Whangarei, or as it was originally known Whangarei Te-Rerenga Paraoa (the gathering place of whales/chiefs) or Te-whanga-a-Reipae is situated 2 hours north of Auckland on the East Coast. It has a population of around 75,000 and a warm climate year round.
Whangarei boasts an array of beaches within 20 minutes any direction from the CBD. Growing in popularity over the last 10 years, the city is fast becoming a stop off point for those heading north.
Whangarei was first spotted by the Polynesian navigator Kupe in 950AD and the fore-bearers of the Nga puhi tribe descended on the shores of Whangarei from Hawaii soon after. Whangarei has often been caught in the crossfire of which iwi it sits in, however many local Maori affiliate to Nga Puhi with over 20 sub-tribes/hapu surrounding the Whangarei region. Parihaka overlooks the centre of the city and the Hatea river wraps around the base of the maunga (mountain). Parihaka was a significant pa site for Maori and the remnants of the pa can still be seen from the tracks.
The majestical Mt Manaia sits at the harbour of Whangarei and is the first mountain in a chain connecting the Nga Puhi people.
Mt Manaia sits majestically at the mouth of Whangarei harbour, gateway to the north.
Maori believe that the five key rock formations on the top of Manaia represent five people, who appear to be running an eerie race across the mountain top, the paramount chief Manaia, his two children, Pito the beautiful wife he stole from the chief Hautatu, and the aggrieved Hautatu in pursuit brandishing his mere (stone weapon). All five figures were turned to stone as they were struck by the lightening of Tāwhirimātea.
Infrastructure in Whangarei is limited. There are no train services and the local bus service is confusing and irregular unless you are a local. Best bet is hiring a car as you need to get out to the coast at least once to see the beaches.
If you are in Whangarei over the summer then the only place you really need to be is at the beach. Pick a direction and you will land on a coast.
Whangarei heads has a range of beaches – Ocean beach (surf patrolled), Tamaterau (great for kids at high tide) or McLeod’s Bay, also great for kids. Reotahi marine reserve is a short walk through a track easily manoeuvred by young kids and has crystal clear water and is extremely safe. Great for snorkelling on a clear day. Do not be put off by the refinery directly across from Reotahi as these waters are constantly tested and are extremely safe.
Ocean beach located East of Whangarei beyond the Whangarei Heads
Heading in the other direction, Tutukaka Coast is without-a-doubt Whangarei’s most popular coast line. Ngunguru is an idyllic seaside town with a great fish and chip shop across from the estuary, Matapouri Bay is 6km along which is also very safe for children. If your family are up for a hike head over to the popular Mermaid pools but a warning, the hill is extremely steep and I would not attempt this if your kids are unfit.
Mermaid Pools over the hill from Matapouri Beach East of Whangarei
It is well worth the hike but can be very crowded in the summer. Once at Mermaid pools pay close attention to the ocean facing rocks as water levels can rise rapidly when the tide is coming in.
The local store at Matapouri does fantastic fish n chips and huge ice creams for the kids at a great price. Over the hill is the popular surf beach Sandy Bay which often hosts surfing competitions. It’s a lovely beach to walk along and if you drive around a little further, head right over the little bridge and you will come to Havana Cabana Coffee a quaint little coffee set up out of a caravan. Fantastic coffee with a great view.
20 minutes south of Whangarei is Ruakaka coast. This is a patrolled surf beach and spans around 11km, a great walk if you have a couple of hours to spare.
Whangarei falls (Otuihau) is located in Tikipunga on your way out to Tutukaka Coast. You can take a walk to the base of the falls and back up in around 30 minutes and it is an easy trek for toddlers. This native forest has trees labelled along the way and makes a great educational experience for the kids. Ducks frequent this spot so a bit of bread for throwing with the kids is awesome fun.
Otuihau (Whangarei falls)
Make sure your valuables are taken with you as cars tend to get broken into here but securities are on site patrolling the car park during the day.
Glenbervie Forest Park is a great outdoor adventure priced at $27 for children under 16 and $37 for 16 years and over. This is also located on the way out to Tutukaka coast. You will get an introductory course and then you are free to try a number of obstacle course and try your wits at some fast zip lines. There are courses for all ages with lots of areas for picnics to observe.
