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19 Best Things to do in Whangarei (COMPLETE 2024 Guide!)

19 Best Things to do in Whangarei (COMPLETE 2024 Guide!)

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Whangarei, also called “The City of 100 Beaches”, is a small subtropical paradise. It’s well known around New Zealand for its vibrant arts community, amazing surfing spots, and breathtaking natural scenery.

What I love about Whangarei is you don’t need to choose between city life or nature – it has the best of both worlds! The locals are super friendly, and the place has a vibrant atmosphere. However, you can also explore stunning hiking trails leading to native kauri forests, glow worm caves, and secluded beaches.  

I’ve spent several years living and traveling through New Zealand and discovered this city on one of my many road trips. Wherever I go, I love finding the best spots, from top cafes and restaurants to museums and outdoor sports.

So if you’re headed here soon, keep reading for the best things to do in Whangarei – plus how to get there, where to stay, and much more!

About Whangarei, New Zealand

Downtown Whangarei, NZ
Downtown Whangarei, NZ

Whangarei is a city that’s one of the top places to explore on the North Island of New Zealand. It’s actually one of the northernmost cities in the whole country.

However, it’s still quite accessible from New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland. Whangarei is about 2 hours and 45 minutes away and makes a great stop on a road trip from Auckland to Paihia.

Despite being somewhat secluded compared to other major cities in New Zealand, Whangarei has lots to offer. It has quite a reputation among tourists and locals for its culture, adventure, and natural scenery. And with a population of over 100,000 people, this coastal city is surprisingly lively too. 

The city center is always full of people, with lots of cafes, restaurants, and shops, as well as local markets and art galleries. In the city center, you can check out the Whangarei Art Museum or take a relaxing stroll by the Hatea River. 

If you’re the adventurous type, hop in a car and drive to one of the many nearby attractions. When I was here, I visited lots of beaches, glow worm caves, a stunning waterfall, and even an ancient kauri forest.  

The east coast of the North Island is famous for amazing surfing spots, many of which you’ll find in Whangarei. The beaches here offer amazing coastal views and great waves all year round. As such, it’s a great destination for beginner and experienced surfers alike.  

If you’re planning a vacation here, you’ve got options! And to help you create the ideal itinerary, I’ve created this list of the best things to do in Whangarei. I hope you have an amazing time and fall in love with this city (just like I did!).

The BEST Things to do in Whangarei

1. Hike at the Bream Head Scenic Reserve

Bailey at the summit of Bream Head Scenic Reserve, New Zealand
The views are epic!
Views of the coastline from Bream Head Scenic Reserve, New Zealand

There are so many amazing hikes on the North Island, and one of my favorites is the Bream Head Scenic Reserve.

The Bream Head Scenic Reserve is a series of coastal forests full of native wildlife. There are a few different trails through the reserve, each beautiful in its own way. So if you want to get outdoors and find some awesome viewpoints, this is the area!

To get to the Bream Head Scenic Reserve, you’ll drive about 40 minutes southeast of Whangarei. There are free parking lots here. However, some do charge after certain times, so make sure to read the signs when you arrive. And while families can enjoy the reserve, you’ll have to leave your furry friends at home since they have a no-dog policy.

Out of all hikes, the Te Whara Track was my personal favorite. You can admire so many coastal panoramic views along the way and at the top. I must have stopped hundreds of times just to take in the stunning scenery!  

The trail itself takes about 5-6 hours between the Ocean Beach Carpark and Urquharts Bay Carpark (either direction works). The 7.5-kilometer (4.7-mile) hike follows an ancient Maori trail through some of the most spectacular coastal forests in the Northlands. Make sure your camera is prepared – you’ll use it a lot! 

If you don’t have that much time, you can do what I did – an out-and-back hike from Ocean Beach up to the Bream Head Scenic Lookout and back. This journey only took about 3 hours in total. It was quite the workout, and it definitely requires moderate fitness levels to complete. However, the coastal views from the lookout make it worth it!

If you’re traveling with kids or don’t want a trail that’s too demanding, the Smugglers Bay Loop Track might be a better fit. The 3-kilometer (1.9-mile) track starts at Urquharts Bay and can be done in as little as 1.5 hours. You’ll get to enjoy the same coastal forests and ocean views while still keeping a leisurely pace. 

2. Visit Whangarei Falls

Whangarei Falls New Zealand
Whangarei Falls, New Zealand

New Zealand has many beautiful waterfalls, and one of my favorites is the stunning Otuihau Whangarei Falls. It’s the picturesque waterfall you imagine, with tall falls dropping into a big, bright blue pool below.

The Otuihau Whangarei Falls is just a 10-minute drive from the city. You can park at the free parking lot off Boundary Road and hike the 1-kilometer (0.6-mile) loop trail that starts from here.

From the parking lot, it only took us 10-15 minutes to reach the base of the waterfalls (time for snapping photos included!). It’s a great walk for any age and not too demanding, but you do have to cross a bridge over Hatea River with no handle rails. We recommend you be extra careful on rainy days, especially if you bring the little ones along.  

Once you get there, you can admire stunning views of the 26-meter (85-foot) high curtain waterfalls. They flow over basalt cliffs, landing in a peaceful large pool below – which makes for great photos!

