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    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 reports?

    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 also in other parts of Northland, so the newspapers and TV showed nice pics of people standing waist deep in water in their front gardens or of children 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 I was OK as they had seen/heard about awful floods in Northland.... that was the Punguru incident.

    Otherwise Northland only gets national cover when another cannabis plantation is discovered or if there is a specially interesting protest up 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 bush wouldn't be so green and lush. We also get plenty of sun and only one or 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 - not that I would know from personal experience. Despite what the stats say, many people up here have never come across that particular weed.

    Unemployment - apart from the aforesaid cannabis growing - does seem to be high up here, but some of it may be because people have found that their dole (or retirement) dollar goes further in an area where it is easy to grow their own fruit and veges, catch their own fish and keep warm with cheap 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 found their particular place in the sun, we do not really want the rest of the world to find out about us. We tolerate tourists flocking to the Bay of Islands - even though we do not go there very much ourselves, knowing as we do that there are as many other delightful hidden special spots all around 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 have made it much easier to sweep on round the Western By-pass and never try to negotiate the complex one-way road systems of the City itself. One-way traffic is fine for us locals - we know which lane we need to be in, where 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 can find the way back there!

    The Town Basin
    Yachts at the Whangarei Town Basin
    Yachts at the Whangarei Town Basin
    Those who do manage to get into the City will , with luck, find our Town Basin. This is a fairly recent development and is surprisingly sophisticated and not as 'resorty' as Paihia. It is for us locals, really - and the many boaties from all round the world.

    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 ensigns flutter and the quietly busy activities that always seem to occupy people 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 one of the three excellent small galleries, or watch the glass-blowers or ceramists in action.

    Glass worker, Whangarei Town Basin, May 1999
    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
    Burning Issues Gallery, Whangarei Town Basin, May 1999

    A visit to one or all of the three museums - Claphams Clocks, the Doll Museum and the Fish Museum - can be fascinating too.

    Wandering a few more metres along the tidal Hatea River, bordered here by twisted mangroves, you will see the petanque ground just before you get to the historic and well-maintained Reyburn House, run as an art gallery by the Northland Society of Arts.

    Reyburn House, Whangarei Town Basin
    Reyburn House, Whangarei Town Basin

    In the distance the oddly shaped dome you can see the roof of the Whangarei Operatic and Dramatic Society.... a purpose built theatre that is again one of three such facilities in the city.

    Returning to the basin you will almost certainly be tempted by Riva's - a restaurant that almost overhangs the river and where you can sit on the 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 the Whangarei Heads and Manaia Mountain. You do not have to go the whole way. There are wonderful views all along the route. The road is very bendy and so you should plan to stop and relax here and there. Perhaps pause for a lemonade in the garden of the Parua Bay Pub, or stop to watch the golfers 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 and 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 Hotel. There are plenty of good comfortable motels, some like the Settlers or the Portobello, both by the river but right in town. The very best executive suite there will set you back some NZ$130 for two, while smaller motels range around the NZ$75. We do have backpackers places as well. Or you might like to stay with local people either in one of the many bed and breakfast places (like the English variety) or out of town where there are Farm or Home 'stays' available, and prices there spread over a wide range.

    There are plenty of places to stay and we are pretty hospitable - but there is no Casino! That's not our style!

    Published with permission from NZine