Living Aboard in Whangarei

Hundertwasser Art Museum

We sailed from Fiji to New Zealand in early November. After checking in at Marsden Cove and completing the formalities, we moved up the river to the Whangarei Town Basin marina. Here’s what it was like spending almost two months living aboard in Whangarei.

About Whangarei

Whangarei is not pronounced how it looks. Unless you speak Maori. In that case you know that the WH is pronounced as F, so it’s pronounced Fang-Ah-Ray.

We enjoyed living aboard in Whangarei. It’s the biggest town in the Northland region of New Zealand, with all the amenities we’ve missed since Tahiti. Whangarei’s population is almost 57,000 and it is 155km north of Auckland, which is said to have almost 1.7mm people.

marina, town basin Whangarei
The marina and town basin in Whangarei

The Town Basin Marina is located on the Hatea river and is walkable to groceries, shops, restaurants and more.

The supermarket across the street is huge and overwhelmingly good. After being in Tonga, where you couldn’t get basic rice, and Fiji, with no cat food or kitty litter, we consider New Zealand the land of plenty. On our first visit to the supermarket, we were overjoyed upon seeing the varieties of lettuce, berries, and yogurt, and the glow hasn’t faded. It doesn’t hurt that we arrived in springtime.

Living On Go – and the Name Change!

One of the best things about living aboard in Whangarei is getting comfortable on our new catamaran. We’re enjoying the big batteries and ample solar polar, even using the toaster and microwave. With two hulls, we have a lot more room to spread out, outside in the cockpit and on the bow, and inside in the salon.

A Toronto graphic artist and good friend designed the logo for Go, and once the rain stopped long enough, Brian carefully applied the decals. Whangarei really has everything, including a place to print our new logo onto stickers for the boat. We think it looks great!

Go, our catamaran logo
Our Go logo!

To anoint the new name, we had to have a ceremony, which meant a party! So the first Saturday after it got sunny, we invited our friends in Whangarei to help us bless the new boat. The ceremony involved blessings to the water gods, pouring champagne into the sea to ward off bad luck (as little champagne as we could get away with), and sitting on the bow of the boat enjoying the weather and company. Most – if not all – of the guests, including us, had never been to a boat naming before. We felt like that was a positive as no one would know if we did anything wrong.

guests on the bow of catamaran, Whangarei town basin marina
Brian and guests during our Go naming ceremony

Domino on Go

Dommie loves the new boat. When we returned to Go after picking her up from her New Zealand quarantine, she explored, sniffing and searching everywhere. She spent the first few days as close to us as possible, sleeping in between and touching us a lot. We think she thought we had abandoned her, so she was very happy to be reunited.

Now she spends a lot of time either out in the cockpit on the beanbags, lounging on the couch in the salon, or in our bed, sometimes under the covers if it’s cold. She’s happy, and we’re happy she’s free and with us. Brian made a cute reel of her in her favorite place!

Dommie on Go

Hiking and Biking Around Whangarei

One of our favorite things about living aboard in Whangarei is the great trails very close to the town basin. We have hiked up the mountain and biked to the waterfalls a couple of times. That’s right! We bought a pair of used bikes and have been riding them all around Whangarei.

bicycle on a trail, forest path
One of our bikes alongside a trail

While not a lot of people here cycle outside of weekend exercise, Whangarei has plenty of cycle paths. The rail trail is excellent for transiting to the shops and restaurants uptown, and the waterfront trail goes all the way to the airport and some lovely bays and viewpoints.

Riverfront trail Whangarei, tree lined path
Riverfront trail in Whangarei, for cycling or walking

Hatea (town basin) loop trail

The Hatea Loop is a 4.2 km riverfront trail passing the marina and crossing the river over both bridges, through parks and lots of outdoor art.

Art along the loop trail in Whangarei
Just one piece of art along the loop trail

It’s a popular trail for walking, jogging, and cycling for people of all ages, at any time of day. Since we’ve been in Whangarei, we’ve seen a man walk the trail for 7 days straight for Arthritis, a Santa Run, and numerous other uses of this multi-use path. We’ve walked and biked it a multiple times ourselves.

