A Few Days In Whangarei – Discover New Zealand.
Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist
A brief getaway to see more of New Zealand.
(This is the 15th post in a series. Missed the first 14? Click here to see them all.) Free to travel within New Zealand, I decided to take a few days to explore Whangarei. The wonderful American friends I made here have gone back to America, as I mentioned in my previous post, so this seemed like a good time to get out of our every-day surroundings for a bit.
When I arrive in Whangarei, it discover it’s not the town I thought it was. I thought I remembered passing through here on my bus up from Auckland in March but, apparently, I remembered wrong. Luckily, the bus passes by my hotel on the way in, Discovery Settlers, so I’m able to easily walk back to it. The crazy expensive cost of accomodation is one of the reasons I haven’t traveled as much throughout New Zealand. My own room in a hostel in Whangarei is the same price as a hotel room. Since I haven’t done any travel in ages, I treat myself to this hotel for two nights. Going forward, however, knowing how safe New Zealand is, compared to so many other places I’ve been, and if the virus stays down, I might check out Couchsurfing, or house sitting.
On the way to Parihaka.
Photo by Heather Markel, copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.
Though my day has been long – we got up at 6am to make a 7:15am bus – I head out to a hike right after dropping my bags at my hotel. I’ve chosen Parihaka. It looks like there’s a nice statue to see. The walk, as it always is in New Zealand, is uphill and steep. Very steep. Even the walk into town from my cottage in Kerikeri is steep. I have yet to find a place in this country that’s flat for more than 50 meters even if it’s not a hike.
I know it’s winter, but I quickly learn I’ve been blessed in Kerikeri where, up to now, I haven’t even needed to wear my socks in my open sandals. Here, in Whangarei, I am absolutely freezing to the bone. I thank Jess for passing me her wool sweater which I’ve put on, and I buy a hat from the local Hospice shop for $2. I have several layers on, and, thankfully, the hike is so steep I end up having to shed a layer, one layer, part way up.
I’m struck by two circumstances; I’m virtually alone on this mountain, and I’m not afraid to be alone. Occasionally someone passes by and says hello. It starts to rain so I pull out my umbrella. After what seems like an hour of steep uphill climbing, I meet a little girl walking downhill with two women. The little girl says, “Mom, we’re halfway down!” I groan and reply, “Oh, so that means I’m only halfway up?” I let several people pass by as my early morning start and lack of a good breakfast are beginning to catch up to me. Thankfully I have my water bottle which I use diligently.
“The beauty of Whangarei is the river walk and the many hikes from the city.”
The stone guardian at the top of this challenging but worthwhile walk.
Photos by Heather Markel. Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.
When I finally make it to the top, I’m glad I did. The view is stunning and the sky has cleared up for some beautiful photos. There’s also a beautiful stone statue to admire. It feels very special. I choose a different path down because I’m trying to get to the Hatea Walk and see the sculptures alone the river. This other direction seems closer to it. My legs are exhausted and I’m delighted that the trail actually goes downhill. The whole way, I wait for it to suddenly go up, but, thankfully, it’s all downhill from here.
A piece of the beautiful Whangarei city view.
Photo by Heather Markel, Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.
I realize I need to eat some lunch. I decide to head towards the river because I see a “café and restaurant” sign and it looks pretty. I’m glad I chose this instead of the town center. It’s so pretty to look out at the water! In fact, it becomes my favorite thing to do each day. I walk around to all the eateries and settle on Mokaba Café. They have a squid salad which sounds perfect. Apart from not realizing the squid is fried, the salad is delicious, even with that breading. The staff is really nice and the atmosphere so lovely – complete with outdoor heat-lamps and blankets – that I return here every day for a coffee. I also check out the Clapham Clock museum. It has a lot of clocks, and I peruse the gift shop, and glance through the window into the room filled with clocks, rather than entering the museum.
