Being a South Islander, jaunting to Northland always feels like a glorified overseas holiday, bordering on a South Pacific mini-break. The weather and foliage is fabulously subtropical and the sun-kissed beaches are achingly gorgeous.
On my latest visit, I set my sights on some of those supremely scenic short drives from Whangarei.
Striking out from Onerahi, the Whangarei Heads Rd offers such a dramatic scenic medley of saw-toothed mountains, beaches, walkways and craft galleries, strung along the peninsula's pencil-thin road, wrapped around the indented northern shoreline of the harbour.
Every princess-pretty bay, like Munro, McLeod, McGregors and McKenzie reveals new watery vistas framed by gnarled pohutukawa trees on the foreshore, backed by handsomely maintained holiday cottages and quirky homes.
McLeod Bay is a family favourite for its sheltered swimming, nestled beneath the mighty presence of Mount Manaia.
The quaint white wooden St James Church, gracing the foreshore since 1858, completes the picture. McGregors Bay is another family crowd-pleaser, with clear waters for snorkelling and fabulous rock pools to keep the kids enthralled.
At the base of Mt Manaia, a plaque pays tribute to the district's early European settlers, Scottish Highlanders, who as you might have guessed, gave their names to many of the area's beaches.
Towering above the harbour entrance, majestic Mt Manaia's jagged peak, crowned with toothy pinnacles, dominates the skyline. It's a thousand steps up on a vigorous but manageable one hour climb through lush native forest to reach the summit.
The Hen & Chicken Islands and Bream Head, that great fixture of the Auckland weather forecast, loomed large.
Short on time, I glanced by Bream Head Scenic Reserve's spoil of walking tracks, en-route to the end of drive, which climaxes at Ocean Beach, a powerful Pacific sweep of big surf, bounded by hulking sand dunes. After the sweet tranquillity of those inner harbour coves, Ocean Beach seems all the more raw and wild.
Tracking back to Whangarei, I sauntered south for a quick rendezvous with Marsden Point, before surrendering to the seaside splendour of Bream Bay's sprawling arc of white sandy beaches and laying over at pint-sized Waipu Cove.
Steeped in Scottish heritage, the Waipu Museum showcases the great migration of the town's original 940 settlers via Nova Scotia.
I stayed at the beautifully landscaped Waipu Cove Resort, verdantly ablaze in subtropical gardens through Booking.com.
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Delights of Tutukaka Coast
Tracking back to Whangarei, I headed north on the Twin Coast Discovery Highway for the Tutukaka Coast.
Arguably the most famed of Whangarei's short drives, the two hour-long glorious loop road roams past succulent orchards, historic drystone walls, undulating farmland and formidable rock walls, before kissing the Pacific Ocean.
The Tutukaka Coast's necklace of seaside villages revel in their seclusion, proud little communities heaving with creative types' out-of-the-way restaurants showered in global accolades.
Admiring the golden view of the pristine Ngunguru Sandspit was a highlight en-route to the Tutukaka Marina Village, which was heaving with excited hordes of tourists gearing up to set off to the Poor Knights Marine Reserve.
Heading north towards Matapouri, I made my way to the Tutukaka Forest Conservation Park, home to Tane Moana. Moana may not enjoy the rock-star billing of his big brother, Tane Mahuta, but is a treasure, a survivor — the largest kauri tree on Northland's East Coast.
Reaching nearly 30 metres in height with a stunning crown, and boasting a circumference of 11 metres, Tane Moana is believed to be about 170 years old. Moana will make you work for the pleasure of an audience. It's a four hour return walk through tracts of native bush, thick with bird life.
Just north of Matapouri Bay is the crescent-shaped show-stopper of Whale Bay. Thickly fringed in native forest, ablaze in the crimson flowers of pohutukawa, off-set by custard-coloured sand and translucent blue water, it is a celestial pocket of coastal splendour.