There’s a great walkway here that takes you around the waterfalls, perfect for those who want to admire them from every angle. If you get tired of walking, sit down at one of the many picnic tables and have a bite to eat while taking in the magical scenery. When I came here, I even brought a little picnic and had a super serene lunch.

If you’re interested in something a bit more challenging, I recommend the 3-hour journey that is Sands Road Loop. This 4.8-kilometer (3-mile) trail starts from the same parking lot and passes by the waterfalls but leads all the way to the A H Reed Memorial Kauri Park. There are quite a lot of stairs and elevation gain on this trail, so I recommend it only if you’re in good physical shape. 

Related Read: If you’re looking to take a dip in some hot waters, New Zealand has plenty. Check out the best hot pools and hot springs in New Zealand!

3. Surf!

A man surfing at Uretiti Beach, New Zealand
A man surfing at Uretiti Beach, New Zealand

Whangarei isn’t called the “city of 100 beaches” for nothing! With many beautiful white sand beaches, bays, and coves, Whangarei is a paradise for surfing enthusiasts visiting New Zealand. Whether you’re a beginner looking for smaller waves or an experienced surfer seeking that adrenaline rush, you’ll find it here!

Ocean Beach definitely stole my heart, with amazing sandy beaches, crystal-clear water, and lots of peaks that can be surfed on both sides. The exciting waves of varying sizes attract lots of surfers, especially during summer. Expect it to be quite crowded if you come here during the warmer months. 

The beach is at the end of the Whangarei Heads peninsula, a 40-minute drive from Whangarei. There is a parking lot and toilets here. It’s also the start of a few of the Bream Head Scenic Reserve hikes I mentioned earlier! 

Uretiti Beach is a 30-minute drive south of Whangarei. It’s great for surfers of all levels, and you can even camp here (which I’ll discuss in more detail further down!).

Sandy Bay is about 45 minutes by car. Here, you’ll find two solid beaches for surfers of all levels as well: Sandy Beach and Whale Bay Beach. If you are a total beginner but don’t know where to start, take a lesson! There are many amazing local companies in this area that offer surfing lessons. 

Tutukaka Surf at Sandy Bay is a great example. The staff here is so knowledgeable about the waves, tides, and weather. Trust me, I’m a surfing newbie, and they gave me the experience of a lifetime!

A 2-hour surfing lesson can range between $75-$190 NZD and includes all the necessary gear. You can choose from group, family, or private lessons as well as workshops. You can also rent a surfboard here for $20 NZD per hour and a wetsuit for $20 NZD per day.

Their surf shop is located in Tutukaka, but their surf lessons take place on Sandy Beach. In the summertime, the store is open daily from 9 am – 5 pm, and in the winter, it’s open Wednesday to Sunday from 10 am – 4 pm.

4. Visit Waipu Caves (see glow worms!)

Glow worms in the Waipu Caves in New Zealand
Like a starry night sky!

When visiting New Zealand, glow worm caves should absolutely be on your bucket list. And of all the places to see glow worms, I enjoyed Waipu Caves the most! They didn’t feel as touristy as other caves and are completely free.

They’re also less crowded than other places, especially in the early morning or late afternoon. So for a relaxing glow worm experience, visit during those times.

Waipu Caves are only 30 minutes from Whangarei. There’s a free parking lot and public toilets right next door (more free things, yay!). Be ready to walk for a few minutes inside the caves until you reach the right area where glow worms are visible.

When you arrive, you’ll immediately know because the magical sight will take your breath away. The caves are dark, so it kinda feels like you’re looking at a starry night sky.   

Besides the glow worms, there’s not much light inside the caves, so make sure to bring a flashlight. Do turn it off once you reach the glow worm area since they shine much brighter in the dark – trust me, you won’t regret it.   

Make sure to come equipped with waterproof footwear and gear. Also, check the weather before visiting, as the caves tend to fill with water during the rainy season (and might be inaccessible).

5. Wander around Quality Street and the CBD

Bailey walks along Quality Street in Whangarei, NZ
Such a cute street!
The cute Quality Street in Whangarei CBD

While in Whangarei, make sure to take a stroll down Quality Street. The cute little street is known for its iconic historical buildings and architecture. And as a pedestrian-only zone, you can leisurely check out the many shops, restaurants, and cafes here.  

The Quality Street Mall has everything from little shops full of local products to small cafes and eateries. With such a vibrant atmosphere, it is the perfect place for an afternoon walk or for grabbing a quick lunch before visiting other parts of the city. 

While you are there, do yourself a favor and treat yourself to some Bocky Boo Gelato. This fun little ice cream parlor serves some of the best ice cream flavors I’ve ever tried. It’s almost impossible to choose from all the tasty-looking flavors. Luckily the friendly staff let me try two samples before I settled on the Caramel Brownie and Cookies N’ Cream. 

My ice cream was only $6 NZD for one cup, and it definitely satisfied my sweet tooth! Bocky Boo Gelato is located at the end of Quality Street. And luckily, it’s open every day from 10 am – 9 pm, so you can enjoy your ice cream at any time!

