Home to fewer than 30 people, the village, 3km off the Pacific Coast Highway (SH35), is the heart of the area first settled by the Ngati Konohi, a subtribe of Ngati Porou. Legend has it that this is where Paikea landed after riding to New Zealand from Hawaiki on the back of a whale 1000 years ago.
There are a dozen homes in Whangara, but the real centre of the community is Whitireia, the highly carved meeting house topped by a carving of Paikea riding a black whale.
Completed in 1939, the meeting house was primarily the work of master carver Pineamine Taiapa, who believed it was his best work. Taiapa's work can be seen in more than 100 marae throughout the country.
Nearby is Te Ana o Paikea, an island shaped like a whale, said to be the resting place of Paikea's whale.
Most of Whale Rider was filmed on location in Whangara, the setting of Witi Ihimaera's 1987 novel. Ihimaera is linked to the area through his mother. Most of the film's extras were untrained actors from the Whangara area.