in the Bay of Islands.
There is more to Whangarei than might be suspected when just driving through it. Love it here? Definitely!
Check out the full article in issue #132 of Motorhomes Caravans & Destinations magazine (on sale now!). Subscribe here.