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Whitianga is a legend. Whitianga, in Maori, means 'Crossing Place' as it is believed to be the spot where Kupe, the Polynesian explorer who was first to discover New Zealand first landed in AD 950. Whitianga is a picturesque town which lies at the base of the hills in front of the sands of Mercury Bay. It's a good idea to give yourself a couple of days here for a bit of exploring or a few excursions.
The Bone Studio and Gallery is a good place to try your hand at bone carving. Local craftsmen will show you how to design, drill and sand your very own unique Tiki or pendant from cow bone. 16, Coghill Street, Whitianga.
Mercury Bay District Museum is dedicated to the peninsula's discovery by Captain Cook (with a few sides on kauri-gum digging, shipwrecks and minerals). You'll find this converted butter factory down by the wharf. Open October to April 10a.m.- 4p.m.
Take the ferry ($1 oneway, $1.75 return) over the harbour to Ferry Landing (you can drive here too) and explore awhile. There are a few beaches here worth visiting. Front Beach has beautiful white sands and Cook's Beach is good for swimming and fishing for the delicious crayfish. At Flaxmill Bay, see if you can Shakespeare's profile in the rockcliffs, (Cook thought he could and named one Shakespeare's Cliff). Cook's Beach was where on November 5, 1769 New Zealand came to belong to King George III when Cook first planted the British flag here. If you really want to get away from it all take the walking track from the Cook Memorial to Lonely Bay. It's a short, steep walk to a small beach secluded by the surrounding cliffs.