Whangārei is Taitokerau Northland’s only city, but it is also a natural playground, full of adventure, connection, and beauty.
Whangārei is positioning itself as a vibrant art destination from the iconic new Hundertwasser Art Centre to the Hihiaua Cultural Centre, and numerous art galleries, studios and boutiques around the region. The compact city centre offers up retail therapy, museums, guided tours and picturesque dining, and nearby you’ll find nature and wildlife experiences and attractions. Several communities and villages line the coast from magical Mangawhai and Bream Bay in the south, to Whangārei Heads, the Tutukākā Coast and Ōakura in the north, each with their own unique culture. Just offshore lie the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve, a top-rated dive site and spectacular natural attraction. Don’t miss the range of stunning walking trails, wildlife experiences or world-famous beaches while you explore this area.
Hidden gems in Whangārei and Surrounds
- The subtropical Whangārei Quarry Gardens located just off State Highway
- The Whangārei Growers Market, Aotearoa New Zealand’s original farmers and growers’ market, held every Saturday morning from 6am – 10am
- The adventure activities and parks, from monster scooters to inflatable floating obstacle courses and tree top ziplines
- The picturesque bars and eateries in Whangārei’s Town Basin
- The quirky Clapham’s National Clock Museum, home of the southern hemisphere’s largest collection of timepieces
Towns and Villages
Discover Whangārei and Nearby Areas
Taitokerau Northland’s only city, Whangārei has an attractive pedestrian mall at its heart, art galleries, museums, restaurants, cafés and bars. Follow the Hātea Loop Walkway - by foot or by bike; it’s all weather and wheel-chair friendly. Enjoy the sculptures and heritage trails, kids’ playground, city park and international award-winning lifting-bridge Te Matau ā Pohe. The Town Basin and its picturesque marina is a great destination to begin your discovery of the art and crafts of Whangārei. It is home to the new and iconic Hundertwasser Art Centre and Wairau Māori Art Gallery as well as the Whangārei Art Museum. Tours of the city also depart from here. Clapham’s National Clock Museum, with its quirky collection, and Kiwi North’s nocturnal kiwi house are popular attractions and great wet weather options. Just a little north of the city is the Kamo Wildlife Sanctuary, home to a variety of endangered big cats.
Those landing in Whangārei by air are treated to an up-close view of this spectacular area as they land at the airport in Onerahi, just a few kilometres from the city centre. A drive along the Whangārei Heads road is one of the most scenic road trips imaginable. The road hugs the harbour, meandering by beaches and coves with stunning vistas of the area's distinctive volcanic outcrops. Much of this area is scenic or marine reserve, including the Whangārei Marine Reserve at Reotahi, an excellent place to snorkel and observe the abundant marine life. The road ends at the beautiful white sands of Ocean Beach, or at Pataua South, a remote village with sheltered estuary, and ocean-side surf beaches. The pedestrian bridge at Pataua South provides walking access to Pataua North but there is no road for vehicles. The whole peninsula is a wonderland and taking some time out here is a must do. Hiking is a top activity here too. Climb Mount Manaia which towers 460m above the harbour entrance; its dramatic rock peaks are steeped in Māori legend. Te Whara Track is a challenging five-hour hike that follows an ancient Māori trail through coastal forest and has breath-taking views. Both hikes are rated in Department of Conservations top short and day hikes. Whangārei Heads also has a vibrant art community, with regular events held throughout the year.
Tutukākā Coast and the Poor Knights Islands
This coastline was rated one of the world’s best by Lonely Planet, and the Poor Knights Islands counted as one of the top ten dive sites in the world by Jacques Cousteau. Quaint coastal village Ngunguru is nestled on the shores of an estuary, offering safe swimming and calm waters for paddleboarding, while the white sand beaches of Matapōuri and Whale Bay are perfect for quintessential family beach days. Sandy Bay around the corner is the epicentre of the regions surfing scene. Tutukākā is the main hub of the area, and provides great dining and accommodation options, with a stunning selection of beaches tucked away down a side road. The marina here is also the main launching point for visits to the Poor Knights Islands. A dive at the Poor Knights is considered a once-in-a-lifetime experience but even non-divers will leave with unforgettable memories. Water clarity is second to none and the abundance of sea life means snorkellers and even paddleboarders and kayakers are treated to marine wildlife experiences from the ocean’s surface. The world’s largest sea cave is also found here, so large in fact, that boats will cruise inside.
Ōakura, Whangaruru and Whananaki
Heading north on State Highway 1 from Whangārei City leads to the satellite town of Hikurangi, an historic village, the northern gateway to the Tutukākā Coast and service centre to the wider farming area that surrounds it. Just further north of Hikurangi, take a detour off the Twin Coast Discovery Highway at Whakapara, and you will arrive at an isolated coastal paradise, including Ōakura, Helena Bay, and Mimiwhangata Coastal Park. The road from Ōakura to Helena Bay is part of the Northland Journey, The Secret Coast Route, which runs from Russell to Helena Bay. Along this backroad, The Gallery & Café Helena Bay Hill is a great place to stop and enjoy art, subtropical gardens and refreshments. In the summer months, cool off with a refreshing dip at one of the many beaches.
Bream Bay and Mangawhai
Bream Bay is 22 kilometres of white sand and blue waters and includes Waipū Cove, Langs Beach, Uretiti, and Ruakākā. These beaches are popular for walking, swimming, surfing, kitesurfing and surfcasting. There are areas designated for leisure horse riding and Ruakākā Racecourse holds regular meets. Marsden Cove Marina offers great waterside dining, excellent marina and boating facilities, and boats depart here for diving, snorkelling and sightseeing trips. Waipu Village is rich in Scottish heritage and boasts a delightful range of arts and crafts stores and cafés, as well as the Waipu Museum which tells the amazing story of one of the world’s greatest migrations. In Waipu Caves, discover a galaxy of glow-worms and enjoy a short walk to nearby Piroa Falls.
Further south, Mangawhai Heads and Village are the closest holiday destination to Auckland, just a mere 90 minutes from the Auckland city centre. A classic Kiwi seaside destination, you’ll discover white sandy beaches, beautiful walkways, sand dunes, and a wildlife sanctuary. The area also offers superb water sports, safe swimming, a world-class 18-hole championship golf course and a fabulous museum that tells the amazing history of the region. The Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway offers panoramic views, and on clear days you can see Coromandel peninsula in the distance. Afterwards, grab a cold drink or tasty meal at the historic Mangawhai Tavern, the best location to catch live music by both local bands and bigger Kiwi names.