Kia ora: Whangarei Heads

Drink in the gorgeous views on one of the many hikes, says Elisabeth Easther.

Stop at the Taurikura General Store for an icecream. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user Phillip Capper
Stop at the Taurikura General Store for an icecream. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user Phillip Capper

Where is it? On the northern side of Whangarei Harbour, 29km from Whangarei, or two hours' drive from Auckland.

Origin of name: Whangarei is Maori for "Harbour of Plenty".

Population: There are 3500 permanent residents, with the population swelling significantly over summer.

Town slogan: Whangarei Heads doesn't have its own but Whangarei uses "Love it Here!"

Town mascot: The majestic peak of Mt Manaia towers 400m above sea level and there's a wonderful walk to the summit if you fancy.

Interesting: In 1805, a young Maori named "Moyhanger" was selected to visit England (although his name was more likely Mahanga).

From the Parawhau tribe, Mahanga was the first Maori to visit the Northern Hemisphere (that we know of) and also the first man to father a part-Maori child in England.

Location, location, location: The Whangarei Heads stood in for the islands of Tahiti in the 1984 movie The Bounty starring Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins.

Best websites: discoverwhangareiheads.co.nz; whangareiheadstourism.co.nz.

Biggest business: Tourism - there are over 30 establishments providing accommodation on the peninsula, catering from no frills B&Bs to fully-catered five-star lodges.

Source of pride: The area's natural beauty. Bream Head Scenic Reserve is astonishingly pretty and many of the walks are regarded as some of the North Island's most scenic.

Town fiestas: Whangarei Heads Arts Trail sees over 35 local artists open their studios to the public over Easter. The Funky Fishing and Dive Competition is great fun and raises funds for the local school.

Here for a short time: Drive along the sheltered inner harbour bays and visit Ocean Beach - spectacular.

Best reason to stop: Because it's paradise on Earth (and sea) and only two hours from Auckland.

Best place to take the kids: Kauri Mountain Beach is stunning and mostly deserted, with great trees for climbing and a beach to sell your soul for.

Best park: Taurikura is a sheltered bay with a fabulous playground and, if you fancy an icecream, the Taurikura General Store is just round the corner.

Best walk: The one-hour Loop track around Busby Head to Smugglers Cove is a lovely 3km trot. History buffs can look for evidence of Maori occupation, including a defensive pa on Busby Head, whare terraces, food storage pits and an almost continuous midden that reflects the wealth of kai moana locals had to sustain themselves. Most of the local tracks are council or DoC maintained which makes them very enjoyable and well cared for.

Famous patron: The Bream Head Conservation Trust's founding patron was Sir Edmund Hillary. He took on the mantle of patron because he fervently believed the natural beauty of the area needed to be preserved.

Best view: Hike to the summit of Mt Manaia for eye-gougingly good views of the inner harbour and Bream Head with the Hen and Chicken Islands in the distance.

Best swim: Ocean Beach, hands down, with lifeguards patrolling over summer to help keep swimmers safe.

Best art workshop: Visit Culina Glass where Justin will be happy to give a demonstration if he's blowing that day. Call ahead - ph (09) 436 1014 - as watching him work is mesmerising.

Tops for coffee: Newday Cafe & Catering in Parua Bay makes great coffee - and they do really healthy food, too.

Best bakery: The Mediterranean bakery in Parua Bay Village bakes fresh croissants and make seriously good pizzas.

Wet your whistle: The Parua Bay Tavern on the waterfront is a magical spot. First, it was a butter factory, then a hotel and now it's a classic pub - the first beer was poured here in 1902. The Travel Editor swears by it as a venue for watching test rugby. Or trundle down to the Mt Manaia Club at the foot of the mountain where everyone's welcome. Have a friendly Club member sign you in then enjoy a delicious meal while sitting on the deck, looking up the harbour over to McLeod Bay.

Delicious: The Deck Cafe (3 Reotahi Rd, McLeod Bay) is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sit on the eponymous deck, admire the views and enjoy a nice cold drink. They do great takeaways, too.

Best adventure: Hike from Smugglers Cove across Bream Head Scenic Reserve to Ocean Beach. You'll want to be fit for this five-hour, 7.5km ramble, as it's demanding as well as gorgeous

Other fun stuff: Why not try surfing, fishing, diving, kayaking, horse riding, yoga or take a scenic flight?

Best-kept secret: Head for the northern end of Ocean Beach known as Kauri Mountain Beach. You'll have to drive across a paddock and walk down a clay bank to get there but it's worth it. On a busy day you might run into a couple of surfers and a lone horse rider. On a quieter day, you'll have the place to yourself.

Wildlife: There are loads of native birds and, what's super-cool is one of New Zealand's five kiwi reserves is here and it's been hugely successful with current estimates putting the population at around 500 and growing steadily.

When a local has visitors stay: They take them to one of the many beaches to swim, walk or gather seafood.

Safety warnings: Don't climb the mountains if it's been pouring with rain and swim between the flags on Ocean Beach when it's patrolled.

Visitors say: [speechless].

Locals say: Cat got your tongue?

Thanks to Susanne Olsen for spilling the beans.

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