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The Hibiscus Coast and its seaside resorts lie between Whangaparaoa and Warkworth. While beautiful, the area is busy as it is easy accessibility lends itself to be a favourite for Aucklanders. The Whangaparaoa Peninsula is ideal for water sports lovers: Manly beach is home to windsurfers while Weiti River and Gulf harbour provide good boating. Shakespeare Regional Park offers swimming in its beautiful bays and wildlife with various birds and waders. Here the native forests contain karaka, kowhai and aged puriri. There are various walks which cross the park and include farmland walks. For more information get a copy of the Walks of the Hibiscus Coast which is available from the Hibiscus Coast Information Centre (09 426 0076). Orewa is another Auckland suburb whose main attraction is a good beach running along the highway.
Just 48km north of Auckland lies Waiwera and Thermal pools. The hot spot was first discovered by the early Maori who built a pa (fortified village), to guard it, on a nearby headland. The resort provides pools, hot springs and hydro-slides. Heading north Wenderholm Regional Park is a reserve which has strived to leave its wilderness unspoilt. The sandy beaches are edged by the pohutukawa. The park also offers walking tracks, a river estuary and the historic Couldrey House built in 1857. Puhoi, tiny village founded in 1862 by Bohemian immigrants, is worth the short detour off SH1.
Today you can walk back through time and take a look at the several early houses and church. The local library is a curiosity in itself. It is a wooden shed lying by the side of the road and possibly the smallest in New Zealand. The Puhoi Hotel also dates from the 19th century and is a classic two-story pub. Continuing along SH1 signs will direct you to turnoffs into the Mahurangi National Park. Here well-marked tracks will take you through dense native forest and punga (tree ferns) to paradise in the form of the beautiful and deserted beaches lining the Mahurangi Harbour. Wenderholm Regional Park offers canoeing and great mountain biking.
Warkworth is a pretty little town which lies off the highway. In days gone by it was connected to Auckland by steamship. Today it is a popular spot for holiday makers. Parry Kauri Park is a short distance out of town. Here you can take short forest walks and see huge and ancient kauri such as the 800 year old McKinney kauri. The little Warkworth Museum also lies within the park. Heading north for 4km you'll get the chance to find out everything you never wanted to know about sheep at Sheepworld. Continue for another 6km and you'll get to the Dome State Forest. Unfortunately, the area was logged about a century ago and is now in a state of regeneration. To get to the summit (336m) and some great views will take an hour return trip from the car park. Waiwhiu Kauri grove lies beyond the summit and provides a contrasting view of 20 unlogged mature kauri trees (3 hours).
The Kowhai Coast is a triangular coastal region extending from Warkworth to Sandspit through to Pakiri Beach. At its heart lies the Matakana Valley which is becoming more and more famous for its wine and gourmet food production. At Sandspit you can take a ferry for Kawau Island or take a dip at Algies Bay or Martins Bay.
Kawau Island offers history, walking, swimming and fishing. The main historic attraction is the Mansion House. This impressive structure dates to 1846 when it was built by Sir George Grey, a governor. It was later turned into a hotel. Today the Mansion House is a museum. From here you can walk to an old copper mine or the beach in the company of the plentiful wallabies which were introduced from Oz.
Just off the road to Leigh are the white sands and surf of Omaha beach. Leigh lies 21km northeast of Warkworth. It is a pretty little fishing village and you can charter boats to the Little Barrier and Kawau Islands. Goat Island has been a marine reserve since 1975. Its a great place to go for scuba-diving, snorkeling and swimming. In its crystal clear waters you'll get to see plenty of fish, including the blue maomao, snapper and cod. Watch them jump or feed them by hand.
If your car can withstand a little beating take it to Pakiri Beach. A rough, gravel road will lead you to the long white sand beach with its rolling dunes and good surf. The beach is lined by pine forest and is a popular and picturesque spot for horse-riding. Its a good idea to get onto the scenic route from Mangawhai Heads. The trip from the Heads to Bream Bay is a breathtaking 3/4hr drive. You'll see a range of views from great golden sand dunes and river estuaries to sweeping views to the Hen and Chicken Islands (marine and bird sanctuaries). Water babies will find the clear water irresistible at bream Bay and Langs Beach.
Heading north from Bream Bay will take you to Northland's largest city. Whangarei (say fahngarray) was named by the early Maori and means 'cherished harbour'. To protect this wealth the Maori built a pa or fortified city on Parahaki, the mountain which dominates the skyline. Today, the attractive harbour remains the source of the town's commercial wealth. Most of the visitors here are yachters who come to enjoy the marina and its facilities. Until recently the town had little to attract visitors, a failing in part made up for by the recently developed Whangarei Town Basin with its restored colonial buildings now converted into art galleries, shops cafés and restaurants which are linked by boardwalks in the heart of the marina.
To get to the Poor Knight's Islands take a boat from Tutukaka marina. The island is another heaven for divers who are attracted by the crystal clear water and various marine wildlife. The area which has been designated as a reserve here is also rich in early shipwrecks. The marine life is no less abundant and provides a colourful array from black coral trees, luminant coloured sponges, gorgonian fans as well as various species of tropical and subtropical fish.
A 35km drive out of Whangarei will take you around the Whangarei Heads. You will see a line of bays which are dominated by the craggy peaks of Mount Manaia. The next turnoff to take is the one to Kawakawa. This rural community is best known for the vintage steam railway that divides the main street of the town. The vintage, steam train takes a 45 minute journey between Kawakawa and Opua accompanied by a guide. You'll also love the curious public toilet which was designed by Frederick Hundertwasser, an Austrian artist.