Northland is well-known for a number of wonderful attractions - the beautiful Bay of Islands, Cape Reinga at the tip of the country where the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea meet, 90 Mile Beach to the west and the giant Kauri forests where you can marvel at the awesome Tane Mahuta.
Now, living here, we're finding out that there's so much more to this incredible region. It's full of surprises and we know that we'll need to be here an awful lot longer to truly discover what's on offer. Here, we'll let you know about the cool stuff we stumble across, from a few minutes Down the Road to places a bit further afield...
RIGHT IN OUR BACKYARD
There's 30 acres of our lovely Northland bush to enjoy right on your doorstep, surrounded by DOC reserve, kiwi can be heard calling at night. While we're still yet to walk every bit of it ourselves there is a wide, winding track that leads down the valley to where a rocky bottom stream runs through. The clearing just before the stream makes a perfect picnic spot and there are a couple of swimming holes to cool off in. Of course, the walk down does mean a bit of a hike back up and some parts are pretty steep, but with a few stops along the way to take a breather and enjoy the bush and birds it's a great way to get your exercise for the day.
Details: The walk down takes around 10-15 minutes and the return trip at a leisurely pace is about 30 minutes.
Good walking shoes are recommended, togs for a cool-off in the stream, a small backpack with a towel / blanket, water bottle and some picnic goodies make this a lovely bush experience.
DOWN THE ROAD - WITHIN A 15 MINUTE DRIVE
- Just a short drive back towards the town centre is the unassuming, but very cool Abbey Caves. Three significant caves set on 18.7 hectares of rolling meadows with naturally sculpted limestone outcrops. The reserve is a gorgeous place to visit even if you're not going to venture into the caves, with two areas of native forest and lots of peaceful places to soak up the natural surrounds and enjoy a picnic. You can read more about the cave experience in our blog post here, you're sure to come across thousands of glowworms and lots of stalactites/stalagmites.
Details: 10 minutes drive from the Orchard Cottage. There's a small car parking area by the sign posted entrance, entry to the reserve is down some steps (400 metres down). Often there will be volunteers present who will provide you with a map and watch visitor cars while you're at the caves. We recommend taking a good torch and be prepared to get wet if you're going into the caves, most have watery walkways between ankle and knee deep.
Whangarei Falls via A.H. Reed Memorial Kauri Park - Just a little further in towards the town centre is the A.H. Reed Memorial Kauri Park. A fantastic, easy walk to enjoy any time of year. The short canopy walk through the Kauri park (definitely recommended) takes you through lovely native bush and to some beautiful large Kauri trees. After this, follow the signposted track along the Hatea River and through to the Whangarei Falls. We think this is the best way to experience the falls, the walk is picturesque and the falls are an awesome climax. Along the way you'll pass a couple of fantastic swimming holes, one in particular, close to the swing bridge has a rope swing that is really worth a shot. Again, loads of places to park up with a picnic and enjoy the natural beauty.
Details: 15 minutes drive from the Orchard Cottage, the car park is well sign posted and public toilets are available. The walk is easy going on a well maintained track through bush and pasture. At a leisurely pace it's about 30 - 40 minutes each way. We recommend you take your togs and a picnic, or from here you're a quick 5 minute drive to town to cafe's, restaurants and shopping.
Hatea River Walk - From the A.H.Reed Park, it's just 1km towards town where another section of the river walk continues. On a well maintained track, this walk follows the Hatea river through to Mair Park. The well established native bush walk makes for an easy and relaxing journey and then crosses the bridge and leads to Mair Park. A small playground and sweeping lawn surrounded by large native trees make a great place for a rest.
Details: You can walk the road link from A.H.Reed Park or start at the car park on Whareora Road. The walk to Mair Park is around 40 - 50 minutes where there are public toilets available. From Mair Park you can continue on and walk right into the Town Basin which is about another 20 - 30 minutes. You can see maps and read more about these walks here.
Pataua Beaches (North & South) - In the other direction towards the coast, along Whangarei Heads Road is our favourite beach (well, beaches actually). Follow your nose to the end of the road and you arrive at Pataua South, a large inlet offering calm waters, safe swimming and great for kayaking or paddle boarding. There's a foot bridge that leads to Pataua North which is hugely popular with kids and the young at heart for a jump into the ocean. Once over, the inlet side is dotted with lovely old Pohutukawa trees leaning over the white sand providing welcome shade on hot days. Walk further around the point and you'll come to the vast ocean beach of Pataua North. Looking further north you can see the many bays of the Tutukaka Coast, walk for miles or get amongst the waves at this well-kept secret surf spot.
Back along the Pataua South side you can follow the sign to 'Treasure Island' camping ground (along Mahanga Road). Park at the signposted car park and walk over to the south end of the inlet, from here you can follow the DOC signs and pathway to another gorgeous bay with white sands and rolling waves (locals call this bay 'Frog Town'), perfect for body surfing or boogie boarding. If you're up for a bit of a hike you can find the track that takes you right to the top of the peak at the end of the inlet. With staggering 360 degree views, it's definitely worth the steep climb! See more in our
blog post here.