6. See Kauri Trees at A H Reed Memorial Park

Bailey with the kauri Trees at A H Reed Memorial Park
They are so big!

New Zealand has many national parks with lush scenery all around. But to get a taste of the country’s flora right in Whangarei, visit the kauri trees at A H Reed Memorial Park. These kauri trees are at least 500 years old and tower high above the forest floor.

This is one of my favorite places to escape the city, and it’s located just a 10-minute drive from town! When I visit Whangarei, I come here for a calm nature walk. I sometimes even spot some of New Zealand’s local wildlife

In the park, there are a few walks you can choose from. My top choice is the Alexander McKinnon Cannopy Loop. It’s a popular 15-minute loop taking you on a raised walkway among the lush green kauri treetops. From the walkway, you can admire stunning views of the forest canopy and the crystal-clear stream below.

This walk is family-friendly, easy, and wheelchair-accessible. For a more challenging walk, there are two longer routes. These are 30 and 60 minutes and are over uneven and steep surfaces. You can check out each route online here.

To access the park, you have a choice of 3 parking lots. The main parking lot is on the left, about 1.5 km (.9 mi) after turning onto Whareora Rd. The second parking lot is specifically for limited mobility visitors and is on the left, just 300 meters past the main parking lot. The last parking lot is about 300 meters past that, near Clapham Road.

Another way to access the park is by taking on the somewhat demanding Sands Road Loop from Whangarei Falls. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a 4.8-kilometer (3-mile) trail starting from the Whangarei Falls parking lot and ending in A H Reed Memorial Kauri Park. It’s a challenging hike, but if you’re fit and have the time, go for it!

7. Go camping

Freedom camping at Parua Bay, New Zealand
Freedom camping at Parua Bay, New Zealand

The beaches around Whangarei are not just great for surfing – they’re excellent for camping as well. These are my recommendations if you’re looking to camp while you’re in town.

Uretiti Beach Campsite

The DOC campsite right beside Uretiti Beach is a good family-friendly spot. It’s located only a 30-minute drive from Whangarei, and the beachside setting is stunning. Here, campers have access to coin-operated hot showers ($2 NZD), non-flush toilets, drinkable tap water, and a shelter for cooking. 

Once you’ve set up your camping grounds, the beautiful golden beach is only a short walk away. You can walk along the coast, fish, or go for a swim while enjoying the bright sunny weather and ocean views. 

The prices per night for this campsite are $15 NZD for adults, $7.50 NZD for children (5-17 years), and free for infants. They include just one car per booking, and there’s a secure area designated for parking (since you can’t actually park cars at the campsites).

Reservations must be made in advance. If you turn up on the day, they might not have empty spots. And even if they do, you’ll have to pay a $10 NZD charge for day-of bookings. 

Parua Bay Campsite

Parua Bay Campsite is another great camping spot and a personal favorite of mine. It’s located near the boat marina with a beautiful view of Mt Manaia.

It only took me just 30 minutes to drive here from Whangarei, yet feels worlds away from city life. However, you still have access to tap water and flush toilets here, but no showers. The entry is completely free, and it allows both self-contained and non-self-contained vehicles. It also provides an area for tents, which is rare for free sites!  

Whangarei Top 10 Holiday Park

If you’re looking for a camping experience closer to Whangarei, I recommend the local favorite, Top 10 Holiday Park.

It’s located in the northern part of Whangarei, right next to the river and parks. So you’re close to all the action in the city but still have wildlife at your front door. The Holiday Park is pet-friendly and has a playground, BBQ, communal kitchens and bathrooms, laundry, and a rec room.

This park allows you to plan your camping trip exactly the way you want, no matter if you want to stay at a motel, cabin, self-contained unit, or at a powered or non-powered campsite. Each type of campsite has different prices, so we recommend checking the website and booking in advance. 

8. Eat at Fat Camel Cafe

Bailey drinks a coffee at Fat Camel Cafe
A coffee from Fat Camel Cafe in Whangarei, New Zealand

For a tasty, healthy meal while in the city center, I cannot recommend Fat Camel Cafe enough! It offers an amazing selection of traditional Israeli foods and drinks made from the freshest local ingredients. This place is like stepping into a Tel Aviv cafe and has a very local, neighborly spirit to it.

Here, I tried their iconic shakshuka, a traditional Israeli breakfast made with poached eggs in tomato sauce. The sauce was just so flavorful that by the end of the meal, there wasn’t a single drop left. They also offer lots of vegan and vegetarian options.

When I returned another day for lunch, I had their delicious falafel. It was the star of my meal, which I combined with a serving of freshly-made Tabouleh and a glass of wine. 

This Middle Eastern restaurant is located on Quality Street – the cute pedestrian road you absolutely have to visit. It’s open daily from 9 am – 9 pm, serving breakfast, coffee, lunch, and dinner.

banner asking people to click to join the Queenstown Diary Facebook Group

9. Explore the Northland beaches

Woolies Bay freedom camping spot
Woolleys Bay freedom camping spot

While in Whangarei, you must head over to the lively Tutukaka Coast. Here, you can explore some of the most gorgeous beaches in New Zealand. Trust me, you won’t want to leave this seaside paradise!