After lunch I head to the center of town and walk around. I find a cheap manicure spot and it’s the perfect activity for my tired body. My manicurist is a man and he’s from Vietnam. I say “thank you” in Vietnamese and we speak about the food and culture there. I tell him the best manicure of my life was in Vietnam – two hours to do intricate designs for less than the cost of a regular manicure in any other country. I head back to my hotel with newly lacquered nails, exhausted. I’m in so much pain from months of sitting and then the hiking that I look up places nearby and find Whangarai Thai Therapy. Though their website states they don’t do “special” massages (!) I brave making an appointment for the following day. I have an early dinner and fall asleep before 9.
The next morning I head out to the Quarry Gardens. In Kerikeri, I’m living down the road from a sculptor who has one there and I’d like to see it. I hear the gardens are pretty as well. On my way, I find a craft area – full of local painters, ceramic artists and more. I admire the art, then find my way to the hike. I enter a forest. It’s cold and a bit dark. I’m alone again. As I walk between trees and unintentionally break several spider webs, I get the feeling nobody has walked this trail for a while. I keep going, but I’m feeling kind of bored. The hike gets steeper. I’m so tired. But I want to see this sculpture and I told Jess I’d check out the gardens since she didn’t get a chance to when she and Aaron were here. I plod on with a little more interest when I see a sign in the road saying 1,250 meters to the garden. I still have no idea how far anything is in meters. 50 meters seems close, 250 meters seems a bit of a walk, and 1,000 meters, as it turns out, is really freaking far away. I keep walking, I keep being alone. Then I come across a sign telling me the garden is ahead, and I should proceed at my own risk. I feel like the sign is saying “you might be seriously injured or die and if either happens, that’s on you. Good luck!” I venture onwards wondering if some burly beast will come barreling out of the woods and eat me.
When I finally arrive at the garden, I’m so tired and my legs so spent, I’m getting angry just standing up. I see the sculpture, (it’s pretty amazing) and walk around part of the garden then head to the café. I figure I’ll have a bite to eat but don’t see anything I want. So, I call a taxi back to town because the last thing I want to do now is walk two hours back to town. I then realize, in my fatigue, in the newly starting rain shower, that I read the specials board at the cafe, and missed the entire menu. Oops. Locals pour in so the food must be good. Drat.
I get some lunch at No. 8 Restaurant and Bar. It pulled me in with the small sharing plates. I get pork tacos. They’re really good. My waiter seems focused on serving his friends at the table behind me, so instead of ordering a coffee, I leave as soon as the sun makes an appearance to do the sculpture walk along the Hatea river. The walk is beautiful and I’m amazed to look out to the water and see a Kingfisher. He’s just sitting there with impossibly beautiful wings. I can’t believe my luck, and no one is around to scare him off while I take photos! After a long walk I see that there are more sculptures on the other side of the river. I’m too tired to walk further, and I have my massage appointment!
I show up punctually for my 4pm appointment. I remove my shoes and follow my practitioner to a room, disrobe, and am treated to a magical massage. All the pain is pushed out of my body. I didn’t realize how badly I needed this appointment! I even have some reflexology. My practitioner, Pina, is from Thailand, so I thank her in Thai and tell her about my travels there.
On my last day in Whangarei, I attempt to see the local food and crafts market. Sadly, it’s not open yet due to Covid. When I end up at the tourist office later in the day to await my bus (by the way, they have lockers there if you ever go and want to store your bags before your departure for $2!) I learn I missed a very special ceremony that morning – the Matariki. This is the Maori word for the Pleiades and it celebrates the new year. The tourist office is really helpful, big shout-out to them! They also have an art museum which I visit while there. There’s a tribute to the Matariki there, very creative. So, at the very least, I’ve been a small part of the celebration.
Things To Do In Whangarei
Hike to Mount Parihaka
Hike to the Quarry Gardens via the Craft market
Walk along the Sculpture Park
Visit the waterfront
Get a Thai massage
Where To Eat
Quarry Gardens Cafe
No. 8 Restaurant and Bar
Where To Stay
Discovery Settlers Hotel Whangarei