How to Plan a Trip to Whangarei on a Budget
Many will agree that venturing north leaves you with no regrets! Whangarei is one of the cheapest cities to enjoy in New Zealand thanks to its huge array of free attractions. Waterfalls, glowworm caves, beaches, wildlife sanctuaries and countless walks are on the “free things to do” list, while budget accommodations are plentiful and varied enough to suit most types of budget travellers.
5 Tips for Visiting Whangarei on a Budget
- Whangarei has a huge range of free attractions. However, it’s best to have your own vehicle to visit them with ease. Alternatively, public buses provide transport in and around Whangarei and Whangarei Heads
- Whangarei has a varied selection of budget accommodations, including motels, holiday parks and hostels, most of which have cooking facilities should you want to save money on food through self-catering
- Travel in the off-season, June to September, to find deals on accommodation and activities. Be aware that some attractions have reduced hours in the off-season
- Fill your time with some of the free and cheap attractions in Whangarei
- Follow more advice in 20 Ways to Save Money When Travelling in New Zealand.
The Top Free Activities in Whangarei
Whangarei is brimming with free things to do. If you don’t believe us, just check out the 20 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Whangarei! Waterfalls, gardens, beaches and walking trails are located in and around Whangarei, filling up several days in Whangarei on a budget.
One of the free highlights of Whangarei is the magnificent 26 m (85 ft) waterfall, Whangarei Falls (Ngunguru Road, Tikipunga). The falls are just 5 km (3 mi) from the city centre and feature a short walk with several viewing areas to enjoy the tumbling water in all its glory. Extend your time here further with the Hatea River Walk which takes you to the AH Reed Kauri Park. Find out more about these walks in the 20 Best Walks in Whangarei.
Did you know you can see glowworms for free in Whangarei? The Abbey Caves (71 Abbey Caves Road), just outside of the city, offers three exciting caves nestled in farmland and unusual limestone rock formations. The caves take around two hours to visit and can be found along the Abbey Caves Road, approximately 4 km (2 mi) from the city centre.
Whangarei has a couple of excellent gardens that are well worth checking out. The Whangarei Quarry Gardens (37A Russell Road, Kensington), just off State Highway 1, is a subtropical oasis unlike anywhere else in New Zealand. Check out spiny trees and see pineapple plants and native birds dancing around the weird and wonderful tropical plants. Alternatively, Botanica (2 First Avenue) offers some interesting displays of native ferns with an eel pond, a Japanese garden and more. Find Botanica on 2 First Avenue in the city centre.
More free activities can be found at the beach! Check out the 10 Best Beaches in Whangarei for more information.
The Top Cheap Activities in Whangarei
If you’re willing to spend a little for a good time in Whangarei then you have a good selection of cheap activities to choose from.
Whangarei Native Bird Recovery Centre
For entry by donation, the Whangarei Native Bird Recovery Centre (SH14, Maunu) is a fantastic opportunity to see some native birds. In the aviaries, you could see kingfishers, moreporks, harrier hawks and even a kiwi bird, depending on what rescued birds are in recovery before being released back into the wild. The tuis here have even learned how to talk!
Next to the Native Bird Recovery Centre are more natural wonders at Kiwi North, Museum & Heritage Park (SH14, Maunu). For only around NZ$20 per adult, you have access to the complex’s kiwi house, tuatara and gecko displays, as well as a museum and a full heritage park.
Find both Kiwi North and Whangarei Native Bird Recovery Centre off State Highway 14, approximately 6 km (4 mi) from Whangarei city centre.
Claphams National Clock Museum
Finally, there are some quirky finds in Whangarei city, the quirkiest of which is Claphams Clocks (Dent Street)! Browse an intriguing array of weird and wonderful clocks, from water clocks to ancient sundials and more. For around NZ$10 per adult, it’s worth a nosy.
For more cheap experiences, check out the 20 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Whangarei.
More on Whangarei Central
The city of Whangarei sits on a marina in an area that is known by locals as the Town Basin. Like any city on Planet Earth, the centre has all the shops, services and eateries you could hope for.
