Whangarei (slogan “Love it Here”) promotes itself as being subtropical, close to beaches, a place for family fun with a plethora of walks to choose from, and only two hours’ drive north of Auckland. The district’s 270km of beaches range from brilliant white sands to secluded harbour inlets, while for divers the world-famous Poor Knights Islands marine reserve is just 23km offshore. There certainly is something for everyone. Whangarei’s done it well. Not only is the town basin and Hatea Loop area an art and leisure precinct, with boutique shops, cafés, renowned Claphams Clock Museum and a children’s playground adding to its maritime ambience, there’s plenty to see and do as well out west at Maunu.
It’s not difficult to see why the Clarke family built where they did in 1886: the elevated site has spectacular views overlooking Whangarei harbour, Mount Manaia and Bream Head – a view that’s still impressive today despite residential development, but when it was all farm land the Clarkes must have felt like the kings of the world. Now, the Clarke homestead ‘Glorat’ forms part of a 25ha heritage park, which together with the Whangarei museum and kiwi house operate as Kiwi North. Several clubs, including the Northland Vintage Car Club and the Whangerei Stationary Engineering Club operate from Kiwi North. Visitors can see kiwi, tuatara and gecko, or wander round the heritage park and enter the historic octagonal Oruaiti Chapel, said to be the smallest church in New Zealand, if not the world, and was built from a single kauri log in 1859. It was moved to the present site in the 1880s; the reason for its design is lost in the mists of time. There are many other buildings, both replicas and original, including the Whangarei women’s jail, built in 1900. One of the more interesting, and tallest, trees is an Australian Hoop Pine. This tree is rare in New Zealand, so the owners are reluctant to remove it, but there’s a notice warning the public to beware of falling branches. We were told to allow at least two hours for a proper visit to the complex, which adjoins the Barge Showgrounds.
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