Sightseeing in your own backyard has become the new norm in these strange Omicron days, so how lucky are we in Mahurangi to have such an array of places to eat, stay and play on our doorstep. This is the time to visit local attractions that you have “always been meaning to get to” or revisit local attractions which are sure to have changed since you were last there. The bonus is that you will be supporting the local hospitality industry. Here’s a few ideas to get you going, starting in the north …
Whangarei is an easy drive north from Mahurangi and a mecca for anyone interested in arts and culture. There is also lots to see and do along the way, particularly if you take the coast road through Mangawhai and Waipu – art galleries, museums and maybe a stop at Waipu Cove for a swim and morning tea. The recently opened Hundertwasser Art Centre in Whangarei is not to be missed and visitors should allow at least two-and-a-half hours to do it justice. It includes the Wairau Māori Art Gallery, which is exhibiting works by Te Tai Tokerau artists including Ralph Hotere (Te Aupōuri, Te Rarawa) and Maureen Lander (Ngāpuhi, Te Hikutu, Te Roroa). A scenic boardwalk takes you from Hundertwasser to the Hihi Aua cultural centre. After that, catch some art in the wild at the Quarry Gardens, where a wooden sculpture by Chris Booth is slowly being eaten by fungi. Over Easter local artists will open their studios to the public as part of the Whangarei Heads Arts Trail.
The Kauri Museum, at Matakohe on State Highway 12, is far more than a museum about the mighty Agathis Australia. While the story of the kauri and its role in the development of the north is a central theme, the museum has stories of the Māori of the north-eastern Kaipara, of European pioneers, of foresters and sawmillers, gum diggers and farmers, and of business people, fishers and the families who have made the area their home. Allow at least two to three hours to do the exhibits justice.
It is hard to believe that there were once residents of Port Albert who thought the settlement might one day rival Auckland. Between 1862 and 1865, about 3000 English immigrants sailed to New Zealand to establish Albertland, a nonconformist religious settlement at Port Albert. Situated on the upper reaches of the harbour, about 10 minutes west of Wellsford, today Port Albert is a quiet hamlet where life revolves around the Port Albert General Store. Renowned for its fish and chips, oysters and flounder, the kitchen also produces some of the best burgers around – beef, fish and a chicken combo.
They say a change is as good as a rest so why not try a night away at one of the area’s campgrounds, even if it is just down the road. Pakiri Beach Holiday Park, set behind the sand dunes, offers a range of accommodation options from stylish cabins to tent sites. It is the perfect place to recharge the batteries. Another option is the perennially popular Whangateau Holiday Park. Situated on the water’s edge, overlooking the Whangateau Harbour, the park shares a boundary with the Whangateau Domain, offering visitors safe swimming options, a boat ramp and plenty of open space including a children’s playground nearby.
Before stopping at the Matakana Art Gallery, one of the most established galleries in the district, wet your whistle at the Sawmill Brewery a bit further along Leigh Road. The independent brewery has a strong environment ethos and is proud to be NZ’s first B Corp certified brewery. There’s plenty on the menu to quench your thirst, as well as your appetite. Meanwhile, at the Matakana Art Gallery there is an ever-changing display of paintings, wall and garden sculpture, ceramics, selected prints, and jewellery showcasing the work of nationally known artists, as well as many emerging artists. It also features the work of many talented locals. Each artwork is individual. As gallery manager Bayley says, “You’re not going to get that exact piece ever again.”
The Warkworth Museum, nestled beside the Parry Kauri Park, is a perfect destination for the whole family. The museum’s eclectic collection of donated artefacts from the 1700s onwards tell the story of the area’s settlement, from John Anderson Brown’s original sale post of Warkworth to the boat building and orchard industries that came later. The ‘Made in our Backyards’ display was inspired by the first lockdown and showcases the resourcefulness and creativity of past generations. The museum shop features a collection of locally made goods. Outside, visitors can picnic in the grounds in the shade of the magnificent McKinney and Simpson kauri trees standing in full view of the car park.
A café with a reputation for consistently good coffee and food, Chocolate Brown has been a local favourite for years. The indoor/outdoor flow makes it the perfect place to catch-up with friends or business associates, and there is also a playroom for children. The bonus is that it adjoins a chocolaterie, which specialises in artisan chocolates, old fashioned lollies and fudge. Building on the success of the café and chocolate shop, the owner has diversified and taken the same high standard of food and hospitality enjoyed at the café to Snells Beach. The Bayside Bistro, on the waterfront at the end of Kokihi Lane, offers dine-in or takeaway service.