A captivating riverside community, Northland’s largest city caught me by surprise. Filled with the warmth of a small town surrounded by impressive nature, we found no shortage of things to do in Whangarei.
With the recent opening of the Hundertwasser Art Centre, the city is now home to two world-class museums. Plus, there are opportunities to see some of New Zealand’s most unique and often endangered animals. But for us, a visit to Whangarei is also about nature.
Amongst the outdoor things to do in Whangarei and the surrounding area are caves to explore, waterfalls to admire, hiking trails that interweave through forested areas or across farmland, surf beaches, one of the world’s best scuba diving spots, and volcanoes to climb.
Whangarei is only about 2 hours north of Auckland by car, but it’s a world away. It’s one of those places where I feel instantly relaxed.
Top things to do in Whangarei
Whangarei may not be a bustling metropolis, but there are plenty of fun and fascinating ways to keep busy. In fact, we consider each of our top five things to do in Whangarei as must-sees for any visitor.
Topping our list:
- Hundertwasser Art Centre with Wairau Māori Art Gallery
- Claphams National Clock Museum
- Walk along the town basin marina village
- Whangarei Falls
- Whangarei Quarry Gardens
Hundertwasser Art Centre with Wairau Māori Art Gallery
Explore Hundertwasser in New Zealand with us …
Location: 81 Dent Street
Hours: Daily 10am – 4pm
Entry fee applies
As we approached the Hundertwasser Art Centre, we were immediately enveloped in a world of artistic wonder. Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s creative vision is a true revelation, challenging conventional norms and inviting us to see the world through a different lens.
Even before we entered the building, the uneven floors, curved lines, and colourful tile patterns captured our imagination.
Once inside, we embarked on a guided tour, delving deeper into the artist’s life and his creative process. Our passionate guide spoke of sustainability, harmony in nature, freedom, colour, and his desire to make the world a better place.
In addition to 80 works by the artist himself, on loan from the Hundertwasser Foundation in Vienna, the centre houses the Wairau Māori Art Gallery, the first contemporary Māori Art Gallery in the country. There’s also an afforested rooftop, where a lush oasis greeted us amidst the urban landscape. Completing our visit, we enjoyed the lovely gift shop and the Aqua Cafe, where the culinary offerings perfectly accommodated my dietary requirements.
Hundertwasser Art Centre, along with two additional North Island structures, are the only examples of Hundertwasser’s architecture in the southern hemisphere, and this is the final one to be built.
If you have time for only one of the activities in Whangarei, this is it.
Claphams National Clock Museum
Location: Dent Street, Town Basin
Hours: daily 9am – 4pm, not open 30 June and Christmas day
Entry fee applies
Claphams National Clock Museum houses an impressive collection of clocks and watches spanning centuries. Their oldest items, from the 1600s, include tower clocks and grandfather clocks. And as we move through history, we even saw novelty clocks that I remember from my childhood.
Although all in two rooms, the museum holds 1,400 clocks and hundreds of watches, from delicate pocket watches to modern wristband devices. In fact, it is one of the Southern Hemisphere’s largest and most historically significant timepiece collections.
One of the highlights of the collection is the display of ornate grandfather clocks, each with its own distinct personality. My personal favourite was the variety of cuckoo clocks on display.
Jeff’s parents were avid clock collectors, so we had some prior exposure to the world of timepieces. Even with this, the best choice we made was to take a guided tour. Our passionate guide walked us through fascinating history, breathing life into every ticking masterpiece. We recommend including the tour on your list of things to do in Whangarei.
Walk along the town basin marina village
Location: Town basin along the river
Hours: always open
One of my favourite things to do in Whangarei is to take a gentle stroll along the waterfront at the town basin marina village with a return walk through the town centre. I am a bit enchanted with the colonial architecture, some that house impressive eateries or museums. I always duck into at least one cafe for a treat.
Location: Ngunguru Road
Even when we are short on time, we always stop and admire Whangarei Falls on any road trip up north. It’s a stunning masterpiece of nature that is only a few steps from the carpark and one of the popular Whangarei attractions.
It’s one of our favourite waterfalls in the area and what we believe are the best waterfalls in the country.
This impressive 26m (85ft) drop can be easily admired from above but also from the Hatea river level. An easy 30-minute loop track will take you there. Or, from here, we can walk all the way to the town basin. Just remember to bring your camera!
Whangārei Quarry Gardens
Location: 37a Russell Road, Kensington, Whangarei
Jeff and I enjoy strolling along the well-maintained paths of Whangārei Quarry Gardens. The design cleverly integrates the remnants of the former quarry, showcasing the harmonious coexistence between human intervention and the organic world.
Despite the limitations imposed by a recent landslip, Whangārei Quarry Gardens retained its enchanting charm.