Top Things to Do in Whangarei Central
Want to get cultured? Whangarei prides itself on a variety of museums, including:
- Hundertwasser Art Centre with Wairau Māori Art Gallery – The legacy of a famous Austrian artist who lived in the region and created astounding whimsical art and architecture (Location: Dent Street, Town Basin).
- Claphams National Clock Museum – Think you know clocks? Think again! This museum has the largest collection of timekeepers in the Southern Hemisphere. (Location: Dent Street, Town Basin).
- Kiwi North – This is not just an opportunity to see real-life kiwi and tuatara, but the museum teaches about the region’s Maori and European history. (Location: Maunu along State Highway 14).
- Whangarei Art Museum – From heritage to contemporary, see some New Zealand art. (Location: Dent Street, Town Basin).
More Art Galleries in Whangarei Central
For more art, there are heaps of galleries scattered throughout the city centre. To name a few, there is the Reyburn House Art Gallery (17 Reyburn House Lane), The Quarry Arts Centre (37A Russell Road, Kensington) and The Papermill (8 Kamo Road, Kensington).
Your dose of open-air art pieces can be found by taking the Hatea Loop Walkway (1-hour loop) around the marina with Maori stone sculptures and more.
Dining on a Budget in Whangarei
Our first advice for those travelling on a budget is always to cook meals in your accommodation to save money on food – we have tips in the 10 Meals Easy to Cook in a Hostel. But, well, if you must experience the local cuisine then there are a few great places in Whangarei that won’t blow your budget.
Cheap Eats in Whangarei
Experience flavours from all over the world at places like Mean’s Vietnamese Cafe (13 Rathbone Street), Khane Bahar Indian Restaurant and Bar (2/95 Kamo Road) and Turkuaz Cafe (24 Rathbone Street) – all of which are some of the most affordable eats in the city.
For a fun hip-hop theme with a creative menu of bagels, head to Biggie Bagels (7 Bank Street). If on a road trip on the Whangarei Heads Road, don’t miss having some classic Kiwi fish and chips at McLeod Bay Fish and Chips (5 Reotahi Road).
For more food-related stuff, check out The Food Guide to Whangarei.
More on Whangarei’s Inner City Parks, Mountains and Caves
If you have your own transport or take the city bus, there are some amazing parks, mountains and caves in the inner city to discover.
The most popular natural attraction in Whangarei is Whangarei Falls (Ngunguru Road, Tikipunga). The waterfall can be admired from all angles, as you take the 5-minute walk from the top of the falls, down the side and to the pool below. Basalt columns, native forest and wildlife like birds and eels make it hard to believe this is all so close to the city centre, just 5 km (3 mi)!
Parks in Whangarei
Combine your trip to Whangarei Falls with a walk along the riverside to AH Reed Kauri Park (Whareora Road) where you can get up close to the giants of New Zealand’s native forest on a Canopy Loop Walk (25-minute loop). Either walk on the tracks continuing downstream or drive to the Parihaka Reserve and Mair Park (Rurumoki Street). Explore this beautifully preserved forest area along the river or up to the summit of Mt Parihaka. This ancient volcano is a prominent feature of the Whangarei skyline and was once a pā site (a Maori fortified village). A war memorial at the summit lights up the sky at night. For more about the walks at these reserves, check out the 20 Best Walks in Whangarei & Whangarei Heads.
Nature brought to you by man, or what we like to call “gardens”, are free to walk around at your own leisure. Check out Botanica (2 First Avenue), Cafler Park (Water Street) and the Quarry Gardens (37A Russell Road, Kensington) for more picnic spots in pretty places.
The final event on our inner-city tour of Whangarei’s natural experiences is the most adventurous of them all, Abbey Caves (71 Abbey Caves Road). Delve into an underworld of stalagmites and stalactites, with the delicate glistening of the glowworms hanging from the ceiling. Wear sturdy shoes and take a torch to these caves, (which are totally free by the way). The caves are 4 km (2 mi) from the city. Take Riverside Drive, then left on Memorial Drive, right on Old Parua Bay Road then onto Abbey Caves Road.
Around Whangarei: Bream Bay
This huge bay just south of Whangarei is an absolute must-visit not just if you are a beach bum, where surf, swimming and romantic strolls on the beach are your thing, but for the inland forests, waterfall and the amazing Waipu Caves.
