Whangarei (pronounced fang-a-ray.) A place I have lived, a place I have loved and a place I have left. If you have ever wanted to live an easy going life or dreamed of taking a relaxing holiday somewhere not too big and not too small, this is the perfect place to go. The small town located in the north island of New Zealand, roughly 158km north of Auckland, is the last sizable town before heading further north, east or west to many other fabulous beaches and scenic spots in New Zealand. Now you may be thinking, huge highways and troubling traffic when you read “sizable town” but it really is not that at all. You could go any direction from Whangarei and not be disappointed. Here are a few things that I would want everyone to experience if they ever find themselves in or around Whangarei.
5 Absolute Must Do’s in Whangarei
1. Visit the town basin
The Hatea river flows through Whangarei and alongside this beautiful river is an array of cute coffee shops, ritzy restaurants and quirky little art filled bric-a-brac stores. The town basin is always a buzz with life from relaxed shoppers looking for a unique gift, ice-cream eaters and elderly taking strolls in the sun. There is a 5km Hatea loop walk which you can begin from the town basin and end at the town basin and the walk showcases some of Whangarei’s abstract metal artworks and lets you walk over the one of a kind draw bridge that is the first of its kind in the world. If you’re lucky enough it may even open up on your walk! If a walk seems too much then maybe you’d enjoy sitting along the water looking over the sails, with kayak enthusiasts in the midst, whilst having a delicious meal at any one of the restaurants or cafes along the water.
2. Take a stroll up, up, up!
Traipsing through lush greenery which includes some of New Zealands very own native numbers like the kauri tree and the fern are amidst the nature walks that you can do in Whangarei. My personal favorites are Parihaka and Mount Manaia. These 30-45 minute treks are perfect little pieces of natures pie for anybody who loves to explore or get a bit of exercise without taking up a few hours. They’re a great way to wind down and are both gradual climbs upward and if it all seems a little too much there are a few seats available on the way up to catch your breath, we wouldn’t want to take it all away! The walks are natural and you can hear the birds sing, feel the rocks beneath your feet and look up and into the tree tops. Many locals take picnic lunches to have at the top. There is a decked area where you can view Whangarei from the top and look out over the town whilst enjoying a sandwich.
3. Shop Whangarei town center
The town center is the hub of the city and if you could imagine a regular shopping mall broken down to one single floor that had all the different shops on display, that would be Whangarei. The township has all your regular food and clothing stores available to shoppers and among them are the local businesses creating a lovely balance. The brick walkways make for a rustic feeling and showcase a little of Whangareis history. Little plaques embedded in these walkways share important moments in the towns’ history and more recently they have added seated areas underneath trees that provide shade when in the warmer weather. It is a perfect place to relax and is child friendly so you can enjoy a nice day out.
4. “Oh, the places you’ll go!
As Dr Seuss once said, oh, the places you’ll go! Whangarei will lead you to some of the most beautiful places you’ll see while visiting here. These beach spots were a part of some of the best summer nights in my adolescent youth. From the world class scuba diving and snorkeling out at the Poor Knights, an international scuba diving icon, to the rolling waves at Oceans beach, east of Whangarei. A day out swimming in clean and clear waters where the beaches aren’t too full is a lovely way to spend time whether it be alone or with the family. Choose to head south and you’ll find Ruakaka and Waipu both small beach towns with the best fish and chips you’ll ever have! Sun, sand and salty goodness. Or if you don’t feel like swimming, heading along to Parua Bay, a scenic drive of 20 minutes, for a delicious lunch or dinner on the water, at the Parua Bay Tavern makes for another excellent day which you can wind down with a wine or beer.
5. Unwind with a beer or two
There are a range of pubs in the CBD, small quiet places you can have a drink in and they’re super family friendly up until about 9pm. Cheap meals of steaks, salads, chips and all the other pub meals are available and good drinks delivered with great service adds to the relaxing experience you’ll have, visiting one of the few pubs located in and around Whangarei. Jeans and a t-shirt are a totally acceptable attire but a cute dress or suit shirt is also completely. Nobody passes judgement and it’s a comfortable place to unwind for a few. The only thing you’ll need to worry about is having a good time.
Enjoy every minute
As cliche as this might seem, it remains true. Whangarei was home to the best years of my life and for a small place the diversity and friendly nature of this town would make anybody feel so welcome they’d want to live there too. The quality of life is amazing and there is nothing more a family or solo traveler would want, other than to feel safe and sound, free to enjoy their time in the beautiful north land, in the land of the long white cloud.