New Zealand’s northernmost city is often overlooked as a holiday destination but Whangārei offers something that will appeal to all travellers. It’s on the doorstep of spectacular beaches, picturesque waterfalls and top scuba diving spots, as well as being rich in Māori heritage.
Top Tips for Visiting Whangārei
In this guide, we’ll share with you our top tips for visiting Whangārei, including the best times to visit and what there is to see and do in the area. For accommodation inspiration, you can head to rentola.co.nz to browse the available listings in the centre of Whangārei and on the surrounding coastline. In addition to cosy cottages and beach houses with a view, you’ll find modern apartments with all the creature comforts.
How to get to Whangārei
Whangārei is located in New Zealand’s Northland region, around 2.5 hours’ drive from Auckland. The city is well connected thanks to the Whangārei Airport, which has flights to destinations across New Zealand. Regular buses make the journey to Whangārei from Auckland and there are several car rental options available.
Best time to visit Whangārei
Whangārei can be visited throughout the year, although most people opt for the warm, summer months when the beaches are at their best. If you want to avoid the crowds, visit in the spring or autumn when the temperatures are milder. Winter can get cold, although you’ll still get a few sunny days to be out and about exploring. It’s worth keeping in mind that New Zealand’s seasons are very changeable and you can expect cool, wet days even at the height of summer.
Things to see and do in Whangārei
Explore the cultural and natural attractions at Kiwi North
Set on 25 hectares of picturesque farmland, Kiwi North is a must-visit attraction to the west of Whangārei. It’s home to a nocturnal kiwi house where you can watch native birds foraging for food, as well as get up close to geckos and unique invertebrates such as wētās. At the on-site museum, you’ll find exhibits dedicated to the area’s Māori heritage and its early settler history, as well as see the remains of a 2,000-year-old flightless bird. Within the 25-hectare Heritage Park are a 19th-century homestead, chapel and school building.
Follow the Hātea Loop Walkway
Accessible to walkers, pushbikes and scooters, this paved trail highlights the best of Whangārei as it circles the Hātea River. It takes in children’s playgrounds, heritage panels and Maori sculptures, as well as the strikingly designed Canopy Bridge. Along the way, be sure to stop in at Clapham’s Clocks, which boasts the largest collection of clocks in the Southern Hemisphere.
Explore the Whangārei Quarry Gardens
Occupying a former quarry, these subtropical gardens are planted with both native and exotic species tended by a dedicated team of volunteers. In addition to exploring the meandering trails, you can grab a bite to eat at the on-site cafe. Changing exhibitions and events are held in the gardens’ art gallery.
Photograph the Otuihau Whangārei Falls
Tumbling 26 metres over a basalt cliff, the Otuihau Whangārei Falls can be reached along a short, circular trail or visited as part of a longer hike from AH Reed Kauri Park. This majestic green space is home to some of the largest kauris in New Zealand, which are best explored along the Hātea River Walk.
Spend a day at Whangārei Heads
A short drive from Whangārei will take you to this coastal playground, which encompasses a promontory jutting into the Pacific Ocean. It’s home to some of the area’s most beautiful beaches and hidden snorkelling spots, as well as mangrove forests that are best explored by kayak. If you’re feeling energetic, you can climb to the top of Mount Manaia for elevated views across the region.
Venture into the Abbey Caves
Traversed by an easy loop walk, the Abbey Caves Reserves encompasses limestone outcrops and several sinkholes surrounded by native forest. All three caves (Organ, Middle and Ivy) are home to glowworms, as well as exhibiting impressive rock formations, stalactites and stalagmites.
Go scuba diving around the Poor Knights Islands
Just off the Tutukaka Coast lie the Poor Knights Islands, which were formed by an ancient volcano and are now protected as a marine reserve. The archipelago’s deep walls, caves and tunnels are best explored while scuba diving, with an abundance of marine life to discover. Between October and May, millions of seabirds come to the islands to breed, including Buller’s shearwaters who share their burrows with nocturnal tuataras.
Visit the Whangārei Native Bird Recovery Centre
This award-winning sanctuary takes in injured birds and nurses them back to health before releasing them into the wild. It was founded by Robert and Robyn Webb, who run the wildlife park with the help of local volunteers. In addition to wandering between the aviaries that provide a temporary home for native and non-native birds, you can visit the incubation unit and observe recovering kiwis.