Top Tips for a Couples Winter Break in Northland

Unless you're a snow-loving ski or snowboarding enthusiast, winter in New Zealand is often a time to 'hunker down' and let the shorter, chillier days drift by without much reprieve from the daily grind. Some will punctuate the darker days with a short sun-filled break to the islands, but we also think there's a great option to satisfy those wanderlust cravings right here in the northern part of NZ.

Northland is often referred to as the 'Winterless North', and for pretty good reason. While the region certainly can't claim the tropical status of our Pacific neighbours (we're still in NZ after all!), our northern location does often deliver a much milder climate in general. And as I sit here today in the middle of June with doors wide open to welcome gentle breeze on a 20°C day, it's living up to it's reputation. 

Not all winter days are like this of course, but I thought it would be a great time to shine a little light on this time of year, and give you some of our top recommendations for a short break in Whangarei and surrounds with your significant other. For purely self-promotional reasons, we'll assume you're basing yourselves at the Orchard Cottage and have three nights to spend over a weekend. Given that Mother Nature is ultimately in the drivers seat in terms of what weather will be delivered, I'll include options for indoor and outdoor activities.  

Winter Holiday Ideas -Sunset over Whangarei

Day 1 of 4 - Arrival and First Night

Most of our guests will be making the journey from more southern locations and often by car. If this is the case and you're keen on getting amongst the local flavours of the region while you're here, then I highly recommend a stop at Origin Northland. Located conveniently in the cute and vibrant village of Waipu, this deli and artisan food market store is generously stocked with the best hand picked items from local & seasonal producers. Locals Tip: Northland is now home to many subtropical fruit growers, and winter is actually a great time to get your hands on locally grown bananas and pineapples. With incredible flavour that leaves the imported supermarket options in the dust, we highly recommend hunting out these treasures!  

Waipu is also a great little spot to grab a coffee, learn about their Scottish settlement heritage, and maybe poke around in the vintage and second hand shops.

If lunch is on the agenda before settling into your accommodation, there are lots of choices in Whangarei. You can check all our top picks here, but if I'm offer up a current favourite, it would have to be Local Talent Taverna. A relative newcomer to the culinary scene, this casual licensed eatery celebrates the best in-season local flavours with 'a nod to the Mediterranean'. The food is delicious, there's a cool vibe and the service is efficient. The experienced hospitality duo at the helm, have really hit the mark with locals and visitors alike.

Taking the 15 minute drive out of town to the Orchard Cottage will either lead you along a lovely coastal journey towards the majestic Whangarei Heads or into the more rural and native bush surrounds. Both are equally enjoyable and take the same amount of time. Settling in to your home away from home at the Orchard Cottage, you can wander the gardens and take in the views with a cup of herbal tea or something a little stronger to ease you into the afternoon and evening.

If time on the road has you yearning to stretch your legs, then our native bush track is a great option, the track is wide and meanders down into the native bush valley around 250 metres. At the bottom is an open clearing and a rocky bottom stream, feeling like you're miles from anywhere, you can drift away in the hammock with some cloud watching or simply enjoy some quiet reflection before making the trip back up to the cottage. This walk is perfect in cooler months as it will get the endorphins pumping without the hot temperatures of summer. 

A day of travel will likely leave you wanting to take things at a slower pace, so for an evening meal you could choose to rustle up something in the kitchenette or on the Weber BBQ. If you arrive on a Friday however, there is also a great option for handing the cooking duties to someone else. Owhiwa Rd Pizza is literally just down the road and is open most Friday nights throughout winter. You'll find authentic woodfired pizza and Middle Eastern inspired food at this popular neigbourhood locale with changing specials featuring fresh local ingredients - the perfect solution of an easy night in!     

Northland Food: Origin Northland, Local Talent Taverna & Owhiwa Road Pizza

Day 2 of 4 - A Daytrip of Delights

After a great night's sleep, day two of your short escape is all about exploring the sights a little further afield. Your location is an easy 1 - 1.5 hours drive to the vibrant town of Kerikeri and the incredible Bay of Islands. This suggested itinerary makes for a brilliant day with relatively short drive times between stops.

Head north through the quirky town of Kawaka and get amongst the hustle and bustle of the weekend markets at the Old Packhouse in Kerikeri, with a huge selection of fresh and ready-to-eat morsels on offer, lots of artisan market stalls, and live music there's plenty to enjoy. The markets happen no matter the weather, on both Saturdays and Sundays. If the weather isn't on your side, you can always retreat inside the large cafe space and savour some of the best fresh-from-the-oven pastries around, and great local coffee.

From here, there is a special experience that we encourage you to try, especially in winter. Ngawha Springs is a Northland Taonga (treasure) and worth the 30 minute inland drive from central Kerikeri. The culturally significant complex of 16 geothermal hot pools offers a truly regenerative experience. Temperatures vary between 19 and 43 degrees and the mineral properties of the soothing water must be experienced to really understand. The beautiful recently upgraded facilities and helpful local staff compliment a visit here.  