Details: A 15 minute drive from the Orchard Cottage, prepare for a day at these beaches with your beaching essentials. You'll pass the Parua Bay Village shops on your way where you can stop in for refreshments if needed. In the peak summer months the Treasure Island campsite shop is open selling fresh baked goods, groceries and ice creams but apart from this there are no shops or food outlets. Public Toilets are available on both North and South beaches.
DOWN THE ROAD - 20 - 30 MINUTE DRIVE
Smugglers Cove, Whangarei Heads - A little further along the east coast, taking the turn off to Whangarei Heads, you can enjoy discovering a beautiful sheltered bay called Smugglers Cove. You'll access this lovely beach via some protected farmland and there are two choices, either directly over the hill (about 15 minutes walk) or around Busby Head which is a longer walk taking in coastal bush and stunning views.
Either way you go, the beach at Smugglers Cove is worth it. Wonderfully sheltered it makes great swimming and snorkeling. The whole area is a scenic reserve and makes an awesome day out.
Details: About 25 minutes drive from the Orchard Cottage, the entry is off Whangarei Heads Road at Urquharts Bay car park. There are public toilets at the car park, the walking tracks are clearly defined and suitable for all ages. Find out more details here.
Ocean Beach - Whangarei Heads - A well known beach to locals and regular visitors, Ocean Beach delivers exactly to it's name. Following the Whangarei Heads Road all the way to the end will lead you to the white sands and rolling waves. From the car park it's an easy wander along the track, surf lifesavers are on patrol at weekends and during summer which will guide you to the safest swimming area. It's definitely worth a scramble up the sand dunes at the north end to race back down again at speed!
Details - About 30 minutes drive from the Orchard Cottage, there are public toilets at the car park and a number of walking tracks sign posted from this area are worth the effort with stunning ocean vistas to be enjoyed.
Quarry Subtropical Gardens - A short drive inland just north of the city centre you'll find the Quarry Gardens. These beautiful gardens are the result of many hours of volunteer labour. Taking full advantage of the mild climate and plentiful rainfall, there are plants thriving here that are not often seen around other parts of the country. It's truly worth a visit, for a picnic or just for a walk, different times of the year offer different displays so lots of excuses to return any time. See more in our blog post here.
Details: 20 minutes drive from the Orchard Cottage just off State Highway 1. There's a large car park but no public toilets. There is however, a wonderful new visitor centre under construction which is due for completion towards the end of 2015. Entry is by donation. Check out the
Quarry Garden website.
Hatea Loop - A Shared Pathway - Right in the centre of town is a great little walk that, in our opinion provides a completely different perspective on the city centre. The walk is around 4.2km long and takes you from the Town Basin, you can access it at many other places but this is a great place to start and finish being a hub of shops, art galleries and cafes. For the most part it follows the harbour, it crosses Kotuitui Whitinga - the bridge across the Waiarohia Stream then crosses again over the impressive Te Matau a Pohe bridge. Leading along the river bank past BMX parks and boat sheds, returning to the Town Basin via the Canopy Bridge.
Details: About 20 minutes from the Orchard Cottage. Plenty of parking at the entrance to the Town Basin, great for all ages with a playground, sculpture walk and historic buildings along the way. Public toilets are in the Town Basin as well as the information centre, art galleries, shops and cafes.
A BIT FURTHER AFIELD - 30 -40 MINUTES DRIVE
Tutukaka Coast & Matapouri Bay – There's no denying the beauty of the awesome Tutukaka Coast. From the Orchard Cottage, you can head north and link up with Glenbervie and the coast roads without heading back into town. It's a lovely drive and once you get to the coast there are lots of reasons to stop, whether to take some photos or enjoy the many inlets and bays. The Tutukaka Marina provides a great option for something to eat with a few cafes and restaurants. In summer you'll find plenty of activity with pop-up shops and markets. This is also where many fishing charters, scenic tours and the famous Dive! Tutukaka enter the harbor for ocean adventures.
Just a bit further north is the picturesque Matapouri Bay. A hugely popular spot in summer for families and beach lovers, the swimming is fantastic and in cooler months it offers a lovely beach walk.
Details: About 30 minutes drive to the beginning of the coast. Lots of places to stop and enjoy the coast, take a right at Tutukaka Block Road for lots of little bays to discover. Tututaka Marina has a convenience store and petrol station as well as cafés and shops. Matapouri has a general store.
Whale Bay - Just over the hill from Matapouri is another stunning beach worth visiting. You can drive up to the top of the hill, park the car and walk down to this beautiful crystal water cove or you can take the walk from Matapouri Bay. Whale Bay is often very calm and sheltered, dotted with huge old Pohutukawa trees for shade, there's always a great spot to lay a blanket and enjoy a day at the beach where you feel you could be anywhere in the world. Read more about this lovely spot in our blog post here.
Details: About 40 minutes drive from the Orchard Cottage. The walking tracks are well established and suitable for most abilities. There's toilets at Whale Bay beach and in summer there will often be volunteers at the car park to watch over visitor cars while you're enjoying the day.
The awesome Quarry Subtropical Gardens.