15 Best Things to Do at Whangarei Heads

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The Whangarei Heads Activities You Can’t Miss

Just a mere 20-minute drive out of Whangarei city centre is a coastal paradise waiting to be explored; a land of majestic volcanic-formed mountains, rugged cliffs and white sand beaches. This place is the Whangarei Heads and is an absolute must-do in the Northland region! Jump in the car or camper and explore the many coastal communities, swimming spots and hikes along the Whangarei Heads coastal road. Find out what sort of adventures you could be getting up to with this list of things to do at Whangarei Heads!

Starting from Onerahi at the inner bays of the Whangarei Harbour and stretching all the way to the protected reserve of Bream Head, the Whangarei Heads is the ultimate Whangarei road trip.

1. Enjoy Sensational Views from Atop Mt Manaia

This 2-hour return hike might be steep, but the sensational views make it all worth the effort! Climb to the rocky outcrops atop Mt Manaia to get some of the best views of the Whangarei Heads and Whangarei Harbour. The walk is well-maintained with gravel, steps and boardwalks. Other highlights of the walk include kauri trees and interpretation panels giving some historical and cultural context to the area.

Location: Whangarei Heads Road, approximately 28 km (17 mi) east of Whangarei. Park at the Mt Manaia Club’s car park. The walk is well signposted off the road.©

2. Hike at Bream Head (Te Whara and Peach Cove Tracks)

For a more challenging but memorable thing to do at the Whangarei Heads, don’t miss the Bream Head Scenic Reserve! The sheer cliff faces that form Bream Head are the weathered remains of volcanoes that erupted around 20 million years ago. The forest at Bream Head is a refuge for rare vegetation and wildlife including kiwis. The Te Whara Track is a 5-6 hour one-way hike, should you want to make a day of it, while there are also shorter walks like the 3-hour return Peach Cove Track which links with the Te Whara Track and provides an overnight option at the Peach Cove Hut.

Location: The Te Whara track goes between the Ocean Beach car park on Ranui Road and the Urquharts Bay car park. The Peach Cove Track can be found 4 km (2 mi) along Ocean Beach Road.

12 Best Things to Do at Whangarei Heads© Northland Inc

3. Visit Onerahi

Drive or walk along Beach Road, which circumvents the airport and gives amazing views of the Whangarei Harbour. Check out the Onerahi foreshore for some good swimming at high tide, fishing off the wharf, and a children’s playground if you’re travelling with kids.

Location: Beach Road, Onerahi.

Pilotjohn on Wikipedia© Pilotjohn on Wikipedia

4. Walk or Cycle the Onerahi and Waimahanga Walkway

Linked with the Hatea Loop Walkway in Whangarei city, the Onerahi & Waimahanga Walkway is a 6 km (4 mi) cycle and walkway taking you along a former railway route. You’ll pass through a mangrove forest rich in wildlife! The whole walkway takes about 45 minutes to complete on foot.

Location: While there are several access points to the walk, the most popular is at the end of Waimahanga Road, Onerahi.

Kahuroa on Wikipedia© Kahuroa on Wikipedia

5. Stop by Parua Bay

Parua Bay village makes a great little pitstop with cafes, shops, the Pines Golf Club and more! A great photo opportunity is down at the Parua Bay Marina to watch people launching boats and get a bite to eat at the Parua Bay Tavern along the water’s edge. If you’re willing to get your feet wet, you can also walk across the sandspit to Motukiore Island at low tide. More details about the walk can be found on the DOC website.

Location: Whangarei Heads Road, Parua Bay.

Phillip Capper on Wikipedia© Phillip Capper on Wikipedia

6. Relax or Surf on Ocean Beach

One of the most popular and pristine beaches of Whangarei Heads, Ocean Beach is a must-visit! This 5 m (3 mi) white-sand beach has powerful surf and epic sand dunes. Needless to say, surfing and bodyboarding are fantastic here, but relaxing or just taking a stroll is also an amazing way to enjoy Ocean Beach. On your way to Ocean Beach, don’t miss the Ocean Beach Lookout signposted off Ocean Beach Road. For more awesome surf beaches, see the 10 Places to Surf on the North Island.

Location: End of Ocean Beach Road, Whangarei Heads.

15 Best Things to Do at Whangarei Heads© Northland Inc

7. Check Out McLeod Bay

Another amazing little village worth stopping by is McLeod Bay. The small seaside settlement sits just below Mt Manaia and Mt Aubrey creating an astonishing backdrop. The bay has great sheltered swimming, a playground, picnic and barbecue areas. St James Church, built in 1858, provides a pleasant photo opportunity, while the floating wharf marks the beginning of a walk to the neighbouring Reotahi Beach (1 hr 30 mins return walk). For more gorgeous beaches in the area, check out the 10 Best Beaches in Whangarei.

Location: Whangarei Heads Road.

 itravelNZ on Flickr© itravelNZ® on Flickr

8. Enjoy the Walks at Reotahi Beach

Reotahi Beach is perched at the bottom of Mt Aubrey and connects to a number of walks. The 30-minute one-way Reotahia Walkway between Munroy Bay and Beach Road provides stunning views of the protected Whangarei Harbour Marine Reserve. Alternatively, take the more demanding 2-hour one-way Mt Aubrey Walk which is steep in places but, again, there are more sensational views from various lookouts as you climb high on this mountain ridge!