Northland Holiday Hot Pools at Ngawha Springs

If you're more into cultural immersion than soaking in mineral-rich waters then a 25 minute drive to Paihia is worthwhile. Here you'll find NZ's most historical site, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is packed with Māori culture and stories of the nations past. You can take part in a tour, walk the grounds, and revel in the breathtaking views across the Bay of Islands. Paihia itself is a great place to spend a little time, it's a hive of tourists in the summer, so you can enjoy a slower, quieter pace in the cooler months. Another winter attraction that's worth noting is the annual Bay of Islands Matariki Festival, which is a 3-week programme of cultural, music, and local food events celebrating the culturally significant first rising of the Pleiades star cluster. Locals Tip: Recommend to booking early for the Matariki Festival events as they quickly sell out.

As you make your way back to the cottage for the evening, and are on the hunt for a great culinary experience for dinner, I'd recommend taking a slight detour to the Tutukaka Coast to pull up a seat at Schnappa Rock. It's an institution on the coast with a team who are dedicated to serving up fresh local seafood and locally sourced ingredients with all the love. You'll find a seaside vibe, impressive sharing plates, and a thoughtful drinks list with a focus on quality local beer, wine and spirits. 

It's about a 40 minute drive back to the cottage from here and your tastebuds will thank you for the stopover.

Great Food & Drink Northland - Schnappa Rock

Day 3 of 4 - Discover Local Goodness

Waking after your second night, you may wish to make breakfast at the cottage or if you'd prefer to leave the prep and dishes to another, then a great place to start is a short 10 minute drive to Parua Bay village. Smith & Local is another local favourite, serving great coffee and an ever-changing selection of freshly prepared cabinet options, as well as tasty breakfast/brunch menu. This will set you up for a day of exploring Whangarei and if the weather is playing in your favour, then we recommend a morning spent in Whangarei Heads. With an envious number of white sand beaches and volcanic mountain ranges, you'll be spoilt for choice to take in the stunning scenery and refreshing coastal air. Whether it's to unwind on an easy beach walk or challenge yourself with a mountainous hike, during winter, it's a privilege to enjoy this memorable landscape without the summer crowds.

Winter Holiday Ideas - Wander deserted beaches Whangarei Heads

If mother nature has other plans and you're up for some arts and culture, then a trip into the Town Basin is just the ticket. The newly constructed Hundertwasser Art Centre takes pride of place here with it's vibrant, eclectic and simply fascinating exterior luring you in. An original design by Austrian-born visual artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser,  the arts centre opened in 2022. Northland became Hundertwasser's adopted home later in his life and this remains the world's last authentic Hundertwasser building to be completed. Exhibiting a impressive collection of original pieces, a visit here promises a beautiful and thought-provoking journey of art, politics, architecture, and ecology. 

With senses full and a growing appetite, you can choose from many restaurants, cafe's and eateries at the Town Basin. If you're keen to stay a little longer within the magic of this place, then look no further than Aqua Restaurant & Bar located on the first floor. Another gem that comes highly recommended with an extensive menu and attentive service within a fabulous setting.  

Feeling replete after lunch, you may choose to to take things easy with a wander and a little shopping at the many boutique gift stores here, some featuring the abundance of art and artisanal goods created by local makers. Or, if the weather permits, another special place we would recommend to spend an afternoon within the embrace of Northland's subtropical environment, is the Whangarei Quarry Gardens. This is a truly wonderful place, conceived and developed by hundreds of local volunteers from a former stone quarry. Now the gardens are an extraordinary showcase of our subtropical environment over 25 hectares. Locals Tip: The winter months are the best time to experience the Camellia Collection in bloom. If gardens and the natural environment are your thing, then this is definitely a 'must-do'. 

Your final evening at the Orchard Cottage may be the perfect time to plan a meal in and indulge with a warm evening soak in the side-by-side outdoor baths (if you haven't prioritised this already!). Sinking into a candlelit bath under stars, surrounded by our own subtropical gardens is a magical experience. Locals Tip: The baths have a head rest at one end but we also love to turn around with the rolled edge providing a lovely neck massage while taking in the full sky views.          

Arts & Culture Whangarei - Hundertwasser Arts Centre

Day 4 - A Leisurely Departure

Waking on your final day with us will hopefully leave you feeling rested and recharged. Unlike many guest homes, we have a standard check-out time of 11am, which allows you to begin your journey home at a leisurely pace. If the weather is mild, lots of guests love to spend their morning enjoying breakfast on the verandah and taking a few snaps around the property to capture some memories. 

With the car packed and hearts full, it's time to take to the road again. Our Northland roads are often in states of repair, but there's sometimes a silver lining, especially if your schedule isn't pressing. Making your way south via the East Coast will provide plenty of photo opportunities as you weave through Waipu Cove, Langs Beach, and Mangawhai. While Monday's are often a time when a lot of restaurants and cafes are closed in Northland towns, there are two 7 day options on this track that are perfect for lunch. The Cove Cafe in Waipu Cove is set overlooking the beach where you can enjoy a delicious meal, or simply grab a sweet treat and a coffee with feet in the sand and views of the ocean punctuated with the silhouette of Whangarei Heads on the horizon.

A further 30 minutes drive south will lead you to Mangawhai Village and a beautiful French-inspired setting which is home to Bennetts of Mangawhai. This family-owned artisan chocolate factory and beautiful cafe next door is definitely worth a stop, whether for lunch, to pick-up some delectable chocolate treats to take home - or both!   

This short itinerary is just a taste of the delights to enjoy in Northland. If you're foodies like us then you might also want to check-out a further 4 itineraries that take your tastebuds on tour to savour the flavours of Tai Tokerau.   

Northland Foodie Holiday Itineraries


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