Sandy Bay Beach

I love Sandy Bay Beach because there’s so much to do here. You can go for a scenic walk along the seashore, take a dip in the crystal-clear waters, go paddleboarding, or even surf some of the best waves on the North Island.

The surfing spots are perfect for both beginners and experienced surfers, so you can have fun no matter your skill level. I couldn’t find any lifeguard services around, so if you do go for a swim, make sure to be extra careful. 

The beach is roughly a 40-minute drive from Whangarei, and you’ll need to a car to get here. There is public parking close by, as well as a freedom camping spot at Woolleys Bay (pictured above). So if you want to stay overnight, just bring your gear and set up camp!

Whale Bay Beach

Another personal favorite was Whale Bay Beach, a secluded beach full of lush green native bushes and palm trees. This one is perfect if you enjoy a peaceful retreat close to nature, far away from the bustling city.

It takes about 40 minutes of driving to get here. The nearest parking lot is about a 10-minute walk from the beach – which is a good thing! I was able to fully relax here and didn’t hear any traffic noise. When you park, there will be a sign directing you toward Whale Bay Beach.

This small piece of paradise is perfect for the whole family. The clear blue waters are very calm, making them safe for all ages to swim. Also, the flat beach is perfect for a family picnic.

I loved that there were a couple of shade spots here under the giant Pohutukawa trees, great for shelter if the sun gets too hot. Overall, it’s an ideal beach for relaxation. It’s full of sun, fun, sand, and sea – what more can you ask for? 

Related Reads: Another awesome coastal town outside Auckland is Piha Beach. You can read all about the fun things to do at Piha Beach here!

10. Enjoy drinks with a view at Parua Tavern

Bailey drinks wine on the outdoor deck of Parua Tavern, NZ
Cheers!
Pizza and drinks at Parua Tavern with ocean views

If you’re camping at Parua Bay, you have to dine at the Parua Tavern! I had an amazing experience when I visited this pub-style restaurant. Not only does it have a stunning view, but the pub food really hit the spot.

The Parua Bay Tavern is just a 5-minute walk from the campsite and sits atop a large grassy area. Because it’s on a mini-peninsula, it’s almost entirely surrounded by water.  

I highly recommend sitting outside so you can enjoy amazing panoramic views of the distant hills and beaches. And if you come here at the right time, you can even catch a stunning, colorful sunset (which can add to that romantic getaway in New Zealand!). 

The menu is full of seafood starters and mains, salads, burgers, and pizzas. When I came here with my partner, we grabbed a pizza and shared their bay seafood chowder as well as a salt-and-pepper squid, which were all super tasty! If you have a sweet tooth, you should also get one of their melt-in-your-mouth brownies. 

The food itself may be a bit pricey, with shared appetizers ranging from $12-$29 NZD and main courses running $23-$41 NZD. However, I feel it’s well worth the cost, and the views only make it better. The friendly staff made sure our stay was enjoyable, and we even played pool indoors once the sun went down.

They’re open Wednesday to Sunday from 11:30 am – 8:30 pm. So if you’re looking for amazing food, great views, and a nice, lively atmosphere, Parua Tavern is absolutely the place for you!

11. Go paddleboarding or kayaking

Sup Pro Paddle Boarding NZ in Matapouri near Whangarei
Photo credit: Sup Bro

Besides surfing, Whangarei is also a great destination for paddleboarding and kayaking enthusiasts. There are lots of nice bays in the area with calm water and nice winds – and the weather conditions are always perfect for paddleboarding during summer. Regardless if you’re a beginner or more advanced, paddleboarding here is such an enjoyable experience!  

If you’re looking for the best stand-up paddleboarding spots near Whangarei, I recommend Sandy Bay Beach or Ocean Beach. They’re both about 45 minutes from Whangarei, but worth the trip.

You don’t need to bring your own paddleboard since there are lots of amazing local companies offering rentals. If you’re heading over to the Tutukaka Coast, we recommend renting paddleboards from SUP BRO.

You can even book one of their coastal stand-up paddleboarding tours, which take you to some beautiful, otherwise inaccessible beach spots. You can get the one-hour tour for $70 NZD per person, the two-hour tour for $90 NZD, or the half-day tour for $170 NZD. This tour is great if you’re traveling with friends or family, as you’ll need at least 4 people for a booking. 

If you’re not confident enough to take on the sea by paddleboard, no worries! There are some lovely, sheltered spots for training on the Hatea River in Whangarei.

Adrenaline Adventure Park

For those of you who enjoy stepping out of your comfort zone, you can also paddleboard your way through the obstacle course at Adrenalin Adventure Park. There’s a lot more here than paddleboarding – you can swim, jump down inflatable water slides, and even climb a 9-meter (30-foot) inflatable rock wall!

It’s an exhilarating experience fit for both children and adults. All you need to bring here is your swimsuit and a strong sense of adventure. It’s located about 20 minutes from Whangarei and is open seasonally – which makes sense seeing how it’s outdoors on a lake!

It costs $55 NZD per adult (12+) and $50 NZD per kid. These prices are for the all-day pass, and the park is open from 11 am – 4 pm, so come early to get the most for your money!