Bike and pedestrian lane on a bridge
Bike and pedestrian lane on the bridge

A cool stop is the Camera Obscura near the harbour bridge, called the Te Matau a Pohe bridge. The bridge itself, built in 2013 to look like Maori fish hooks, is an impressive part of the Whangarei townscape.

Te Matau a Pohe bridge
Te Matau a Pohe bridge in Whangarei

Whangarei Sights

Many of Whangarei’s top sights are conveniently located by the town basin marina, which includes three museums.

The Hundertwasser Museum is only a few years old, but its colorful building is already an iconic landmark in Whangarei. Full of drawings, paintings, and architecture of the eponymous artist, it’s an impressive testament to the life and work of an interesting man who made New Zealand his home.

Hundertwasser Art Museum
Hundertwasser Art Museum

Other places we’ve loved visiting in Whangarei are in nature, like the beautiful waterfalls and the nearby Kauri Park. Kauri trees are native New Zealand trees, and they are important to Maori. These trees last for thousands of years and grow very high, so the significance is understandable. Being in a kauri forest, surrounded by these big old beings, walking quietly in nature, is an almost spiritual experience.

Kauri Park Whangarei
Some of the kauri trees in Whangarei

We’ve also visited Kiwi North with old historic buildings and grounds, plus some kiwi birds. Kiwis are endangered and nocturnal so seeing one in the wild is almost impossible. Kiwi North was a good alternative, and we saw one almost immediately upon entering the dark enclosure where they’re kept. One of the kiwis ran right towards us and hopped around a bit. They are odd looking birds!

Kiwi sculpture, Kiwi bird held in person's hand
A Kiwi sculpture from Whangarei Quarry Gardens

Cruiser Events While Living Aboard in Whangarei

Living aboard in Whangarei means meeting and socializing with other cruisers. We find out about most of the events from signs posted in the marina office.

The first was a dinner to welcome us to Whangarei. It was a little pricy ($40 NZD) for one drink and some hors d’oeuvres, but the highlight was a professional Maori group’s musical performance.

Short clip of the Haka performance in Whangarei

The haka gave me goosebumps and I had tears in my eyes when they sang Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. So that made the welcome worth it.

Maori group performance of Hallelujah

We attended a Christmas potluck with other cruisers from Australia, the U.S., Sweden, Germany and more on the marina pontoon, the same spot for the weekly cruiser happy hours. It’s a nice community here, and many yachts return every season or never seem to leave. This is the longest we’ve been in a marina since we were doing visa runs from Panama, and it’s time to move. We’re ready to sail and see more of this beautiful country. Have boat, will travel!

Here’s a map of the great places mentioned above which we’ve frequented while living aboard in Whangarei. If you visit, you’ll know where to go. Also, read about where to eat in Whangarei.

Town Basin and more map in Whangarei
Where to Go in Whangarei

What would you do in Whangarei? Have you been to New Zealand and where would you recommend we go next? Please share in the comments!

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Author: Mel

Living aboard a sailboat, scuba diver, cat parent, cyclist, blogger, love the water and exploring new places.

7 thoughts on “Living Aboard in Whangarei”

  1. Looks like such a cool spot to visit. Awesome that you got to do it for a few months to REALLY see all the cool spots. I love the whole boat naming party. I’ve never been to one either so I’d have no clue if it was on point or not. Looking forward to the next adventure on GO!

  2. New boat and new logo!? Congratulations, it all looks fabulous (and it’s good to see that Domino approves!) We didn’t make it to Whangarei in NZ, but we looooooved travel in Kiwiland.

    I think my favourite areas were Tongariro, Aoraki, Te Anau and everywhere down in the Fiordland… You are going to have sooo much fun!!

    1. Thank you, Josy! We are very happy with Go, and it’s always a relief when Domino agrees LOL. I am a bit overwhelmed by New Zealand. Everything is beautiful! I do want to hike Tongariro and see Fiordland. Will have to look up your other suggestions.

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