Here’s a fabulous short walk at the Whangarei Heads, two hours drive north of Auckland.

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation has started promoting several tracks around the country which are remarkable as short walks for the whole family to enjoy – and this track in Northland is one of them.

Many children were bounding up the Mt Manaia Track when we hiked it during the school holidays. There’s plenty to keep them interested – gorgeous coastal views, Nikau palms, Kauri trees, regenerating forest, history, pretty pathways, boardwalks, enormous volcanic boulders and rock formations…oh, and STEPS! Lots of steps.

The carpark is easily found alongside the Manaia Club, and there are toilets available. Allow two hours return for the walk.

Round a couple of bends through the flax, and you’ll emerge at a viewing platform with several panels explaining different aspects of the area. You can then pass through the gate to clean your shoes at the entrance to the track itself – spray is provided to halt the progression of Kauri die-back disease which can be spread through spores on footwear.

As you ascend through the bush, peeps of the sea beckon. Ships pass to and fro below, approaching the entrance to Whangarei Harbour. Nearer the top of the track, huge basalt rock columns start to emerge, and my five year old was fascinated to think of the fiery volcanic explosions which had taken place in the past.

A final climb up a tower of steps leads you out onto a broad rocky platform, and the harbour unspools before you. Light catches on its inlets and bays. Tiny fishing boats flash as they float over the sandbars, and as you turn 360 degrees, the hills of the Heads surround you and fold out into the Pacific Ocean to the east. The rock columns loom. It’s magical.

Don’t venture too close to the edge – there is no barrier, and the drop off is steep! Be very careful with small children and hold onto them at the top. I had my 18-month-old in the backpack and there was no way I would take him out at the top! He’d run straight off a precipice. So we retreated to a cool crack between two rocks we’d seen further down the steps and ate our lunch in the cool green gloom, feeling like goblins 😉

Manaia is the ancestor of a local tribe, the Ngatiwai, and this area is sacred to them and the many sub hapu. Please keep to the track.

As you drive back around the looping seaside Whangarei Heads Rd, the Parua Bay Tavern is a lovely place to stop for a family pub-style lunch on the lawn. You’ll be able to look back across to Manaia’s heights and appreciate the view from the opposite perspective.


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