12 Best Things to Do at Whangarei Heads


The Whangarei Heads Activities You Can’t Miss

Just a mere 20-minutes 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. If you want to extend your trip, don’t miss the Tutukaka Coast, where you’ll find more inspiration in the 10 Terrific Things to Do in Tutukaka.

1. Hike Up 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 of the area.

Location: Whangarei Heads Road. Park at the Mt Manaia Club’s car park. The walk is well signposted off the road.©

2. 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.

Pilotjohn on Wikipedia© Pilotjohn on Wikipedia

3. Walk or Cycle the Onerahi and Waimahanga Walkway

Linked with the Hatea Loop Walkway in Whangarei city, the Onerahi & Waimahanga Walkway is a 6km (4-mile) 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.

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

Kahuroa on Wikipedia© Kahuroa on Wikipedia

4. Hike at Bream Head

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 kiwi birds. The Te Whara Track is a 5-6 hour one-way hike, 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 4km (2 miles) along Ocean Beach Road.

 russellstreet on Flickr© russellstreet on Flickr

5. Stop by Parua Bay

Parua Bay village makes a great little pitstop with cafes, shops 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.

Location: Whangarei Heads Road.

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 5km (3 miles) white-sand beach has some powerful surf and epic sand dunes. Needless to say, surfing and bodyboarding in 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 9 Places to Surf on the North Island.

Location: Ocean Beach Road.

 russellstreet on Flickr© russellstreet on Flickr

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 nice photo opportunity, while the floating wharf marks the beginning of a walk to the neighbouring Reotahi Beach (1h30min return walk).

Location: Whangarei Heads Road.

 itravelNZ on Flickr© itravelNZ® on Flickr

8. Do 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.

 Phillip Capper on Flickr© Phillip Capper on Flickr

10. Walk the Busby Head and Bream Head 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.

 Andrew Lynch on Flickr© Andrew Lynch on Flickr

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.

Location: Taiharuru Road.

 Phillip Capper on Flickr© Phillip Capper on Flickr

12. Unwind in Pataua

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: Pataua South Road.

 Andrew Lynch on Flickr© Andrew Lynch on Flickr


Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor in chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in New Zealand over 10 years ago and with a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to travel New Zealand. She knows Aotearoa inside-out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience New Zealand’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also editor of several other South Pacific travel guides and is the co-host of NZ Pocket Guide’s live New Zealand travel Q&As on YouTube.

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