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Mid-winter In The Winterless North!
Zela Charlton - 13/04/01

Many Kiwis like to have a mid-winter break. As our Christmas celebrations come as part of summer holidays we do not have a built-in excuse, as it were, for a holiday in August or September.

Some pack up their skis and head for the mountain slopes of Ruapehu or for Queenstown in the South. Good destinations of course - but things are more difficult for us who live in Northland but do not like snow very much.

We really ARE the winterless North most years. The Spring flowering bulbs and trees get very confused and there are always daffodils flowering for the Winter Solstice in my garden!

So here is a favourite drive, whatever the time of year out from Whangarei.....

Heading for the Heads from Whangarei
Cross the Hatea River out of Whangarei over one of the double bridges and pass across a causeway over mangrove swamps and thence to Onerahi, where we have our local Airport.

You could book for a scenic flight or check in for some flying lessons - but best to think about that for another day. This time, drive along Church Street, by the side of the Airport and take Cliff Street down to sea-level. Here you might like to pause for the first good look up the harbour to the distant Mt Manaia - and if you return in the evening it is worth while to have booked a meal in the Top Sail Restaurant at the water's edge, especially if it is around sunset.

There is another parking place by the Onerahi Sea Scouts hut, for a photo opportunity - but be prepared to duck as planes come in to land just above you.

Go slowly and enjoy!
Drive on and soon you are out of the 50k zone - but please be prepared to go at less than the speed limit as the road continues to be full of bends and views. It is best to be prepared to look for places to pull over to enjoy the scenery and allow those speed fiends to pass.

The road runs along the edge of the harbour for most of the way , and there are many interesting small settlements as you go, with pohutukawa fringed beaches, places to put in a boat, often the sight of a large ship coming in to Port Whangarei or, further on, tankers bringing oil to the Refinery - and always the water itself.

There are several small islands such as Limestone, each with an interesting history, as well as many peninsulas with hidden beaches and bush-clad slopes that hide their surprisingly many inhabitants.

Recreations and lifestyle
Headlands Farm Park is a whole peninsula that is a deer farm, but where people can buy a section where they build their own houses. The difference is that they are shareholders in the whole farm, and so can be involved in the deer, cattle and fruit-growing activities that take place on the land.

Handy too for The Pines Golf Course - with that fantastic view to distract from the tee or bunker. You can stop here for a round if you like - visitors are welcome - but there is still a long way to go, so plan to come back another day.

Around a corner or two is the Whangarei Cruising Club - a busy place for boaties - and a little further is Parua Bay Pub.

Parua Bay Tavern
Parua Bay Tavern - good for a meal, the scenery and bird watching
Take a drink or a coffee and a snack out into the garden at the back - yes, the view and the water are still there. Bird enthusiasts can watch the Pied Shags - or cormorants - who nest and roost in a nearby grove of mangrove trees, or fish in the incoming tide.

Settlements and history
Past the mangrove swamps is Parua Bay itself - not much to see here but a thriving and growing community based around its Community Hall and school. Here you will see a petrol pump; be sure to check the level of your tank as this is the only one out this way and there are some miles to go still.

Just past Parua Bay you will find the road branches. Leave the delights of Pataua South for another day and turn right towards the Whangarei Heads. If you like good art and crafts, keep an eye out for a flag flying on the left that announces the presence of Manaia Arts - an original, though small, purpose-built gallery and arts centre, familiar to many as a great place to attend for a creative week-end or an exciting afternoon of dance/poetry.

Art Gallery
Interior of one of several small art galleries and studios

Ship in the harbour
One of the large ships that move up the harbour
Click here for a larger version

Marsden Point Oil Refinery
You may like to take a short side road to Little Munro Bay - and a close view of Marsden Point Oil Refinery. This is the only refinery in New Zealand, and is here because of the exceptionally deep-water harbour that allows huge tankers to come in to shore. They seem out of proportion in this natural setting.

It seems a shock after all the natural beauty to see the squat shapes of tanks and the tall striped chimneys - but you did need the petrol to get there to see it, didn't you?

And there is a sort of fascination in watching the stately manoeuvring of the enormous vessels.

Drive on - again, there will not be time today to take the trail offered by the Horse Trekkers - into McLeods Bay on the far side of which there is a small shop/cafe and another Art Gallery.

Many of the bays around here bear indisputably Scottish names; as do many of the local families. There is a connection with the settlement at Waipu - and so much history that we have only time here to mention the Settlers Monument, just out of the bay on the left.

At the entrance to the walking track up to Mt Manaia there is a stone block and map bearing testament to these hardy ancestors, and also a group of carved Maori posts marking the start of the track.

Pa site entrance
Entrance to pa site - Maori carving with Mt Manaia in the background

Celtic Knot
"Celtic Knot" in the Whangarei Heads School grounds
It is supposed to be a 2hour 30 minute climb. I suppose it depends how fit you are - so allow plenty of time, yet again. Maybe another place to return to?

More on the Celts
A bit further is Whangarei Heads School, and community library, nestling right under the looming bulk of the mountain. The school is the setting for an annual week-long Celtic Camp when Scots, Irish, Welsh and other Celts come from far and wide to sing, dance and find out about their history.

At the entrance to the school is a large sculptural Celtic Rope Knot - still in the shadow of the mountain.

The Maori legend recounts that a long-ago chief stole away a woman and her children. They were pursued by the outraged husband, and all of them were turned into stone - and you can see them there, just above you.

Harbour entrance
The next bay retains its Maori name, Taurikura, and just the other side there is another place worth a visit for art lovers. Look for the sign on the right that says Studio, and call in to see Doug and Meg Chowns.... well- known local painter and screen-printer.

The road is especially delightful along this next stretch - but narrow and even the signs warn of bends to come before you reach Urquharts Bay and the end of the road up harbour.

Turn right and there is a place to leave your car - but lock it carefully and do not leave anything tempting in sight; not so bad off-season but sadly known as a place frequented from time to time by car thieves. There is a very attractive cross country short walk from here to Smugglers Cove, a small beach on the sea coast.

But the road also goes on to cross the land to the open East coast and a few minutes takes you to Ocean Beach, across an open and more exposed piece of farm land to a wide white-sand beach bordered by sand dunes and looking out to sea.

Ocean Beach
Ocean Beach on a calm day, not always as peaceful as this!
To the right there is Bream Head; in the other direction the Poor Knights islands lie on the horizon, and in front of you are the great rolling breakers that make this a fine surfing beach.... complete with life-guards and flags in season.

The road has ended now - nothing in front of you but, presumably, South America...

Drive back carefully! And plan your next trip out this way..... bring a picnic, camera, golf clubs, togs, walking shoes .... and in winter, a raincoat just in case!

Have fun!






 
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