Lush foliage and vibrant blooms painted a picturesque scene, and we were especially impressed by the almost 200 varieties of camellias. According to the signage, the garden is striving towards being accredited as a Camellia Garden of Excellence by the International Camellia Society.
Next time, we hope to visit between Wednesday and Sunday so we can enjoy the Quail Cafe at the gardens.
A H Reed Memorial Kauri Park
Location: Whareora Road, Tikipunga
Don’t miss AH Reed Memorial Kauri Park before you leave the Whangarei Falls area, as you can access this Kauri park via the Hatea River Walkway. It’s one of the activities in Whangārei that’s too often overlooked.
Here, a trail and boardwalk will take you through dense forest where you will want to take time to enjoy the native flora, including some 500-year-old kauri trees and nikau palm trees. The Canopy Walkway leads to Pukenui Falls.
Have a Māori cultural experience
One of the really unique opportunities in Whangarei will take you on a spiritual journey with Tu Tika Tours. Packed with authentic activities, your immersion begins as you are welcomed into your host’s home.
Experience the Māori culture for yourself, hear stories, try homemade Māori bread, and perhaps even learn some songs, make a flax flower, or prepare your own hāngi (earth oven).
You will also get a new perspective as you see Whangarei Falls, AH Reed Kauri Park, and the Mount Parihaka War Memorial (in the city) through the eyes of the indigenous people of New Zealand (Read reviews and check availability)
More things to do in Whangārei
- Rolling Ball Clock
Called the About Time Project, this mesmerizing rolling ball clock sits outside Claphams Clock Museum and is, therefore, free. Standing at 6m x 4m x 2.5m high, this kinetic sculpture was designed and built in Whangarei. There’s a live feed here. Pro tip: Check it out at 1pm New Zealand time.
- Mount Manaia
We have yet to hike this bush path up to a scenic view. But we’ve heard it’s fabulous. Unfortunately, it’s often closed due to weather events. Be sure to check the DOC site before you head out.
- Kiwi North Museum – Whangarei Museum, Nocturnal Kiwi House, and Heritage Park
Quite a combination of museum options, Kiwi North is the region’s only captive kiwi and tuatara viewing venue. There are also native geckos and other small creatures, as well as a Moa skeleton. After your visit, stop at the nearby Native Bird Recovery Centre.
- Packard Motor Museum
Here you will discover the largest collection of Packard Motor Cars in Australasia. The Packard Motor Museum also features an extensive range of other vehicles, machinery, and memorabilia from the 19th and 20th centuries. Check for discount entry tickets
- Glow in the dark mini-golf
I love the idea of a glow-in-the-dark mini-golf course, and this is the only one in the Northland region. Check for discount entry tickets
- Kamo Wildlife Sanctuary (temporarily closed)
Founded by Lion Man Craig Busch, this place is all about the big cats. It’s home to 14 big cats, including African Lions, Bengal Tigers (including a white tiger), a leopard, and a cheetah.
Things to do in Whangarei within a 30 minute drive
Be enchanted by stunning views from Mt Parihaka
Whether you drive or hike to the summit of Mt Parihaka, you won’t want to miss the expansive views from the summit, the highest point in the city. From the lookout, be sure to notice the large carved rock, former excavation sites, and interpretive signs, as this area was once home to New Zealand’s largest Māori Pā (fortified village).
Explore Abbey Caves or Waipu Cave
There are two fascinating cave networks near Whangarei. Inside either Abbey Caves or Waipu Caves, visitors discover glowworms and stalactites. We chose to explore Waipu Caves.
Abbey Caves are a series of three caves located on a two-hour loop path that winds through forest and farmland. Waipu is one cave that houses larger stalactites, plus we discovered stalagmites, glow worms deeper in the chambers, the bones of small animals, and fossil invertebrates.
Note: Due to the recent loss of a life, there is currently a rāhui in place at Abbey Caves.
Pro tip: You will want to bring a light source for either cave.
Soak in the sun at Tutukaka or dive at Poor Knights Islands
While Tutukaka is best known for its golden sand and surfing beach, it’s also one of the points where you can board a tour boat out to Poor Knights Islands. Scuba inventor Jacques Cousteau once named Poor Knights Islands on his list of top ten dive spots in the world. It’s one adventure that certified scuba divers won’t want to miss.
Relax in paradise in Whangarei Heads
A place to relax, walk, and enjoy serene coastal views and beautiful beaches.
Discover Uretiti Beach on horseback
Northland is a great place to get out and enjoy nature, and some areas, like pristine Uretiti Beach, are best seen on horseback. While we haven’t done this ourselves, the reviews of this highly rated 90-minute horse trek complement both the guides and the gentle horses. Check for discount prices
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