We spent a couple of months in Whangarei, exploring the area by foot, bike, and campervan. While we were working on our van and enjoying nature, we needed to eat, and thankfully Whangarei has a wide range of restaurants and bars. Based on our attempts to sample everything, here’s where to eat in Whangarei by neighborhood.
Tips for Eating Out in New Zealand
Before you go out to eat in a new country like New Zealand, you want to know the local norms. So, here are some things to know before you eat out in Whangarei and New Zealand in general.
Restaurants close early in New Zealand. Even in the big city of Auckland, people go out to dinner early. If you leave it until 8PM, your choices for dinner are limited. They don’t wake up as early as French Polynesians, but Kiwis do eat dinner early.
I would say it’s about fifty-fifty whether you order at the counter before you sit, or order at your table. Either way, it will usually be obvious when you enter the restaurant, bar or cafe. Regardless of how you order, you will always have to pay at the counter. Sometimes you pay when you order, other times you pay at the end. Don’t expect anyone to bring you a check. Just get up when you’re finished and go to the register to pay. This is consistent with other countries in the South Pacific, but very different from North America and Europe.
Popular food and drink in new Zealand
Kiwis love their coffee, and coffee culture is evident everywhere. From sit down cafes to coffee trucks, you can get a good espresso-based coffee almost anywhere. We’ve been partial to the flat whites, which is a latte with less foam. It’s going to be difficult adjusting back to our black coffees at sea.
Kiwis also love their pies, but not the fruit pies we’re used to in The States. These pies are savory, like steak and mushroom or mince and cheese. Many cafes sell pies for breakfast and lunch, and most Kiwis have a favorite place for pies, with annual rankings and all. You can even buy pies in the frozen section of the supermarket to heat up at home, which is convenient.
Seafood is abundant here, especially snapper. Everywhere we go, snapper is the fish of the day. It’s either in season or it’s really easy to catch. Or both. We’ve also had amazing mussels and salmon, both of which are much bigger than we’ve seen anywhere else in the world.
Everything is available in New Zealand, from meat to fish to fruit and vegetables. One of the great things about this country is it has a mix of environments, so we get the berries and asparagus like in cooler climes, and the tropical fruits and avocados of the warmer places. Visiting the supermarket for the first time was a culture shock with all the wonderful choices.
New Zealand has every possible international cuisine as well. While we loved the Indian food in Fiji, we adore the access to every cuisine in New Zealand. We’re not losing weight here.
Whangarei (pronounced Fang-ah-ray) is located on the east coast in the Northland Region of New Zealand, north of Auckland. The main industry is manufacturing and the population is approximately 56,000 people.
Whangarei’s City spreads from the Town Basin to downtown, and across and upriver. The city attracts tourists in buses and campervans to visit the museums and art galleries as well as the natural attractions like waterfalls. This may explain the wide variety of restaurants. I’ve divided them by location.
Town Basin Eating Options
The town basin area has a lot of restaurants and cafes all within walking distance of the marina and bridges. This is especially great whether we want to grab a quick coffee or a nice leisurely dinner. The town basin of Whangarei is an eating destination, with good restaurants, bars, and cafes all nearby.
I read that The Quay is considered one of New Zealand’s best restaurants, and I agree. They serve the freshest fish, meat and vegetables, and prepare the dishes in interesting combinations. It’s not your boring fish and chips, caesar salad type of place. We’ve loved the seafood salad and grilled venison, but really everything is good here. We’re going to miss the closest restaurant to our boat.
Serenity is a hugely popular spot for breakfast and lunch, and became our go-to for morning flat whites. We’d stop in with our travel mugs and walk away with delicious coffees. They even have a loyalty card! While we never sat down to eat there, we did get pies to go and they were delicious. Pies are such a New Zealand must and Serenity Cafe has some good ones.
Frings is a great local bar right across the street from the marina. We like Frings for the live music and draft beers and ciders. It’s also a good stop for a quick bar snack like nachos or chips, and their brick oven pizzas are popular.
The crowd is very friendly. We went one Sunday after a bike ride and were invited to join a local party who’d brought their own homemade seafood fritters, and they were delicious! We love New Zealand!
