This winter, in my day job with Auckland’s ferry company, I’d been working closely with the Department of Conservation (known as DOC, which is the equivalent to the US National Park Service) to promote some of their top-rated walks in Auckland. One of the walks they featured this winter was on Rangitoto Island, one of the destinations we travel to in the Hauraki Gulf. (Yeah, my job is pretty fun!)
But of course I got side-tracked looking through the other walks DOC was promoting, which were a bit further afield. Some of the tracks they dubbed as ‘the best short walks in NZ’ were in Whangerei Heads, just barely outside the Auckland region in Northland — and an area we hadn’t explored yet.
Whangerei Heads is about 2.5 hours north of Auckland, and an easy drive up State Highway 1. It’s home to a stunning peninsula full of jagged ranges and funky rock formations, plus white sand beaches. As it’s just far enough to justify staying the night, we headed out on a Saturday morning to do a short hike by afternoon, and planned a longer day walk for Sunday — all before visiting the region’s brewery, McLeod’s.
Day 1 Hike: Mt. Manaia Track
Mt. Manaia is one of the easiest walks in the area. It’s easy in that the path is clearly defined on boardwalks. But those boardwalks soon turn into steep staircases. It’s definitely a climb, but you’ll be thankful for the blazed trail in winter when alternative tracks can be very muddy. There aren’t a ton a great views on the way up, as you’re surrounded by bush, but the final climb takes you to an epic platform built around a rock formation. I’d never seen a vista point quite like it. Would highly recommend for a light day hike!
We went into downtown Whangerei for dinner. It’s not super happening, but we had a really nice dinner at The Quay Kitchen.
Day 2 Hike: Te Whara Walkway
We had heard great things about Te Whara walkway in Bream Head Reserve, which follows the entire peninsula. However, the entire track takes 5-7 hours one way and we didn’t have that kind of time or stamina. We chose to start from the Peach Cove Track and complete the Te Whara Loop, about 4 hours total. Peach Cove Track intersects with Te Whara track, and you’d then turn left to finish at Ocean Beach.
We had originally thought we’d walk right for awhile on Te Whara, before doubling back toward Ocean Beach. However, we found Peach Cove Track incredibly difficult and were pretty relieved to just reach Te Whara. Unlike Manaia, it was not a defined track, and was very muddy. We were slipping on roots and struggling to find footing on any point of elevation – it was also pretty steep, alternating between ascents and descents. (So maybe only attempt in the dry summer season!)
At the intersection to Te Whara, I can’t tell you how relieved I was to see stairs. There’s also a boulder to climb, where we rested for a bit with a view of the rock formations, watching fantails (NZ native birds!) play in the treetops. To make up for the terror of Peach Cove track, the end of the hike was absolutely incredible – walking through intensely green pastures with beach views.
Luckily, we didn’t have to double back. I would have rather hitchhiked! Once you reach Ocean Beach, it’s just a short 10-minute walk along the road to connect with the Peach Cove carpark. And the friendly horse we had said hi to on arrival was there waiting.
Necessary post-hike recovery:
Before heading all the way back to Auckland, we stopped in Waipu Beach on the way home for brews and pizza – in true Peaks + Hops fashion. We sometimes struggle to find good pizza in New Zealand, but McLeod’s Pizza Barn brewery was truly delicious. The beer was good too! They have a really fun atmosphere and a great choose-yourself tasting paddle.