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Kiwi towns

What’s so great about Totara North things to do

  • 2 minutes

North Island, New Zealand

Best bits, a kiwi town

Totara North there are plenty of things to do. Explore a no exit and find out what is there. Totara North is a detour terminating at a small jetty and commercial fishing operations on the Whangaroa Harbour. The place is quirky, interesting and you will feel like an explorer finding another world located just off the main highway. The heritage settlement is without an official designation making the visit either an opportunity to view the past before it deteriorates or before the area becomes a tourist magnet. A short history of the area with its massive abandoned boat building yard and quirky museums explains the enduring fascination with the visible records of the past slowly returning to the landscape that created them. Totara North is a small settlement on the northern side of Whangaroa Harbour. Commercial fisheries operate from the small marina as well as numerous private boats for fishing enthusiasts.


The enormous abandoned boat building site was originally one of the largest boat building operations in the North. Now with its gaping boards, rotting walls and partially collapsed roof it is a testimony to the ravages of time. You can easily view the boat slipway and interior without entering the site which is hazardous due to the deterioration of the building.

“Lane & Brown Shipyard and Sawmill, Totara North (1872)

Shipyard and Sawmill, Totara North @TotaraNorth
Shipyard and Sawmill @TotaraNorth

Scowbuilders and sawmillers

Shipbuilding predated the colonial era. It put down its deepest roots in the north, where kauri flourished close to good shipbuilding sites. Here names such as Niccol, Darroch, Lane, Brown and Bailey dominated wooden shipbuilding. William Paine Brown had been building ships in the Bay of Islands since the 1850s. In 1870 his son William went into business with Thomas Major Lane as Lane & Brown on the Kaeo River. Two years later they moved to Totara North on the northern shore of Whangaroa Harbour. They had a large shipyard for the time, 1393 sq m of floor space, and their two covered sheds could handle 350-ton ships. Lane & Brown vessels could be tender (inclined to roll in strong winds), but the builders selected and seasoned the wood that went into them with great care …” Lane & Brown Shipyard and Sawmill

For a visual reminder of what life was like for the boatbuilders, the tools they used check out the nearby Te Mama Museum.


Totara North local Bruce Sanderson is preserving history with a self funded museum. Te Mama is described by NZPlaces as, “a museum to rival Te Papa, Te Mama is the lifetime collection of Bruce Sanderson, including many important industrial relics from Lane and Browns Shipbuilders and Sawmill and other taonga from throughout Whangaroa Harbour.” The museum is located in an old joinery factory.  The  Northland artist Chris Wilkie painted the exterior. Access to the museum is via a phone number posted on the entrance.

Te Mama Museum wall art aspect, Totara North, New Zealand
Te Mama Museum wall art aspect, Totara North
Te Mama Museum wall art, Totara North, New Zealand
Te Mama Museum wall art, Totara North


Totara North Gum Store Bar and Grill has memorabilia. Walks and exploration of the area is worth considering as the last vestiges of kauri forest found in Northland. Check out Tony Foster’s website, Bushmansfriend. Tony Foster is a photographer and the local water taxi operator. Tony offers guided tours by both land and sea.


  • Researchers, historians and lovers of heritage will be beguiled by Totara North and the stories told about the past in the objects left behind

Every town adds to the richness of things to do and see. For more details about the region check Far North & Northland Region nearby attractions and events.


Best Bits travel guide is published by Owned and managed by PacificJane Ltd.

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