Whenever I tell someone I’m from Whangarei (fun-ga-ray), New Zealand, the most common response is “oh I think I’ve driven through there on the way to (insert more touristy spot up north)”. Anyone overseas usually has absolutely no clue until I say that it’s two hours north of Auckland. I’d like to champion my hometown as a destination rather than just a few houses and traffic lights whizzing by out the car window, or a name nobody can pronounce!
Whangarei is about 2 hours drive north of Auckland, or a half hour flight. Flights are quite expensive given how quick they are so if you have the time then definitely take a drive. There are also a number of bus services that run from the Auckland CBD to Whangarei, the cheapest and fastest of which being Mana bus as they do not stop. Naked bus and Intercity also travel the route but take a bit longer as they stop once for half an hour or so.
There are also a number of accommodation options including backpackers, motels and hotels.
Things to do
If you are only interested in big cities with expansive shopping malls and indoor activities competing for your attention then this is probably not the place for you. Summer (December – February) is definitely the best time to visit, when we can show off our beautiful beaches at their best and you can enjoy a relaxing break in a chilled out little city.
I definitely have a few favourites on my list of things to do, which I think are well worth checking out:
Go to the beach!
If you drive half an hour in almost any direction from the centre of town, you will find a beach. My favourites are Matapouri and Whale Bay on the Tutukaka Coast, and Ocean’s Beach out towards Whangarei Heads.
If you are up for a little bit of a hike you can actually get to the most incredible rock pools from Matapouri, but this needs to be done at or not long before low tide. They’re called the Mermaid Pools and as soon as you see them you’ll get it, if I were a mermaid I’d never leave!
Whale Bay is also quite special, you have to go on a short bush walk to get there but I feel like that adds to the appeal. It is definitely worth the effort for the pale, soft sand and calm waters for swimming. Once you’re finished swimming you can relax under the shade of one of the many pohutakawa trees and take in what a Northland summer is all about.
Ocean’s Beach is a bit more rugged but just as picturesque as the others with its white sand, black rocks and big surf. You can climb the large sand dune on the left to get to an equally beautiful beach where you most likely won’t see another soul.
If you’re going to the beach you definitely need to pick up some fish and chips on the way too! There’s always somewhere nearby to grab some from and you can’t beat a good feed on the beach.
Climb a mountain
To call them mountains makes them sound a lot bigger than they are, however there are a couple of awesome walks to get the heart pumping and reward you with a stunning view at the end.
The easiest of which would be Parahaki (now renamed Parihaka but I’ve never heard any locals call it that…) which you can see from the centre of town. The walking tracks can be accessed from Mair Park heading downhill to a beautiful river and over a bridge to choose your route up, which takes about 20-30 minutes if you take the steeper track. Upon reaching the summit you can see almost the entire city, which is quite a picture on a sunny day.
- The more impressive choice is Mount Manaia which is out Whangarei Heads (venture further to Ocean’s Beach for a swim afterwards). You can park in the Manaia Club carpark and begin the two hour return trip from there. The view at the top is more than worth the many stairs. You will finally reach a staircase and platform which leads you out on to a large rock with a panoramic view of the Whangarei Harbour out one side and beautiful farmland and the coastline out the other.
There are more impressive waterfalls in the world that’s for sure, however I like to think that the Whangarei Falls have their own kind of charm. From the carpark you follow a track across a little footbridge across the river at the top of the falls, before heading downhill through the bush to a grassy viewing spot right at the bottom. There are also usually some very friendly locals keeping an eye on the carpark at the top, who are more than happy to tell you anything you’d like to know about the area or even just to have a chat.
Get an ice-cream and some sweet treats from the Fudge Farm
At the Town Basin there is a little shop called the fudge farm which sells the most delicious fudge (obviously) and ice cream. I’d definitely recommend picking up something sweet and having a wander around the area. If you’re up for a longer stroll you can walk the loop which is about 4km around the marina area and over our award winning bridge – ‘Te Matau a Pohe’.
Give paddle boarding a go
Out towards Tutukaka are a couple of stops perfect for paddle boarding where there are usually people to hire them off on a nice day. The first you will see is the Ngunguru (Nun-ga-roo) estuary which is always beautiful and calm, but you would need to go at high tide. It’s a wide open space where a few boats are anchored and there’s always people playing around in the water.
The other spot is not long after the Tutukaka marina but before the dairy at Matapouri. You will most likely see the local kids jumping off the bridge into the river before anything else, if so you’re in the right place! Here you’ll be paddle boarding down a river that eventually leads to the main Matapouri beach, with mangroves lining the water and usually kayakers along for the ride as well.
Hopefully these few quick tips will convince you that Whangarei is well worth a visit as I believe it is, and I hope that if you do visit you enjoy my favourite spots as much as I do!