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Art & Heritage

8 Whangarei Heritage & Cultural Attractions Worth a Visit

  • 3 minutes

Northland, New Zealand

Immersive heritage stories are to be found in Whangarei, Northland. From the story of human occupation, fortified Maori pa (village) sites to blood soaked battle fields (Ruapekapeka Pa) Whangarei delivers a cultural journey through New Zealand. Within ¾ hour visitors can travel to Waitangi the heartland of modern Aotearoa New Zealand. Nearby visitors can wonder about the lost glory of kauri forests in Matakohe’s Kauri Museum.



  • Whangarei and the district witnessed the wholesale destruction of the kauri forest trees (Kauri Museum, Matakohe)
  • Coal mines (Hikurangi) now a scenic reserve with a fascinating history
  • Industrial quarrying for limestone (Whanganui Quarry Garden) 
  • The colonial past is documented with the facades of Victorian and Edwardian buildings (Reyburn Gallery)
  • Visit an evocative battle site, where dissatisfaction over the Treaty (of Waitangi) turned to war, Ruapekapeka Pa




Hikurangi Lake Waro bizarre rock forms, Northland NZ Hikurangi Lake Waro bizarre rock forms

Lake Waro Scenic Reserve is a great spot for families, history buffs as well as the perfect place to cool off on a summer’s day. History of Waro Limestone Scenic Reserve: Historic conservation in Northland is a fascinating mixture of extraordinary natural karst rock forms, a historic coal mine bushtram track and flooded quarry site. 

New Zealand history is now a picturesque picnic area with an easy walking track around the limestone outcrops. The nearby settlement of Hikurangi has a heritage museum (open on the weekend) worth popping into with a huge collection of photographs, memorabilia from everyone’s cupboard on display, the original jail and schoolhouse.

Check before visiting the opening hours for Hikurangi Historical Museum. Hikurangi is a gold mine of a town for fossickers of collectables with several shops in the main street.




Bream Head, New Zealand @BreamHeadTrust Bream Head @BreamHeadTrust

Sometimes there is not much to actually see, your heritage imagination needs to conjure up the landscape that has been absorbed by the past. Bream Head is a rich archaeological landscape resulting from more than 500 years of Māori occupation. 

The area is a treasure trove for archeologists reviewing the food and diet of the Archaic Maori period.  Middens at Smugglers Bay and elsewhere reveal a wealth of information about how people existed in the area hundreds of years ago. Additionally there is the Bream Head gun battery which has local significance as the only remaining example of WWII defense structures, in the Whangārei area.

The interesting feature of the site is the spotting mural with compass bearings painted above the slit window in the observation post. This shows how the inner harbour and Marsden Point looked before the oil refinery was constructed. One of the last military murals left in the country, it is nationally significant.




Motukiore island with mt Manaia, whangarei Heads in the background @millymouset Motukiore Island with Mt. Manaia, Whangarei Heads in the background @millymouset

Motukiore Island sandspit out to the island is walkable at low tide only. Crossing is possible up to 3 hours either side of high tide. The Island is the site for a prominent pā at the southern end of the island to the site of an historic homestead at the northern end.

As well as fish and shellfish remains and charcoal which can be radiocarbon dated and identified to species, the midden sites also contain burned and cracked hangi stones, and cutting tools made from flaked stone, such as obsidian imported from other parts of the North Island. Behind the dunes and above the coastal margins, on the headlands and grassy ridges of Bream Head are terraces and pits carved into the landscape.

The earthworks, dug out of the slopes with wooden implements, were used for gardening and for living on – the location of Māori whare (houses) and rua (storage pits). History and culture of Motukiore Island is a timeline of human occupation from Maori in prehistoric times, and a focus of early European industry in Whangārei Harbour.

