1. Mount Manaia
The iconic peak of Whangārei's Mount Manaia is well worth the steep 420-metre climb for the spectacular views it affords over the district. Māori legend says that the five jagged rock formations at the summit are the shapes of a fleeing chief, the wife he stole from a nearby chief, his two children and the infuriated husband in pursuit, all turned to stone.
The walk to the top is a four-kilometre, two-hour return trek that takes you through regenerating native bush, including beautiful northern rātā.
But be aware that the craggy lookouts have no safety barriers, so stay well away from the vertiginous drop-offs and supervise children closely.
2. Beaches and baches
The coast north of Whangārei city is a great place to hire a bach and have the place nearly to yourself for a winter weekend. Places like Pātaua – the North and South sections linked only by a footbridge – Taiharuru and Ngunguru are all classic Kiwi bach settlements, where kids can run around and fossick on the beach.
Further north there’s the Whananaki and Whangaruru Harbours, where there are old-school campgrounds, spreading pōhutukawa trees and easy boat launching.
3. Bridging Whangārei
Whangārei has become quite the place to go for pontists – that’s people who fancy bridges - with the construction of Te Matau a Pohe (a lifting bascule road bridge over the Hatea River) and the Kotuitui Whiti foot and cycle bridge over the Waiarohia Stream. They’re both part of a 4.2km loop for walkers and cyclists around the upper river, which passes the shops and galleries of the Town Basin and passes local sculpture and information panels about the area’s heritage. Keep your blood sugar up with a stop at the Fudge Farm at the Town Basin.
Tutukākā Marina is the jumping-off point for most charter trips out to the Poor Knights Islands, but what the locals called ‘Toot’ is a nice place to while away a few hours in its own right. The walk out to the Tutukākā Light is steep in places – there’s a big down, then a big up – but the views up and down the coast are spectacular. Check out the launches and the huge stingrays in the marina, then grab a fish burger at the Whangārei Deep Sea Anglers Club restaurant or, for something a bit more upmarket, dine at Schnappa Rock near the entrance to the marina.
5. Chocolate dipped
The small settlement on the river at Mangawhai (as opposed to the bach town at the Heads down the road) is little more than a bend in the road, but it’s a frequently visited bend. Aficionados will recognise the name as the home of chocolatiers Bennetts of Mangawhai, and its chocolate shop and café are always buzzing at weekends.
While there are truly too many treats to choose from, the peanut-butter filled chocolate mice were a surprise hit with our family.
There’s also a great community market over the road at the Village Hall on Saturdays.