Location: The Mt Aubrey Walk can be started from either Tiller Park on Reotahi Road or from the car park at the end of Bay View Road at Munroy Bay. The Reotahi Walkway goes between the car park at the end of Bay View Road at Munroy Bay and the car park at the end of Beach Road.

Follash on Wikipedia© Follash on Wikipedia

9. Stop by Taurikura

Another stunning sandy beach can be found at Taurikura, which is great for kids with safe swimming and a children’s playground. You’ll also see the natural causeway or “jetty” formed by volcanic activity.

Location: Whangarei Heads Road, Taurikura.

 Phillip Capper on Flickr© Phillip Capper on Flickr

10. Walk the Smugglers Bay Loop Track

At the outer reaches of the Whangarei Harbour, Urquharts Bay gives access to a couple of walks. Take the easy-going 2-hour loop walk around Busby Head to the secluded Smugglers Bay. Not only will you see a gun emplacement set up during World War II, but the walk also leads to the white sandy beach of Smugglers Bay. Alternatively, there is a 20-minute walk crossing farmland to Smugglers Bay.

Location: Start from the Urquharts Bay car park off Urquharts Bay Road at the end of the Whangarei Heads Road.

12 Best Things to Do at Whangarei Heads© Northland Inc

11. Spot Wildlife at the Taiharuru Estuary

For an awesome off-the-beaten-track adventure, make your way northern side of the Whangarei Heads to the Taiharuru Estuary. The inlets of the estuary provide a rich ecosystem for birds and marine life, which you can see for yourself along the Te Araroa Trail that passes through the estuary or by kayak if you have your own. At the end of Taiharuru Road is McGregors Bay, a picturesque swimming beach.

Location: Taiharuru Road (off Pataua South Road) is approximately 7.5 km (4.6 mi) long and approximately 22 km (14 mi) from Whangarei city.

 Phillip Capper on Flickr© Phillip Capper on Flickr

12. Unwind in Pataua (North and South!)

For a more secluded area of the Whangarei Heads, visit Pataua with its sandy surf beach and old-worldly coastal village. There’s a campsite, swimming spots and a cool little footbridge to cross the estuary between Pataua North and Pataua South.

Location: End of Pataua South Road, approximately 29 km (18 mi) east of Whangarei.

 Andrew Lynch on Flickr© Andrew Lynch on Flickr

13. Go Horse Trekking

Take in the amazing coastal scenery and rolling farmlands of the Whangarei Heads through a horse trekking tour. Stables such as Coastal Riding Whangarei Heads offer trips for most abilities and ages, whether you’re looking for first-time riding with the kids or an experience for intermediate riders where you can even take the horses for a swim. We also list this activity in the 10 Best Luxury Experiences in Whangarei and 10 Things to Do in Whangarei with Kids.

Location: 47 Harambee Road, Taiharuru.

12 Best Things to Do at Whangarei Heads©

14. Explore Whangarei Heads by Kayak

Boasting a range of kayaking tours across Whangarei and Whangarei Heads, Pacific Coast Kayaks offers an alternative way to discover the tranquil bays and majestic scenery of the area. From the Whangarei Town Basin out to the remote Smugglers Cove at Bream Bay, the team offers small-group kayaking adventures at just about every bay we’ve already mentioned on this list.

Location: Based in Onerahi. Meeting points are arranged with the operator.

12 Best Things to Do at Whangarei Heads© Northland Inc

15. Reel in the Big Ones

Finally, enjoy a Kiwi slice of life in the Whangarei Heads with a fishing charter. Cronin Fishing Charters offers full-day and evening trips from Parua Bay, McLeod Bay and Marsden Cove, whether you’re looking to do some hardcore angling for snapper and kingfish, or just prefer a relaxing cruise around the Hen and Chicken Islands. Maximum of five passengers. Bait and tackle are supplied.

Location: 71 Ritchie Road, Parua Bay. Meeting points are arranged with the operator.

12 Best Things to Do at Whangarei Heads© Northland Inc

More Things to Do Near Whangarei Heads

That’s it for our list of things to do in Whangarei Heads. If you want to extend your trip, don’t miss the Tutukaka Coast, where you’ll find more inspiration in the 10 Best Things to Do in Tutukaka. Otherwise, follow these guides for more things to do in the area:

And if there’s anything we’ve missed, you’re likely to find it in The Complete Travel Guide to Whangarei.


The information in this guide has been compiled from our extensive research, travel and experiences across New Zealand and the South Pacific, accumulated over more than a decade of numerous visits to each destination. Additional sources for this guide include the following:

Our editorial standards: At NZ Pocket Guide, we uphold strict editorial standards to ensure accurate and quality content.

About The Author

Laura S.

This article has been reviewed and published by Laura, the editor-in-chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Laura is a first-class honours journalism graduate and a travel journalist with expertise in New Zealand and South Pacific tourism for over 10 years. She also runs travel guides for five of the top destinations in the South Pacific and is the co-host of over 250 episodes of the NZ Travel Show on YouTube.

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