Motukiore Island Walk: Whangārei Heads area, Northland

Length:  5km return

Grade: Easy: Walking track

Dog access: No dogs

Facilities: No toilets



Ruapekapeka pa - ruins of a maori fortress in New Zealand Ruapekapeka pa - ruins of a maori fortress in New Zealand

Ruapekapeka Pā: Places to go in Northland. Where dissatisfaction over the Treaty turned to war: Ruapekapeka is a statement on the Treaty of Waitangi and its acceptance by Maori. The Pa site is a powerful symbol of the armed uprising with the visible earth works, the canons, the sweeping views and sense of the battles fought in the area. 

A place of enormous importance for Aotearoa NZ history. It was only five years from the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 for disagreement on its interpretation to ignite into an armed uprising. The conflict between British colonial forces and northern Māori in 1845 and 1846 culminated in the battle of Ruapekapeka Pā.




Combine a trip to Ruapekapeka Pa site with an exploration of Kawakawa and the quirky public toilets.




Mair Park, Whangarei @jaclyn_coleman Mair Park, Whangarei @jaclyn_coleman

Mair’s Landing / Tawatawhiti, just north of Whangarei’s CBD, has remnant stone field systems for agriculture as well as stone lined terraces. The jumble of stones has an order when closely examined.

The area contains a number of prehistoric and historic features – including a remnant Maori stone field garden, the remains of a coal chute associated with the Whau Valley Coal mine horse drawn tramway and Mair’s Landing itself – a stone wharf dating back to 1841. Interest in the extensive heritage site was sparked by a public talk given by Heritage New Zealand’s Northland staff as part of last year’s New Zealand Archaeology Week. 

The rich agricultural and seafood area was contested land and the Whangarei harbour became the scene for 1830’s musket wars. The area is the site of early European occupation and the Mair family were ship carpenters. The area is a quiet backwater with a narrative reaching back into the story of human occupation. Search the List | Tawatawhiti / Mair’s Landing Historic Area for more information.



Dry stone walls 19th century, New Zealand Dry Stone Walls

During your journey around Whangarei district observe the dry stone walls. The walls are now often heritage protected. Heritage New Zealand where dry stone walls are estimated to have been constructed prior to 1900 or their age is in doubt are unable to be dismantled.

There is limited work permitted on the existing dry stone walls, other than repairs or maintenance in situ using traditional methods, design and materials. While these walls are firmly within the European tradition of using available field stones there are a number of stone walls constructed within the Maori tradition. 



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For visitors who wish to research further there is Stone Wall Country: Drystone Walls of the Whangarei District (2010) published by Catherin, Ballard, ISBN 9780473179922



Reyburn House @ReyburnHouseArtGallery Reyburn House @ReyburnHouseArtGallery

Colonial houses don’t come any prettier than Reyburn House, now home to the Northland Society of Arts. A category two heritage listing for the glorious building situated in the marina precinct is a fine example of pioneer settlers house in Whangarei.

Northland Society of Arts | Reyburn House Art Gallery, Whangarei is worth a visit for its art exhibitions and people who wish to view the interior of this excellent example of Victorian architecture.

More about Reyburn House



Glorat the Clarke Homestead at Kiwi North Heritage Park @kiwinorthnz Glorat the Clarke Homestead at Kiwi North Heritage Park @kiwinorthnz

Welcome to the Heritage Park at Kiwi North. A number of historic buildings have been collected by the Heritage Park. Among the buildings is the Whangarei Women’s Jail c. 1900. Do not miss the unbelievably cute Oruaiti Chapel, c. 1859 Believed to be the smallest octagonal chapel in New Zealand, and possibly the world, is made from a single kauri log. It was originally situated in Doubtless Bay in the Far North.

Originally located between Clyde and Cameron Streets in Whangarei this basic two cell women’s jail demonstrates life on the other side of the law in the early 1900s. The Women’s Jail stood beside an eight-cell jail for men and the police sergeant’s house. 

Then there is Jane Mander Study, c. 1908. One of New Zealand’s most well known authors Jane Mander wrote in the miniature turret which was originally located on the roof of her family home in Whangarei.


The best way to explore Whangarei’s cultural and heritage sites is by vehicle. Outside the city there is little public transport. Allow up to two days to explore all eight locations.

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