Outdoor fun and sightseeing in and around Whangārei

It costs nothing to enjoy the awesome forest walks, summit hikes, coastal drives, secluded bays and surf beaches around the Whangārei district.

Stay a while and you'll discover a massive range of free outdoor adventures that ensure you'll have plenty of travel budget left for restaurants and shopping. Pick up a rental car from the airport, visit the local isite information centre at Tarewa Park for a summary of things to see in Whangārei, then launch yourself into the glories of nature.

Outdoor fun close to the city

Top of the 'places to go in Whangārei' list is the Town Basin, where locals and travellers gather to enjoy a delicious breakfast alongside the city's marina. While you're sipping a coffee, consider the local walks that are immediately on hand.

For starters, there's the 4.2k fully accessible Hātea Loop (Huarahi o Te Whai), a rolling ball clock, camera obscura, sculpture trail, heritage trail and a fascinating bascule bridge that opens and closes.

Next there's a choice of three tracks leading up to the Mount Parihaka Lookout and Memorial. An eroded volcanic cone, this mountain has the remnants of a pā (fort) site that once housed more than two thousand people.

AH Reed Memorial Park is also a gorgeous place for wandering. It has a canopy walkway that lets you explore the native forest without damaging tree root systems. Some of the magnificent kauri trees here are more than 500 years old.

Otuihau - Whangārei Falls, a splendid horseshoe-shaped waterfall that's just over an hour's walk from the Town Basin (or you can drive there in 15 minutes). There's a loop walk at the falls, as well as lush native forest that's home to kereru (native wood pigeons), tui and fantails.

The drive to Whangārei Heads

Close to the Town Basin is Riverside Drive, the start of a glorious 33km coastal drive to Whangārei Heads. While the drive would only take you 40 minutes if you didn't stop, pausing along the way is absolutely essential.

There's a 6km biking and walking route that connects Onerahi to the Hatea Loop walk at the Town Basin. Next is Tamaterau, a harbourside picnic spot with excellent fishing off the rocks at high tide. And slightly further on is the Pines Golf Club, where visitors are always welcome.

When you get to Parua Bay you'll find a waterside local tavern. McLeods Bay is the next beauty spot to appreciate, where you can't help but notice Mt Aubrey and Mt Manaia - two ancient volcanoes with fascinating rock formations. The hike up Mt Manaia will certainly get your heart rate up, but the exertion is richly rewarded with spectacular summit views.

The Bream Head Coastal Walk winds through serene forest before revealing stunning views of land and sea.

When you get to the Urquharts Bay carpark, you'll find the Smugglers Bay Loop track leading to exquisite Smugglers Bay. In the 1860s, trading ship crews used to bury crates of New Caledonian whisky in the sand here, to dodge paying duty. Continue on to local favourite Ocean Beach, a beautiful beach looking out to the Pacific Ocean.

Exploring the Tutukākā Coast

Whangārei is the gateway to the Tutukākā Coast, an exquisite piece of Northland that's much loved by divers, fishermen and surfers. The first seaside village you get to on this driving route is Ngunguru, a lovely spot for breakfast or a between-meals ice cream, or you can keep driving to Tutukaka for more cafes and restaurants.

The Tutukākā Coast is well-known for its marina and proximity to the Poor Knights Marine Reserve, which Jacques Cousteau named in his personal Top 10 of dive sites. Every day numerous boat trips depart Tutukākā for snorkeling, diving and kayaking experiences around the Poor Knights Islands. This Marine Reserve teems with all sorts of sealife.

Continue on to stunning Matapōuri Beach and Whale Bay, and if you have a few days to spare, find a holiday home and soak up these beautiful places.

Sandy Bay is the last beach to discover before the road heads inland. There will usually be a few (or many) surfers bobbing in the waves here; it's one of New Zealand's top surfing locations.

Tāne Mahuta image courtesy of David Kirkland