Whangarei is quite limited for accommodation in either the 5 star or hostel bracket. Most accommodations sit in the 3-4 star brackets and are your basic hotel/motel. For somewhere central and mid range the Kingsgate has a range of suites and is within walking distance to the town basin, pools and the CBD.
Oceans in Tutukaka is a great spot to base on the coastline. They have a saltwater pool and a range of activities on offer including kayaking, sailing, fishing, day cruises, snorkelling, horse riding and golf. 3 different rooms are available: King room, Standard room and 2 bedroom apartments.
For a backpackers in the best location head to Honey Budget B and B 4 Backpackers. Great views of the city, a kitchen that is open to cook in 24/7 and breakfast included in your price starting from $22 per night.
Red Pizzeria is a family friendly restaurant in Kensington serving the obvious pizza, as well as pasta and other basic menu selections. You can get a metre long pizza for $79 which will definitely feed a family of 4 possibly even 5.
If you are into pub food and something a bit more casual, Kensington Tavern behind Red Pizzeria has the best bistro in town. They serve all your standard menu regulars at around $20 a plate and the servings are huge!
For a healthier eat, Fat Camel is a great alternative with a range of kebabs, pitas, salads and Israeli delights. They are located in Quality Street downtown and are open 8am to 9pm most days.
If you have one day here
Head to the town basin and enjoy a 4.5km walk around the loop in the morning, hopefully the tide is high and there is a lot of educational information along the way about the city of Whangarei. Stop at any of the cafes for breakfast at the town basin, get in a car and head up to Whangarei Falls. Head out to Tutukaka Coast and grab a bite to eat at anyone of the cafes along the way. Schnapper Rock is a firm favourite at the Tutukaka Marina. Make your way along the coast stopping at Matapouri Bay, Whale Bay (if you are up for the walk) and Sandy Bay to see some surfers. You can keep heading around through picturesque farmland and back into town via Kaiatea Road.
If you have three days here
Adding onto your trip, head to the Glenbervie Forest Park for a morning of adventure, grab a picnic from a local supermarket and then head down to Mair Park underneath the mighty Parihaka mountain. Spend the afternoon feeding ducks and enjoy a nature walk along the river. After this head out to the Whangarei Heads and stop at Parua Bay Tavern for a drink and enjoy the view. If you have any further energy in you Mt Manaia is a must for keen walkers. The walk takes around 1.5 hours return and is for the fit however the views are unforgettable. Take a cruise further out to Ocean Beach and then head back into town for an easy bistro meal at the Kensington Tavern.
If you have five days here
Adding on, put a trip south to Waipu and Ruakaka beach in the works. Ruakaka spans across kilometres so it’s a great place for kids to just run and run and run. There is a patrolled surf beach for the kid’s safety. Keep driving south to Waipu and a must is the Waipu Pizza Barn with undeniably, the best pizza in the north. Take the kids to the town basin kid’s park for an hour and so and then hit the fudge farm ice cream shop. Whangarei Quarry Gardens is a tranquil calming spot for a walk through some amazing fauna. There is a lake at the top of the walk and it’s an easy, fun and educational outing for the littlies. If you are bored of all the fantastic beaches on offer in Whangarei head west of Whangarei to the great Kai Iwi Lakes for a change of scenery.
Best of the Best
Best kids park – Town Basin
After-hours emergency clinic – White Cross, Bank Street, CBD
Cheapest supermarket – Pak N Save, Walton Street, CBD
Indoor swimming pool – Whangarei Aquatic Centre, Ewing Road
Best walk to get the heart rate up (without kids) – Mt Manaia
Best easy walk (with kids) – The loop, town basin
Funkiest café with the best coffee – Deluca, Water Street, CBD
Best raw food café – Body Fuel, Walton Street, CBD
Easy access Takeaway strip with all the regulars – Bank Street
Best kid friendly restaurant – Red Pizzeria, Park Street, Kensington
Best Beach – Whale Bay, Tutukaka