Shandelle Battersby finds plenty of activities for families in and around Whangarei.
According to the locals, there are a couple of things you shouldn't miss on a family getaway to Whangarei. The first is the daily lifting of the award-winning Te Matau a Pohe bridge which crosses the Hatea River near the Cobham Oval; the second is the view you get from Mt Parihaka at sunset.
Here are some of the other ways to keep the kids entertained in this vibrant Northland city you'll find nestled between forest-clad hills and the pretty Whangarei Harbour.
Swing from the trees
Remember that film Man on Wire? Well, you can pretend you're its star at one of Adventure Forest's 10 tree-top challenge courses in the Glenbervie Forest. Staff will kit up guests of any age and ability with safety gear and after a bit of training you'll head off to negotiate wobbly bridges, swings, wire traverses, nets, ziplines, tightropes and flying foxes.
Closed until September for maintenance, Adventure Forest is usually open on weekends and during school holidays.
If you'd prefer to look at trees but not swing from them, head a few kilometres out of town to the AH Reed Kauri Park where, set among 500-year-old Kauri trees, you'll find a waterfall, walking tracks and a tree-top boardwalk.
Watch Whangarei life go by, then get in amongst it
A hotspot for yachties, the Town Basin Marina is where it's at in the city for good people-watching, dining, shopping and gallery browsing. There's also a great playground and a petanque court, and from here you can easily stroll into the city centre or take in one of the area's walkways.
One of the best is the Hatea Loop, Huarahi o te Whai, a fully accessible harbour-side track which leaves from the Basin. Along it you'll see a sculpture trail created by local artists and cross the very cool Kotuitui Whitinga and Te Matau a Pohe bridges.
Keep an eye on the time
For something a little different, how about a visit to a quirky, fun museum voted Whangarei's best on TripAdvisor. Claphams National Clock Museum, also at the Town Basin, has 1500 timepieces - the largest collection in the Southern Hemisphere. Don't miss the antique French dancing girl clock and be careful all that ticking doesn't drive you cuckoo.
You'll find more than 26 beaches northeast of the city on the Tutukaka Coast, two of which - Matapouri and Whale Bay - are considered among the most beautiful in New Zealand. Think long stretches of bush-fringed white sand and inviting turquoise waters. From Matapouri there's a fabulous coastal walkway to Whale Bay which takes just 40 minutes one way, so you can easily visit both beaches in one day.
From Tutukaka town you can visit world-famous dive spot the Poor Knights Islands on a day cruise which offers kayaking, cave exploration, snorkelling, swimming and sea-mammal spotting.
Dine al fresco
Pack a picnic and head for one of the many picturesque spots around town, most of which you can enjoy year-round thanks to the temperate climate. The Quarry Gardens on the edge of the Coronation Scenic Reserve are, as the name suggests, located on the site of a former quarry, and have waterfalls, a lake, walkways, several garden styles, and various historic remnants. Entry is by donation.
Or head 5km out of town towards the Tutukaka Coast to Whangarei Falls, a 26m waterfall and a popular picnic spot. Three viewing platforms offer different perspectives of its beauty.
For panoramic views of the city - and that unmissable sunset - go high, to Mt Parihaka, an ancient volcano cone that was once home to local Maori. After dark, the war memorial at the summit is illuminated.
Getting there: Whangarei is just over two hours' drive north of Auckland via SH1.