12. Visit Uretiti Beach

Bailey at Uretiti Beach, New Zealand
Uretiti Beach is one of my favorites near Auckland!
Uretiti Beach at sunset
Oh, the sunsets!

Uretiti Beach is the gem of the North Island, with so much to offer in terms of picture-perfect scenery and fun leisure activities. The sandy beaches are perfect for a stroll along the coastline, and the crystal-clear waters look straight out of a postcard. 

The beach is just a 30-minute drive south and once on the beach, you can go fishing, swimming, or conquer the waves with your surfboard. Most waves close to the beach are perfectly suited for beginners. However, you can also find some challenging ones if you’re more experienced. 

As I’ve already mentioned, right behind Uretiti Beach, you’ll find the Uretiti Beach Campsite. If you come here for camping, don’t forget to book it in advance … unless you want to pay an extra $10 NZD fee or risk not finding any spots! The prices per night for this campsite are $15 NZD for adults, $7.50 NZD for children (5-17 years).

Attractions near Uretiti Beach

If you’re more of an adventurous type, feel free to explore the Waipu Caves, which is just a 25-minute drive inland. Here, you can admire the magical glow worms inside this cave (which is free to visit!).

Alternatively, you could hike the Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway. The starting point is a 20-minute drive south of Uretiti Beach. This hike is 5.4 mi (8.7 km) long and takes roughly 2.5 hours, but is somewhat steep and requires moderate fitness levels. However, the views are breathtaking!

When I hiked it, I passed through patches of lush greenery and native Nikau palms and even spotted the famous Kereru (pigeons native to the land). At the top, you can see a large part of the coastline, from the Bream Head up north all the way down to the Tawharanui Peninsula.

I went on this track at low tide, which allowed me to descend onto the stone beach and walk along the seashore all the way back. So I recommend checking the tide beforehand if you want to do the same!

13. Shop at the Artisans Market

Busy Artisans Market in Whangarei
Photo credit: Artisans Market
The Artisans Market WHangarei display
Photo credit: Artisans Market

Whangarei is known as a hub for local arts and culture, and the Artisans Market is the perfect place to see this firsthand! This market is one of the oldest arts and crafts markets on the North Island. Every Saturday during summer, you can come here to check out more than 100 amazing local artists and producers.  

Every time I visit, I find something new that I absolutely love. You’ll pass stalls selling handmade clothing and jewelry, pottery, fine art, furniture, home decorations, and cosmetics. Everything is made by local hobbyists and full-time artists that pour their heart and soul into every product.

While in Whangarei, this is the perfect place to splurge on souvenirs for yourself and friends and family back home. Not only do the items reflect the local culture, but you’ll be supporting small businesses as well. And while you wander around looking for the perfect gifts, feel free to grab a bite at the food stalls. Everything is freshly made and super delicious! 

The market is usually held in Putahi Park and on The Canopy Bridge (near the Hundertwasser). Usually, it happens every Saturday from 9 am – 1:30 pm. They occasionally move to an every-other Saturday schedule starting in January. You can check their Facebook page for any updates.

Overall, I was amazed by the talent and skill of these artisans, and can’t recommend this place enough. The atmosphere is as lively as can be, and all the locals are very friendly and love chatting with tourists! So if you want a window into the local art scene, add this to your Whangarei itinerary.   

14. Hike to the top of Mt Manaia

Bailey at the entrance to Mt Manaia near Whangarei
No views for me!

Mount Manaia is the perfect getaway from the bustling Whangarei – and my favorite thing to do here is hike to the summit! At the top, I guarantee you’ll be completely swept away by the beautiful view.

From the city, it takes about 30 minutes of driving to get to the public parking lot. This marks the beginning of the Mount Manaia Track that leads up to the summit. On the way there, you’ll walk through emerald-green forests full of native bush and Punga (native tree ferns). Plan extra time to stop at the many natural rock lookouts for breathtaking ocean views.  

At the top, Mount Manaia provides spectacular panoramic views of the bay. You can see what is considered one of New Zealand’s most impressive harbor entrances – or so I’ve heard. Unfortunately, the morning I went, the top was completely covered in clouds! Hence the photo of me leaving and not of the view!

If I were you, I’d check the weather forecast before heading out. It was still a beautiful hike, but that last view would have been the cherry on top.

This 4-kilometer (2.3-mile) trail is a moderately challenging route and takes about 2 hours round-trip. I did notice that it got gradually steeper as we reached the top, and there are no safety barriers. So if you bring your little ones, be extra careful near the summit. 

15. Check out the Native Bird Recovery Centre

flightless endemic Kiwi bird of New Zealand

I’m super passionate about New Zealand’s unique wildlife. If you are too, you must visit the Native Bird Recovery Centre! This local sanctuary takes in injured birds and nurses them back to health. As an animal lover, I found it to be such an inspiring place that gave me that warm, fuzzy feeling inside.  

Here, you can walk around and see some of the birds that are currently being rehabilitated. The staff are very friendly and happy to share fascinating stories about these magnificent creatures.

When I visited, my highlight was meeting Sparky, the one-legged Kiwi. He’s definitely the center’s most famous (and most adorable) resident. And for only $10 NZD, you can even take a photo with this local celebrity. You’ll get a treasured memory to frame back home, and the money goes towards the center’s rehabilitation efforts – it’s a win-win!  