Natural Attractions at Bream Bay
Let’s start with all those inland beauties worth visiting:
- Piroa Falls – You can’t miss the signs from State Highway 1 just south of Waipu for the Piroa Falls turn-off. Take the 10-minute track to a pretty waterfall with swimming holes.
- Waipu Caves – Explore these limestone caves with stalagmites, stalactites and glowworms! To go deep in the caves, which extend 175 m (574 ft) long, you’ll be paddling in water so have footwear suitable for that. Plus, you will need a torch. There is also the 2 km (1.2 mi) Waipu Walkway to check out. Access Waipu Caves from Mountfield Road off State Highway 1, then take the Waipu Caves Road.
Bream Bay Beaches
Meanwhile on the seashore, of course, you have a choice of scenic beaches. Although you can swim at almost every beach along the bay, your best surf beaches are Ruakaka, Uretiti, Waipu Cove and Langs Beach. One Tree Point offers a sheltered swimming spot with picture-perfect views of Mt Manaia across the water on Whangarei Heads.
For more activities in the area, check out the 10 Best Things to Do in Waipu & Bream Bay.
Around Whangarei: Whangarei Heads
The most scenic coastal drive in the area awaits on the Whangarei Heads Road. Wind your way through bays fringed with pohutukawa trees, otherwise known as New Zealand Christmas trees because they bloom red flowers around Christmastime!
Whangarei Heads Road Trip Itinerary
Of course, on your Whangarei Road Trip, there will be plenty of reasons to pull the car over. Starting from the Whangarei Central, the first sign to look out for along the Whangarei Heads Road is the Waimahanga Walkway. This easy 45-minute walk will take you through a mangrove forest. Back on the road, stop off at Tamaterau for swimming, sailing and windsurfing. The point of the beach is also a good place for fishing off the rocks – find out more about fishing in The Guide to Fishing in New Zealand.
Option 1: McLeod Bay to Bream Head
Next up, you’ll reach an intersection, with all roads leading to great things: Pataua South Road, Taiharuru Road or continue on Whangarei Heads Road. If you continue on Whangarei Heads Road, you’ll arrive in McLeod Bay, with another great beach and BBQ area. Go fishing on the floating wharf or start a coastal walking track from here to the neighbouring Reotahi Beach. Or just drive to Reotahi Beach, just after climbing Mt Manaia. Needless to say, this 1-hour walk up the 460 m (1,509 ft) mountain provides great views of the whole area.
Back down the mountain, after passing or stopping off at a few more bays, you’ll reach Urquharts Bay. From the car park, there are numerous walking tracks in the Bream Head Scenic Reserve. The longest of which is the Te Whara Track, a 6-hour one-way hike through coastal forest which is used as a refuge for native wildlife, including kiwi. You can take a detour to the beautiful Peach Cove (3 hrs one way) where there is a Department of Conservation hut to stay in overnight. For shorter walks from Urquharts Bay car park, do the 1 hr 30 mins Smuggler’s Bay Loop Track, giving you the chance to see World War Two gun emplacements. Finally, at the end of Whangarei Heads Road is Ocean Beach for powerful surf, walks, sand dunes and awesome views.
Option 2: Pataua South Road
So what about those other roads on the intersection that were promised to lead toward great things? Well, Pataua South Road takes you to the cool coastal community of Pataua situated next to an estuary and surf beach. Take a surf lesson from Pataua North or go camping and hike Pataua Mountain in Pataua South. The footbridge that joins it all together is not only a means of getting over the estuary, but it makes a good fishing spot too.
Option 3: Taiharau Road
Venture up Taiharau Road and the Taiharuru Estuary is home to a mangrove forest, which you can kayak through to explore the unique wildlife. It’s also worth stopping off at McGregors Bay if you are into snorkelling.
For more options in the area, don’t miss our 15 Best Things to Do at Whangarei Heads!
Around Whangarei: Tutukaka Coast
When taking your trip further north from Whangarei and Whangarei Heads, check out the sand, sea, surf and sea life of the Tutukaka Coast!
