The regional capital of Northland, at the top of New Zealand, Whangarei is a pleasant if unexciting place. Home to about 60,000 people, it has been far less affected by Auckland’s growth which has overflowed to Hamilton and Tauranga, despite the warm climate and nearby natural beauty.
The highlight was Kiwi North: Museum, Kiwi House and Heritage Park, one of the better regional museums in New Zealand, though I suspect most people go there just to see Kiwis, judging by how many people didn’t seem to make it past the animal house. This is home to colourful geckos and bugs, before the main attraction of a pair of Brown Kiwis. They are kept in a controlled environment that replicates the bush down to native plants, metre deep soil, and twice weekly rain. As they are nocturnal strong UV lights come on overnight, and it is dark during the day so that visitors can see them scurrying around looking for food. They are ultra sensitive to light so no photography is allowed.
The museum building had an eclectic range of displays, including vintage underwear, Moa bones, Maori carvings and waka, and army flags.
In the grounds is the impressive Clark Homestead, in it’s original location, complete with high ceilings and a fetching veranda. Next to it is a charming tiny writers studio.
Nearby is New Zealand’s smallest church, Oruaiti Chapel, which was built from single Kauri tree in 1861.
There are many other heritage buildings that have been brought to the site or are replicas, and numerous buildings housing societies for railway, car, radio, and stationary engine enthusiasts.
Whangarei Art Museum isn’t large but presented four varied exhibitions when I visited, from the relatively modern to a beautiful painting by Goldie. In the foyer was a model of the new Hundertwasser museum under construction nearby, which should become as popular an attractions as his famous toilets in Kawakawa.
Whangarei Town Basin is filled with fancy yachts and is a pleasant, if not large, area to wander around. The main attraction is the Claphams Clock Museum, which I didn’t go inside but it would be heaven for any clock lovers.
Botanical Whangarei was surprisingly good, with pleasant grounds by a stream, and more interesting and colourful sights inside the extensive fernery and conservatory.
Outside town are the Whangarei Quarry Garden, the perfect use for an old stone quarry, which has been transformed by volunteers.
To end with a few photos from Kawakawa, just down the road from Whangarei. There is some wonderful Hundertwasser artwork, in his hometown for the last 30 years of his life. The Bay of Islands Vintage Steam Railway runs through the main street, though sadly the steam engine was replaced recently by a diesel loco.