The Native Bird Recovery Centre is both a fun and educational experience and is perfect for the entire family. While entry is free, you can always give a donation to support the cause.

The center is located just a 7-minute drive from Whangarei City Centre, and there’s a free parking lot near the entrance. It’s open Tuesday to Thursday from 10 am – 4:30 pm and Monday/Friday from 1 pm – 4:30 pm.

Since it’s a volunteer-led bird hospital, don’t expect a big or flashy attraction. However, the people here are absolutely lovely and fully committed to their cause. I couldn’t help but fall in love with the place, and I’m sure you will too.

Related Read: If you want to see even more birds in a beautiful outdoor setting, I know just the place! Click here to read everything you need to know about visiting Zealandia Ecosanctuary in Wellington.

16. Visit a museum (or two!)

The Whangarei Art Museum
Photo credit: The Whangarei Art Museum

Whangarei has some of the most impressive museums in all of New Zealand. So if you feel like exploring the city’s cultural side, you’ve got options!

Personally, I love visiting museums when I travel. They provide a nice break from the summer sun and make a great wintertime activity in New Zealand. So if you’re heading to Whangarei, I’ve highlighted my favorite museums below.

Whangarei Art Museum  

The Whangarei Art Museum is a must-visit. The place is full of heritage and contemporary artwork made by native New Zealand artists. There is just so much to see here, from seasonal exhibitions to permanent collections. Plus, there are even a couple of interactive displays, making the whole experience very immersive for both adults and children.

And the best part? Entry is completely free! The museum is open daily from 10 am – 4 pm, and it’s located in the Town Basin. It’s actually just a 5-minute walk from the Artisan Market, making it the perfect summertime Saturday combo.

Claphams National Clock Museum

The Claphams National Clock Museum is just as it sounds! This museum is full of clocks from all around the world, each more intricate than the last. There’s also a giant sundial in front of the museum, which is quite impressive.  

When I visited, I felt like I was walking through time (pun intended). I admired so many old and new clock models, with various designs and in all different sizes. You can also browse the collections at your own pace or get a guided tour for no extra cost.

I went for the guided tour option, and it was definitely a great choice. My tour guide was friendly and knowledgeable, sharing lots of interesting trivia about each clock.  

This museum is the perfect afternoon activity for the whole family. It’s open every day between 9 am – 4:30 pm. However, I recommend visiting early mornings or on Sunday afternoons to avoid crowds. It’s located just around the corner from the Whangarei Art Museum – so if you time it right, you can do a little museum hop!

The tickets are $10 NZD for an adult, $8 NZD for seniors and students, or $4 NZD for school-age children. There is also a $20 NZD ticket option for families (2 adults and up to 4 school-age children). 

Packard Motor Museum

Another museum I found interesting is the Packard Motor Museum. Here, you can see the largest collection of Packard vehicles in the world. You’ll also find engines, motorcycles, motor cars and other kinds of machinery. It may seem like a car enthusiast’s museum, but even I found it fascinating (and believe me, I’m not a huge car person!).

The museum is located about a 15-minute drive from Whangarei and is open Wednesday to Saturday from 10 am – 4 pm. Tickets are $20 NZD for adults, $10 NZD for children (ages 6-16), and free for those under 6.

17. Visit Hundertwasser Art Centre

Hundertwasser Art Centre 
Photo credit: Hundertwasser Art Centre

The Hundertwasser Art Centre was definitely one of the most unique experiences I’ve had in Whangarei. This museum features a large number of colorful, vibrant pieces of art created by the visionary artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser.  

Just by looking at the building from the outside, you’ll know you’re in for a treat (check out the photo above!). The architecture is so unique, and the black-and-white design is instantly recognizable.

Once inside, you’ll walk through the exhibitions and learn more about the artist and his inspirations. Trust me, this museum has some of his most creative and fascinating pieces. It took me about 1-2 hours to see everything.

I also took the guided tour, which I can’t recommend enough! It provides so much fascinating info that you wouldn’t get otherwise. It’s only offered once a day (10 am on Tuesday-Friday and 2 pm on weekends), and there are only 10 allotted spots. The guided tour is an additional $15 NZD, and I highly recommend you book it in advance online

While you’re here, don’t forget to check out the Wairau Maori Art Gallery as well. This gallery is specifically made to celebrate contemporary Maori artists and is the first of its kind in New Zealand.  

When you are done, there is a restaurant cafe as well as a museum shop waiting for you – perfect for some souvenirs or a quick bite before you go. 

The museum is open 7 days a week from 10 am – 4 pm. It’s conveniently located next to the Whangarei Art Museum and the National Clock Museum.

While you can buy tickets at the door, I recommend booking tickets in advance since it can be quite busy (especially during summer). They have several different price and time options, but to give you an idea, it cost $25 NZD when I went.

18. Enjoy the Town Basin  

For a family outing in a lively atmosphere, head to the Town Basin. Right in the heart of Whangarei, the Town Basin is the perfect area to enjoy some of the best parks, shops, and restaurants the city has to offer.  

