The beautiful Whangarei Heads, right on our back doorstep, is rich in history, stunning scenery, enchanting places to explore, and with a gem of a watering hole where you can grab a fab bite to eat. Jodi Bryant outlines some ideas for a day spent in this neck of the woods.
We all love our grand maunga Mt Manaia but, this day, I decided to try climbing a different mountain. So, to the more inconspicuous nearby Mt Aubrey it was.
From a small carpark on Reotahi Rd, leads the track up many flights of stairs where, within 15 minutes, you emerge at a large platform rock with breath-taking views overlooking the circular white sand expanses of Marsden Bay port across the harbour to one side and the McLeod Bay settlement to the other. Mt Manaia looms majestically close by as it does throughout the walk.
To be honest, this would be a riveting adventure in itself if you can handle a few steep stairs, with plenty to look at on the way up, before grabbing some stunning shots and heading back down. But we pushed on, keen to explore.
Being part of the remains of an ancient chain of volcanos in the area, which includes Mt Manaia, the Mt Aubrey walk is scattered with volcanic rocks – both small and large – which is part of the appeal. More on that later.
There was more uphill and flat before the ascent, which seemed to go on forever. There are steps but it still requires careful tread. Finally, we reached a point with the option of heading right, along the coastal walk back to the car park, or left, which takes you down to Little Munro Bay. We opted for the latter and were rewarded with some more spectacular photo opportunities before viewing the steep ongoing road ahead. On this scorching day, it was a challenge but the ice cream from the cafe at the top made up for it.
All up, it took us two hours but that was with a lot of photo stops and 20-minute sit-down at the cafe. Next time, I will go the coastal way for some more scenic exploration.
And now for some history: Ever wondered about all those large rocks? The Whangarei Heads area has a variety of different extinct and weathered volcanoes that erupted over a period of about four million years to approximately 20 million years ago. To cut a long story (with lots of big geological words) short, as a result, formations were formed below. Clearly, I am no geologist and you can read the full story on these in the True Tales of Whangarei Heads.
Little Munro Bay has some good examples of these formations and another fascinating formation is the natural wharf at Taurikura Bay. But I grew up with the Maori legend, that the natural volcanic rock causeway disappearing into the sea is an unfinished work for the great chief Manaia whose wahine was across the harbour. Before it was finished, he had tired of her and the bridge was never completed.
There are so many intriguing legendary stories of the area but that's probably enough history for one day. For now, it's almost time to go home. But there's just one more stop … Parua Bay Tavern
A popular stop-off for a cool drink or meal is the Parua Bay Tavern. There you can sit at a picnic table or lounge on a beanbag on the expansive waterfront lawn and admire the extensive views, including the mountain you've just conquered. Or watch people arrive by boat via the tavern's own jetty!
Kids are kept entertained frolicking on the lawn, climbing the large Pohutukawa tree or walking along the jetty. For a better outlook still, there are tables above on the large decks – both enclosed or exposed.
Then there's the interior, steeping in history. The original Parua Bay Tavern opened in the 1880s on Ritchie Rd, before it was destroyed by fire in 1937. The following year, the licence was transferred to the old Creamery site where it remains today.
While overlooking the bay where the orcas and dolphins swim amongst the moored boats, enjoy a delicious beverage or sample from the Parua Bay Tavern's famous classic menu, which includes their popular fish and chips, calamari, stone-baked pizzas and burger selection.
Not only is the tavern popular with Whangarei Heads locals, many make it a special destination for lunch, dinner and celebrations or even just a drink. The venue hosts a large number of big screens showing all the latest sports, a fabulous music system, a TAB self-service and pool tables.
Cheers, it's time to wet the whistle and tuck into some yummy kai.