No. 8 is the Asian fusion option in the Town Basin of Whangarei. Open for lunch and dinner, the menu features plates for sharing, ranging from sashimi to Korean fried chicken and beef stir fries. Creative cocktails and sake drinks, along with the requisite New Zealand wines, complement the food choices. And another easy stroll from the boat, and No. 8 ticks all the boxes of where to eat in Whangarei.
Where to Eat in Whangarei Downtown
Just a few blocks from the river, a small area of downtown Whangarei holds several good restaurants. Some are in pedestrian alleys, and others on side streets. The restaurant scene in downtown Whangarei covers a lot of cuisines.
The Dickens Inn is the nicest pub in Whangarei, without the betting area, but with nice cozy seating and a fireplace. They are open every day and offer daily specials, craft beers on tap, and a gin menu. There’s even a quiz night. But you are interested in where to eat in Whangarei, and Dickens Inn is the best pub, with great sandwiches and roast dinners.
fat camel cafe
Another cuisine we haven’t seen a lot in the South Pacific is Mediterranean food, so we enjoyed the mezze platter at Fat Camel. The one complaint is the charge for 1 slice of pita bread, which isn’t enough for a platter of several dips. Otherwise, the food is good, just expect to pay for each slice of pita.
split bar and restaurant
I must have walked past Split a few times before reading about it in one of my guidebooks. Glad we visited because we left. Split was one of the best places to eat in Whangarei, with good service and a thoughtful menu. We had delicious crudo and an out of this world lambs fry (which is what the Kiwis call liver). Both Brian and I would have been happy ordering anything on the menu and we would return to try more. Reservations recommended.
local talent taverna
A Greek taverna on a side street near no other restaurants, when we dropped in to Local Talent we felt like we’d interrupted a party. Everyone seemed to know each other and was having a fun time. It’s a casual spot where you order and pay at the bar and get served at your seat. Serving classic Greek snacks and dips, and lamb and pitas, we didn’t realized we’d missed this food until we tried it at Local Talent. Apparently this is a new restaurant, and from our experience, it deserves to last a while.
The butter factory
The Butter Factory is a multi-hyphenate bar/restaurant/event space. On our first visit, they were hosting a popular quiz night and a $15 burger special and the place was packed, inside and outside on the big covered patio. With an extensive craft beer menu, it’s a good place to stop in for a drink or two or a meal with friends.
Where to Eat in Whangarei Uptown
We rented scooters a couple of times and then bought bicycles, which we took all around the neighborhoods of Whangarei. With parks and waterfalls uptown, a few times we stopped to fuel our hunger on our bike rides. These spots are only a few kilometers from the town basin, so are also walkable.
Sal’s is a pizza chain. If you go to Auckland, guaranteed you’ll pass a Sal’s. We’ve stopped in a couple times for a New York style slice while uptown, and it’s pretty good for a homesick New Yorker. I’ll leave it at that.
Suk Jai Thai
Another restaurant recommended in a guidebook was Suk Jai Thai and we stopped off there after one of our bike rides. We shared soup and pad thai and devoured it all. Service was quick and efficient even though it was busy at lunch. We chose to sat outside in their side garden and it was a great ambience for an excellent meal. Suk Jai Thai is open for lunch and dinner and I would go back.
Banh Mi House
We’ve been uptown several times on our bikes to visit waterfalls and other parks, and this banh mi place was another good lunch stop. Food portions were enormous, so maybe we should have shared one, but they were also cheap and delicious and we were hungry from uphill cycling.
Where to Drink In Whangarei
New Zealand is renowned for its wines and wineries, which we are excitedly sampling as we travel. But you can’t forget the country’s craft beer scene, which is bigger than we expected. We enjoyed sampling the local beverages in Whangarei.
For drinks in Whangarei, in addition to Frings, Butter Factory, and Dickens Pub, check out Astro Boy. This was probably the coolest spot in downtown Whangarei, with a lively after work crowd the night we went. We stayed for some craft beers on tap, and weren’t hungry so missed trying the yummy looking Asian fusion sharing plates . Maybe next time we visit Whangarei! I know we didn’t get to every place, but there’s only so much time and we’re off to see more of New Zealand.
Here’s a map for when you get hungry – and thirsty – in Whangarei, New Zealand.
Hope you enjoyed hearing about all the good meals we had in Whangarei. If you’ve been, please share the places I’ve missed and if not, comment where you would like to eat in Whangarei.