While you’re here, you can take a nice stroll by the Hatea River on the popular Town Basin Art Trail. Although this art trail is longer, you can do as much as you’d like. The portion along the Town Basin is a 15-minute flat walkway that features lots of local sculptures and information boards. I loved this trail because it was a beautiful stroll and helped me learn more about the city.

There are also lots of benches along the trail. On a sunny day, you can sit to rest or admire the beautiful river views.  

In the area, you can also find the fascinating Clock Museum and the Whangarei Art Museum which I mentioned earlier. So if you have limited time, spend an afternoon at the Town Basin and check them all off your list. 

If you’re in the mood for a snack, we recommend stopping by the Serenity Cafe. Their freshly made paninis were so delicious I even took some to go! They serve breakfast and lunch, and meals run from $15-$30 NZD. The restaurant is open Monday to Friday from 7 am – 2 pm, Saturdays from 7 am – 2:30 pm, and Sundays from 8 am – 2:30 pm.  

The little ones will also enjoy spending some time at the Town Basin Playground, full of swings, slides, and short climbing walls. If you have kids, let them go wild while you rest on one of the benches.

When the fun is over, grab some ice cream at the NZ Fudge Farm. They make old-fashioned fudge and have a tasty selection of ice cream and drinks. They’re open weekdays from 9:30 am – 4:30 pm and weekends from 9 am – 4:30 pm.

19. Abbey Caves

Abbey Caves Glow Worms

Another great place for glow worm spotting in Whangarei is the Abbey Caves. This larger area has 3 caves in total (the Organ, Middle, and Ivy), which are all free to explore at your own leisure. So if you want a convenient way to see these awesome creatures, this is the place!

The Abbey Caves Walk is a 1-mile (1.6-kilometer) loop that links all 3 caves. Every entrance is very well marked, so there’s no way you could get lost. I was able to hike it in about 35 minutes – excluding the extended cave explorations, of course!

Getting to the Abbey Caves is quite easy and is only a 6-minute drive from Whangarei city center. There is a parking lot located here. But just as a tip – make sure you don’t leave any valuables inside if you park your car (there are warnings about car theft). 

The trail starts just off the parking lot. After about 650 meters (0.4 miles) into the trail, you’ll hit the first cave, the Organ. To enter the cave, you’ll need to climb down some large rocks, which may be a bit difficult, especially if they are wet. Just take it slow and be careful!  

Once you get inside, there are lots of dramatic rock formations to see, as well as clusters of glow worms lighting up the ceiling. Remember to turn off your flashlight to admire them in all their beauty. 

The Middle Cave is about 5 minutes away from the Organ Cave and requires some rock climbing to enter. This one was my personal favorite – the water inside was super clear and perfectly reflected the impressive stalactites. The glow worms also looked magical, like strings of fairy lights decorating the ceiling.  

Ivy Cave is the last one on the trail and also by far the hardest to explore. Unlike the other two, rock climbing doesn’t end once you enter the cave. Instead, you’ll have to keep climbing down through the cave – even past a small cascade! However, once you reach the biggest room, the views with the glow worms are breathtaking.  

You can exit this cave by going back the same way or by going further into the cave. However, going deeper into the cave may require actual swimming and the right gear. 

As you can see, Abbey Caves Walk is a bit of an adventurous one! If you want to head into the caves, make sure to bring waterproof clothing and footwear. You’ll most definitely go through patches of water that can get up to waist-high! After a rainy day, it also proves more challenging, and the trail can get muddy. 

Related Read: For even more adventure, we’ve put together a guide on the best places to go ziplining in New Zealand!

Getting to Whangarei

While there is technically an airport in Whangarei, it’s pretty small. You won’t have much luck finding international flights here.

If you are flying from outside NZ, I recommend flying to Auckland. It’s a much bigger airport with lots of international flights. Plus, you can spend a few days exploring Auckland.

From Auckland, there are a few easy ways to get to Whangarei by land. I’ll break down each below so read away! 

Drive yourself

View of the road on the way to Whangarei from Auckland, NZ
Driving to Whangarei, NZ

Driving by car is by far the easiest way to get to Whangarei from Auckland. It can also be a great chance to explore the region and turn the drive into a road trip through New Zealand.

When I drove to Whangarei, I took State Highway One. It was such a scenic journey through stunning emerald-green fields and along the coastline. The drive was about 2 hours and 45 minutes, but I’d recommend stopping to stretch those legs and snap some photos! 

If you don’t have a car yourself, I suggest renting one through Discover Cars. Most car rentals have the option to rent straight from the airport, which is quite convenient if you’re flying to Auckland on your way to Whangarei. Prices can be as low as $61 NZD per day but check out their website to see all the options.  

Another great option is renting a campervan or motorhome. Campervans are great if you want a smaller vehicle with just the basics. Renting a motorhome provides more comfort and can fit more people.

Companies like Motorhome Republic are great options, and you can customize your vehicle depending on your group size. This option is great if you’re interested in camping around Whangarei or if you’re taking a road trip across the North Island

Go on a day tour from Auckland

Bailey takes a tour through the Waipu Caves in New Zealand
Touring the Waipu Caves!

