Whangarei In The Winterless North
Zela Charlton - 23/7/99
Have you been to Northland or do you know it only from press and TV
Zela Charlton gives us her view on the area.
When do the media notice us?
Recently Whangarei was in the news. There was flooding in the town and
in other parts of Northland, so the newspapers and TV showed nice pics
people standing waist deep in water in their front gardens or of
on the way home wading along a road masquerading as a river.
A few months back I got an urgent e-mail from friends in Oz asking if
OK as they had seen/heard about awful floods in Northland.... that was
Otherwise Northland only gets national cover when another cannabis
plantation is discovered or if there is a specially interesting
at Waitangi or Cape Reinga.
Oh, yes, and when the unemployment figures are trotted out again.
The real story
All this is true. We do get rain. If we didn't the countryside and the
wouldn't be so green and lush. We also get plenty of sun and only one
two frosts in the winter, so that we can grow things like bananas and
pawpaws and don't have to worry about anti-freeze in our cars.
The climate does seem to be good for producing high quality cannabis -
that I would know from personal experience. Despite what the stats
many people up here have never come across that particular weed.
Unemployment - apart from the aforesaid cannabis growing - does seem
high up here, but some of it may be because people have found that
dole (or retirement) dollar goes further in an area where it is easy to
their own fruit and veges, catch their own fish and keep warm with
firewood on those few days when it gets chilly.
Our secret, perhaps
But maybe this is really all part of a conspiracy.
Perhaps we keep quiet about the place on purpose - like many who have
their particular place in the sun, we do not really want the rest of
world to find out about us. We tolerate tourists flocking to the Bay
Islands - even though we do not go there very much ourselves, knowing
do that there are as many other delightful hidden special spots all
our long and varied coastline. We tend to resent the increasing
development along this coast, which inevitably brings change but we do
realise it would be selfish to refuse to share.
Whangarei itself is mostly by-passed by tourists, as the authorities
made it much easier to sweep on round the Western By-pass and never
negotiate the complex one-way road systems of the City itself.
traffic is fine for us locals - we know which lane we need to be in,
we are going to turn and so on... it can be a huge discouragement for
visitors who often get lost and retreat to the By-pass again - if they
find the way back there!
The Town Basin
Those who do manage to get into the City will , with luck, find our
Basin. This is a fairly recent development and is surprisingly
sophisticated and not as 'resorty' as Paihia. It is for us locals,
and the many boaties from all round the world.
Yachts at the Whangarei Town Basin
You can sit out under the sun umbrellas sipping your flat white or
espresso, watching a game of chess played with metre high 'men' on the
black and white paving stones next to the cafe. Beyond, the various
flutter and the quietly busy activities that always seem to occupy
on and around yachts give added interest and reflect the cosmopolitan
character of the Basin.
Strolling and exploring
Then you can stroll around the special interest shops, spend time in
the three excellent small galleries, or watch the
ceramists in action.
Glass worker, Whangarei Town Basin, May 1999
These artist/craftspeople do not concentrate on
ash-trays or flower vases but make one-off pieces that are really
sculptures, original and unique.
Burning Issues Gallery, Whangarei Town Basin, May 1999
A visit to one or all of the three museums - Claphams Clocks,
Doll Museum and the Fish Museum - can be fascinating too.
Wandering a few more metres along the tidal Hatea River, bordered here
twisted mangroves, you will see the petanque ground just before you
the historic and well-maintained Reyburn House, run as an art gallery
the Northland Society of Arts.
Reyburn House, Whangarei Town Basin
In the distance the oddly shaped dome you can see the roof of the
Operatic and Dramatic Society.... a purpose built theatre that is
of three such facilities in the city.
Returning to the basin you will almost certainly be tempted by Riva's
restaurant that almost overhangs the river and where you can sit on
verandah to eat and continue to watch the activities all around.
A scenic drive
Still have some time in hand ? Drive over the bridge on the road to
Whangarei Heads and Manaia Mountain. You do not have to go the whole
There are wonderful views all along the route. The road is very bendy
so you should plan to stop and relax here and there. Perhaps pause for
lemonade in the garden of the Parua Bay Pub, or stop to watch the
in action... You will begin to understand why it is that Northlanders
mostly keep quiet about their corner of the world.
Oh dear - I should have kept quiet too or else you will come visiting
fill our car parks!
Where to stay
If you do want to come and stay you will find a variety of places to
accommodate you - unless you want a posh impersonal International
There are plenty of good comfortable motels, some like the Settlers or
Portobello, both by the river but right in town. The very best
suite there will set you back some NZ$130 for two, while smaller
range around the NZ$75. We do have backpackers places as well. Or you
like to stay with local people either in one of the many bed and
places (like the English variety) or out of town where there are Farm
Home 'stays' available, and prices there spread over a wide range.
There are plenty of places to stay and we are pretty hospitable - but
is no Casino! That's not our style!
Published with permission from NZine