North is just the tops, Elisabeth Easther discovers on a trip up to Whangarei.
Where is it? The country's most northern city, in the Northland Region, 160km from Auckland, two hours if you drive and 25 minutes if you fly (lucky for some).
Bliss: When you reach the summit of the Brynderwyn Hills and see the sweeping expanse of Bream Bay and regal Whangarei Heads you'll heave a sigh of pleasure.
Origin of name: Whangarei has a few interpretations including Whangarei-te-rerenga-paraoa - "the gathering place of whales". It can also be translated as "the gathering place for chiefs" thanks to the Ngapuhi chiefs who met here to mobilise their war parties.
Population: An urban population of about 50,000, or 82,600 if you include coastal and rural communities.
Town slogan: Whangarei: Love It Here!
Town mascot: The Taniwha.
Party time: In May 1964, the Governor General officially declared the Borough of Whangarei to be a city, when its population passed 20,000. This milestone was celebrated with a week of parades, flower shows, balls, tournaments, carnivals and exhibitions, even a Miss Whangarei City competition. This year, on November 1, there'll be a huge 1960s knees up at the town basin, the theme will be "Dress, dance and dazzle like they did in 64".
Famous locals: Sam Warriner (world cup triathlete), Wade Doak (world famous diver), Sid Going (All Black), Blyth Tait (equestrian) Michael Hill (jeweller), Keith Urban (country superstar and Mr Kidman), Winston Peters (MP), Ian Jones (All Black), Dr Ingrid Visser (whale expert), Stuart and Laurel Devine (thespians).
Infamous local: John Banks.
Best website: whangareinz.com.
Big business: Tourism and Golden Bay Cement.
Sources of pride: The rich natural and cultural heritage, beautiful scenery and the talented artists and crafts people.
Here for a short time? Stop at the town basin and do the loop walkway (official opening September 13). It takes visitors on a scenic, cultural and artistic journey to the heart of the city, featuring Te Matau a Pohe, the Southern Hemisphere's largest bascule (draw) bridge.
Best reason to stop: Because it's awesome. Whangarei makes for an easy short break, it's the warmest city in New Zealand with a subtropical climate, stunning beaches and walks, great fishing, fine dining and friendly people.
Best place to take the kids: The Town Basin - grab an icecream, a coffee and some kai; take a Clapham's National Clock Museum tour and burn off some energy at the playground or by walking, scootering or biking the loop walkway.
Or: Visit Kiwi North and clap eyes on kiwi and tuatara. If your visit coincides with a Live Day there'll be a range of activities, too.
Best playground: Three of the best are at the Town Basin, Mander Park on State Highway 1, and Mair Park in the Parihaka Scenic Reserves.
Best walk: The loop walkway caters for all abilities and features the sculpture and heritage trail and two very cool bridges. If it's bush, river and waterfalls you're after, try AH Reed Kauri Park and the Whangarei Falls. The Green Flag Award Winning Parihaka Scenic Reserves in the centre of town offers breathtaking views. Or scamper round Pukenui Forest or the Bream Head Scenic Reserve at the end of the Whangarei Heads Peninsula.
Best swim: So many to choose from, including Whale Bay, the Matapouri Mermaid Pool and Waipu Cove. Then there's Ocean Beach for wave action, Ruakaka Beach for white sands, or the Aquatic Centre if you don't want salt.
Best museum: The district is saturated with Maori and early settler history. Start with Whangarei Art Museum, Claphams National Clock Museum, Packard and Pioneer auto museum or Reyburn House Art Gallery at the Town Basin.
Tops for coffee: Tricky, as they're all good but Deluca on Rust Avenue, The Office Cafe at Maungatapere and Helena Bay Gallery & Cafe all deserve a mention.
Best bakery: Again, you're spoiled for choice but Mill Rd Four Square is where the mayor gets her cakes.
Best mountain biking: Parihaka Mountain Biking Park is fabulous with 11 tracks to choose from, graded beginner to advanced.
Sea fun: Diving or cruising to the Poor Knight Islands Marine Reserve, rated as one of the best dive spots in the world and currently being considered for World Heritage status.
Best-kept secret: Sorry locals, but Mimiwhangata Coastal Park is delightful thanks to the lack of people. Managed by DoC, the park features a marine park, broad beaches and sand dunes with significant pockets of ancient coastal forest, wetlands and farmland. The birdlife is booming, thanks to recreated ponds and surrounding wetlands that are home to the rare brown teal (pateke) spotless crake and bittern.
Bird words: Whangarei is renowned for recovery and pest control programmes, causing a dramatic increase of birdlife to the district and offshore islands. For starters, check out Backyard Kiwi, the Bream Head Conservation Trust, the Department of Conservation, Matakohe/Limestone Island and Kiwi Coast.
But wait, there's more: Whangarei offers top-notch theatrical, musical, cultural and operatic performances, the local talent is astonishing.
Visitors say: You're so lucky to live here.
Locals say: Don't we know it.
Thanks to Sheryl Mai, Whangarei's wonderful mayor, more than just a city face.