Poor Knights Islands
Perhaps the biggest drawcard to the Tutukaka Coast is Poor Knights Islands, one of the world’s top scuba diving destinations (along with the 10 Best Places to Scuba Dive in New Zealand). The marine and nature reserve is jam-packed with wildlife, from the dry land species like the tuatara, New Zealand’s “living dinosaur”, and the world’s largest insect, the weta, to more than 125 species of fish, soft corals, sponges, anemones, kelp forests, stingrays and more living in the islands’ surrounding waters. The top dive destination also features Rikoriko Cave, the largest sea cave in the world. So large, in fact, that the cave is believed to have hidden a Japanese submarine in World War Two.
The Tutukaka Marina holds several tours for diving, snorkelling and eco-tours out to the islands, such as Dive! Tutukaka, Fish Tutukaka, Perfect Day and more.
Poor Knights Islands is not the only dive site along the Tutukaka Coast. Dive trips from Tutukaka can also take you to the Twin Wreck Dives, two large navy vessels now teeming with marine life.
Swim, Surf, Explore
You are spoiled for choice with the insanely beautiful beaches, campsites and watersport activities to be had along the Tutukaka Coast. We’ve picked out some of the best spots for you.
At the southern end of the Tutukaka Coast, on the Tutukaka Coast Highway, Ngunguru is a great place to hire a kayak and explore the estuary or a surfboard to surf at Ngunguru Bay. The small seaside settlement has all your essential amenities, including ice cream! At low tide, we recommend taking the Ngunguru to Whangaumu Bay Walkway, which is a 40-minute return through rocky shores, bays and bush of the estuary.
Swimming and Surf Beaches
Although you have a lot to choose from, Sandy Bay has the biggest reputation amongst surfers in New Zealand. However, Bland Bay at the very north of the Tutukaka Coast has both a sheltered and non-sheltered part of the coast great for surfing and camping. Woolleys Bay is popular for bodyboarding. For something a bit more relaxed, try Te Maika Headland with its sheltered harbour beaches. Finally, Matapouri Bay is ideal for swimming, but don’t miss the Mermaid Rock Pools to swim in at low tide.
Stretching your legs and admiring the views is best done from the Tutukaka Head Walkway. This 1-hour return track has views stretching to Poor Knights Islands and across the coast. If you want to walk out to the lighthouse, the walk is best done at low tide. Access is via Tutukaka Reserve Road. Additionally, for more epic coastal views, walk along the Whananaki Coastal Walkway (2 hrs one way) from McAuslin Road at Sandy Bay to Whananaki South. If you head further, you can walk all the way to Whananaki on the Southern Hemisphere’s longest footbridge.
Waro Limestone Reserve
Get that final dose of weird and wonderful limestone formations in Whangarei at the Waro Limestone Reserve. The bizarre boulders are believed to be 40 million years old. Check out the craggy limestone outcrops around a lake near Hikurangi, just off State Highway 1.
For further exploration of the region, check out the 10 Best Things to Do in Tutukaka.
If You Have More Time in Whangarei…
- Play a round of golf in Whangarei City out of a selection of seven courses to choose from
- Experience the Scottish heritage of Waipu by checking out the Waipu in Tartan (July) or the Caledonian Highland Games (New Year’s Day). Plus, the Waipu Museum gives a good insight too
- Look out for intriguing shorebirds on the Ruakaka and Waipu estuaries at Beam Bay
- Cross the longest footbridge in the Southern Hemisphere in Whananaki, stretching 395 m (1,296 ft) across an estuary. Whananaki and its beaches and campsites are at the end of Whananaki North Road on the Tutukaka Coast off State Highway 1
- See farm animals, rare bird species, sand dunes, wetlands and bush all in the Mimiwhangata Coastal Park on the Tutukaka Coast. We recommend camping on the secluded Waikahoa Bay.
More About Whangarei
That’s it from the travel guide to Whangarei on a budget. For more insightful guides, set your eyes on these:
- 10 Best Motels in Whangarei
- 20 Best Things to Do in Whangarei
- The Complete Travel Guide to Whangarei
Finally, check out even more money-saving tips in The Travel Guide to New Zealand on a Budget.