While many Waitangi weekend events may be cancelled, due to the Covid red light, there are still plenty of ways to make the most of the long weekend. This week, Jodi Bryant takes a look at the region through the eyes of a tourist.
Only an hour's drive from Whangārei, Mangawhai makes a good destination roadie featuring the Mangawhai Tavern Market (Saturday morning), followed by a pub lunch, visit to the chocolate factory and stunning surf beach. There is also a ton of fun all in the one location at Mangawhai Activity Zone. There you will find an extensive playground, outdoor fitness gym, skate park, bike pump tracks, tennis, netball and basketball court, all-weather cricket pitch, junior soccer field, walking tracks, barbecue and picnic areas.
Across the State Highway, Dargaville Rail & River runs a guided self-drive rail tour on the Dargaville branch rail line through countryside that not many people get to see. It gives a totally different perspective of our amazing countryside on the modified golf carts. You will see native forest and run alongside the mighty Northern Wairoa river and then cross it on a 500m bridge and through tunnels.
Just 30 minutes from Dargaville, are Kai Iwi Lakes, renowned for their jewel-like beauty and clear waters. Each lake is fringed with pure white sand and there are shallow areas that are ideal for swimming or you can paddle a kayak.
If you're cruising along the west coast, you would have to stop at Tāne Mahuta – the "Lord of the Forest", a giant kauri tree in the Waipoua Forest. Its age is estimated to be over 2000 years and, at about 52m tall, is the largest kauri known to stand today.
Other giant kauri are found nearby, notably Te Matua Ngahere – the "Father of the Forest" and, with a trunk over 5m in diameter, believed to be the widest girth of any kauri tree in New Zealand.
Tane Mahuta is much higher than Te Matua Ngahere - but doesn't have the same impressive bulk. It was discovered and identified in early January 1924 when contractors surveyed the present State Highway 12 route through the forest.
Further up, one can re-live the tale of Opo, the friendly dolphin who became famous during the summer of 1955-1956, after the young, wild female bottlenose dolphin swam into the harbour and enchanted residents of the Northland seaside town.
Over on the east coast, Doubtless Bay and the Karikari Peninsula offer many stunning beaches – from the white, powdery sand and clear waters of Rangiputa, to the golden-sanded Cable Bay, with a visit to the postcard-perfect Matai Bay, another must.
It is on this peninsula you will find Coca Cola Lake. The red/brown colour is due to the natural peat and tannins staining the water and, true to its name, does look like cola but, sorry kids, no straws, as that's where the similarities end.
The harbourside town of Mangonui is lined with boutique shops and historic buildings, where one can stroll along the boardwalk to the busy wharf with usually plenty of action from fishers hauling in their catch. Next door is the famous Mangonui Fish Shop set atop the pier where you can take your fresh fish and dine in. A drink at the 1905 Mangonui Hotel across the road could be on the cards – the hotel has long been the town's social hub - and Heritage New Zealand considers the two-storey building to be the most beautiful old hotel in the country. Soak up some history with its old-world charm and, as well as bantering with the friendly locals, you'll likely get to know Aurora the friendly but equally feisty resident macaw parrot.
If you've come this far and not ticked the top of the country off the list, then it's up to Cape Reinga you go. The long ribbon of sand that is Ninety Mile Beach stretches all the way up with activities ranging from surf casting to bodyboarding the sand dunes, and Shipwreck Bay provides one of the best left-hand surf breaks in the world.
Ninety Mile Beach is actually 55 miles and the story goes that early European settlers named it because they knew their horses could travel up to 30 miles a day. The trip took three days but they didn't factor in the slower pace of travelling on sand.
The remote Cape Reinga is considered the separation marker between the Tasman Sea to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east. From the lighthouse it is possible to watch the tidal race, as the two seas clash to create unsettled waters just off the coast.
The Māori name for this location means "Leaping Off Place of Spirits". They believe the Cape is where the spirits of the dead leap from the world of the living returning to their ancestral homeland.
Back down the east coast, the Bay of Islands is welcoming visitors back with (safely-distanced) open arms. While Waitangi celebrations may be off the radar and the grounds closed, its surrounds are still open for business. A multitude of cafes and restaurants await, along with many tourist attractions – both land-based and water. Take a day cruise or just the ferry over to Russell to explore or dine and, if you're feeling energetic and up for a spot of history, climb Flagstaff Hill.
Slightly inland, is Kerikeri, where you will find an attractive, vibrant and progressive town, rich in history and boasting the country's oldest wooden building, Kemp House (1821) and the oldest stone building the Stone Store (1832) both set on the riverside amongst walks and eateries.
The Old Packhouse Markets are open Saturday and Sunday. At Northland's largest market, as well as the hub where many locals conduct their weekly catch-up, there is a wide variety of fresh produce and edibles and stalls of jewellery, fudge, home-made soaps, as well as on-site cafes, artisan bakery and deli selling local cheeses.
Kerikeri is blessed with a unique river system, incorporating an abundance in waterfalls, including the breathtaking Rainbow Falls, which eventually runs out to sea at the Bay of Islands via the Kerikeri Basin.
Open this weekend is Art in Kerikeri's Flash Gallery at 22 Mill Lane, featuring a range of new work by local popular artists.
The Parrot Place is a bird display and breeding centre with about 300 birds, including 50 varieties from all over the world. Paths lead through subtropical gardens with water features flanked with both open and closed aviaries.
The colourful array of exotic birds is a sight to behold with many entertaining the visitors with their antics and cheeky calls. There is also a large activity park for kids alongside the coffee kiosk Sweet Tweets.
At nearby Waipapa is the Tee Tree Cafe Golf & Archery Range where, set on beautifully-manicured and peaceful surrounds punctuated only by rooster calls, you can while away time aiming balls at targets. Kid and dog-friendly, there is an adjoining cafe, small animal farm and large children's play area.
Heading back toward Whangārei, you will pass the Jack Morgan Museum at Hukerenui. If you've always meant to call in, now is the time. The museum displays the pioneering spirit of early Northland. It holds a compelling history of the lifestyles and ways of early gum diggers, bush men and miners through to the region's main industry of pastoral farming.
Jack Morgan lived all his 96 years in the Hukerenui area where his passion for collecting memorabilia from the early pioneering days began. The collection includes stationary motors, farming and household equipment, forestry etc, which he gifted to the community in 2008.
Some of the collections include the cow shed lifestyle, agriculture tools, stationary engines, forges, the old store, logging, kauri gum, from milk to cream, local history, building and joinery and the big flood display about the Hikurangi swamp flooding. The newest display features the Hukerenui Calf Club, dating back to 1954.