If driving yourself is not an option, you can always just book a day tour from Auckland. This is a stress-free way to get places and see cool sights along the way. 

If you’re interested in seeing some magical glowworm caves, book this Full-Day Glowworm Exploration Tour. You’ll take a scenic drive to Whangarei, stopping at top sights en route.

On this tour, my highlight was the Waipu Caves. It’s one of the best free-entry glow worm caves in the whole country. It’s one of the only caves where you can actually photograph beautiful glow worms. You’ll also receive one professional photo of you and the glow worms taken by the tour guide – the perfect memento of your trip!

After wandering around the caves, you’ll head to the Whangarei Town Basin, where you’ll get to try some great seafood chowder (included in the price!). There’s a bit of downtime which you can spend checking out the boutiques here or taking a stroll along the Hatea River. You’ll also visit Whangarei’s Kauri Park, where you can admire some of the oldest trees on the island. 

This full-day tour also includes a stop at a Honey Centre. I loved sampling all the different kinds of honey and finding some cute souvenirs and gifts. You’ll also get to visit the Auckland Sky Tower, which is a must-see in this city!

The tour runs daily, starting around 8 am. It takes about 8 hours and costs $350 NZD per person, including roundtrip transportation from your hotel in Auckland. You’ll also be gifted some flip-flops and a delicious lunch. This tour is jam-packed with lots of attractions around Whangarei, so you’ll definitely get your money’s worth!

So for a day trip full of fun and adventure, check availability and book your tour online here

Book a transfer from Auckland

For those of you who want to spend a longer time in Whangarei, you can look into one-way transfers from Auckland. I discovered this amazing local shuttle service that took me directly from Auckland Airport to the Whangarei Town Basin.

What I loved about this service is that it was super convenient and comfortable. Plus, I got to chat with some cool travelers on the journey.

The service can pick you up at airports in Auckland or at the Queen’s Wharf, and the trip takes about 3 hours. All fuel and parking fees are included in the $240 NZD price. Rest assured, you’ll also be able to take short toilet or coffee stops on the way. If you choose to book this service, do make sure you stay within their luggage limits (1 large suitcase and 1 carry-on per person).  

If you want a stress-free way to get from Auckland to Whangarei, don’t hesitate to book this shuttle online here!

Where to Stay in Whangarei

Distinction Whangarei Hotel & Conference Centre room
Photo credit: Distinction Whangarei Hotel & Conference Centre
Distinction Whangarei Hotel & Conference Centre view of the Marina
Photo credit: Distinction Whangarei Hotel & Conference Centre

While you could easily take a day trip to Whangarei, I prefer staying a few nights. It’s such a beautiful place with the perfect balance between nature and city life. So to take advantage of everything you can do here, you’ll want to book local accommodation.

There are a surprising number of places to stay in Whangarei. Having explored this town, I’ve discovered a few of my favorites. And to help you with your search, I’ve detailed them below!

Distinction Whangarei Hotel & Conference Center – $$$

The Distinction Whangarei Hotel & Conference Center is just a 10-minute walk from the Town Basin and many top museums and sights on this list. The hotel overlooks the river with comfortable and spacious rooms. It also has an indoor pool, fitness center, hot tub, restaurant, bar, and a games room with billiards. It’s my favorite place to stay in Whangarei because it really has everything you need in one convenient location.

Prices start at $204 NZD per night – which is a great deal for this quality! If you’re looking for a beautiful hotel with all the amenities, check availability and book this hotel online here!

Quest Whangarei – $$

Quest Whangarei is another great mid-range option in the heart of the city. It’s perfect for those who want to cook or want the comforts of home while on vacation. These self-contained apartments have all the amenities, including a washing machine, dishwasher, and a kitchen or kitchenette.

Prices start at $210 NZD a night, which is fantastic considering the prime location, privacy, and spacious units. For your own apartment in the city center, book your stay at Quest Whangarei online here!

BK’s Pohutakawa Lodge – $

BK’s Pohutakawa Lodge is set to a backdrop of green hills, yet only an 8-minute walk to the city center. This discount accommodation is great value for your money and comes with comfy beds, a microwave, a fridge, cooking facilities, and shared laundry machines. The setting is peaceful and quiet, and the rooms are super tidy.

There are several options, from studios with spa baths to two-bedroom apartments with prices starting at $149 NZD. For a relaxing place close to all the action, book BK’s Pohutakawa Lodge online here!

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!

You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:

  • Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
  • Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.

Thanks for reading!

Bailey takes a selfie at the top of Bream Head Scenic Reserve near Whangarei, New Zealand
Thanks for reading!

Whangarei is one of my favorite cities on the North Island. It’s so easy to access from Auckland, yet has it’s own unique vibe. From surfing and hiking to exploring museums in the Town Basin, you have your choice of activities. As such, I hope my list has helped you create the best itinerary for your trip!

If you enjoyed reading this article, check out my other blogs about New Zealand. I have everything from road trips and destination guides to detailed info on where to stay. And if you’re sticking to the North Island, I’ve hand-picked some useful blogs below.

17 Best Stops on the Drive from Taupo to Rotorua

15 BEST Things to do in Whanganui, New Zealand

33 BEST Things to do in Wellington, New Zealand