Starting at Kaiwaka and heading north, this one to three-day itinerary suggests some of the tastiest spots in the area.
The subtropical north is a big region producing plenty of bold flavours and warm hospitality. We've created four guides to help you to experience the best food and drink across Taitokerau Northland. Take your pick as you travel through, or follow the itinerary below for a delicious self-guided foodie tour. As you discover this beautiful southern east coast of Tai Tokerau, there are three Northland Journeys that will help you make the most of it. These free downloadable maps are great for exploring must-visit places as well as hidden gems.
Coast to City Lights and Delights Itinerary
Duration: 1- 3 days
From the little town of lights, Kaiwaka, to the vibrant city of Whangārei, and on to the coastal delight, Tutukākā, this itinerary takes your tastebuds on tour. Cheese to chocolate to coffee, plant-based to Asian-fusion to kaimoana (seafood), there's something to tempt every palate. Pick and choose as you please, or follow the itinerary word-for-word.
If you’re coming from Auckland set off early to make a breakfast or brunch stop at Eutopia Café in Kaiwaka. As much a feast for the eyes as it will be for your belly, the colourful handcrafted building is adorned with mosaics, sculptures, and carvings that will start your day with a smile. Enjoy local organic coffee and a hearty breakfast or brunch in the arty ambience of the open-air café, with a menu that includes vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options.
Before you leave, head across the carpark to the Kaiwaka Cheese Shop to pick up some holiday supplies. In addition to a large range of New Zealand and European cheeses, you’ll also find lots of Northland-made specialty products.
Take the short drive into Mangawhai Village and stop off at iconic chocolatiers Bennetts of Mangawhai. Stepping into the beautiful Mediterranean-inspired courtyard and through the giant swing door to the chocolate shop and factory is a delight to the senses. This family-owned business takes sustainability seriously and celebrates local seasonal ingredients which burst from their award-winning products. Stock up on sweet treats and enjoy a signature hot chocolate from the character-filled café.
As you follow The Welcoming Coast Northland Journey map, taking in the sights of magical Mangawhai, take a short diversion into the hillside where you will find a number of olive groves and vineyards. Stop off at Brooke Lane Vineyard for a wine tasting of Rosé, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay with Ray, and peruse Nicky’s boutique art gallery. Cheeky Charlie, the resident Jack Russell will probably greet you on arrival, and be sure to ask about the long finn eels and pet Tui which are also a part of this welcoming family business.
Take your time heading along the coast to soak in the sparkling ocean bays of Langs Beach and Waipū. Once you have worked up an appetite, enjoy the best of fresh local ingredients and a laid-back vibe at The Cove Café. Set beachside at Waipū Cove you can stop for a quick bite or settle in for a multi-course lunch and drinks. Recently voted People’s Choice in the Northland Hospitality Awards, The Cove Café has become a must-visit destination.
Heading a little further north into the quaint town centre of Waipū, a leisurely stroll will reward with its historic Scottish heritage and vintage shopping. Pop into Logan McLean Wholefoods Store if you want to pick up some locally grown produce or plant-based products.
With a well-known reputation for producing some of the best craft beer in the country, a visit to this area wouldn’t be complete without a meal at McLeod’s Pizza Barn. The welcoming country atmosphere embraces its Scottish ties and serves up generous tasty meals alongside its award-winning beer. Regularly featuring limited releases, the friendly bar staff will happily provide a taste of what’s on offer.
This area has a great range of places to lay your head, from unique glamping spots to boutique lodges and B&B’s.
Before heading north into Whangārei, take the coastal drive through Ruakākā and on to Marsden Cove Marina for breakfast at Land & Sea Café Bar & Eatery. Located on the water with a large patio overlooking the marina, they are dedicated to using seasonal local produce. You can choose from fresh cabinet options prepared daily or their full breakfast menu, a local’s favourite in a beautiful setting.
Fueled up and ready for the day, take the drive along State Highway 1 and head into the heart of Whangārei City. The Town Basin is the beginning of your next Northland Journey, Where Giants Gather. The extraordinary Hundertwasser Art Centre takes centre stage here, enjoy the buzz with lots of boutique shopping and art to enjoy, or take a walk around the Hātea Loop and learn some of the local history along the way.
Time to discover the magnificent natural landscape of Whangārei Heads. The meandering drive dipping in and out of coastal bays and around the volcanic peaks offers plenty of reasons to stop and explore. All the ocean air will soon have you ready for lunch. Take your pick of classic takeaways on the beach at McLeod’s Bay Fish & Chips, a made-with-love café meal at popular Smith & Local in Parua Bay or enjoy a generous pub lunch at the Historic Parua Bay Tavern. If you need petrol before heading back to town, be sure to fill up at the Parua Bay Gas Station where you will also find locally grown produce, cheese, and local free-range eggs.
The best way to enjoy balmy evenings in Whangārei is to head back to the Town Basin. A great cluster of restaurants within walking distance means you can choose just one or make a night of it and sample the flavours of many. Start with seasonal cocktails and snacks at the bustling Aqua Bar & Restaurant inside the Hundertwasser Art Centre, then move on to a main meal and pair it with some Northland wine at The Quay, or go Asian-fusion at No.8. If you want to top the night off right then you can’t go past Loco. Enjoy the tunes and let the bar staff create you some magic alongside a Mexican-inspired sweet treat!
There are lots of accommodation options in and around Whangārei, from central city hotels to casual motels and quaint B&B’s.
What better way to start the day than with the perfect cup of locally roasted coffee? Pop into legendary Biggie Bagels and match your coffee order with one of their delicious, handcrafted bagels. Don’t worry if there’s a queue, the Biggie’s team run a smooth operation, service is swift and you’ll have your fix in no time. If you’re after a light and airy setting head instead to Sabio Coffee and enjoy one of their onsite roasted brews with an easy breakfast from their daily cabinet offering. If rejuvenation is calling, then the nutritious plant-based options at Palate Wholesome Collective will hit the spot with clean eats and healthful drinks.
Artisan cheese lovers won’t want to leave town before visiting the home of multi-award-winning cheese makers Grinning Gecko. Tucked in behind The Bakers Crust (which will tempt you with their delicious freshly baked selection) you can buy their products and view the cheese making in action. The friendly team will pop out if you need help selecting or have questions about their incredible range.
Your next Northland Journey awaits and it’s with very good reason that it’s named Into The Wild Blue Yonder. Take your time to discover why the beautiful Tutukaka Coast is a magnet for those who love a relaxed pace of life.
Plan to slow down, take in the sights and pick up some goodies along the way for lunch by the ocean, you’ll be spoilt for choice of stunning picnic spots. The impressive Whangārei Falls is worth a stop and inspiration for lunch will come together when you pop into Huanui Fresh on the road out to Ngunguru. Fresh local produce, local artisan products, and sweet treats will easily fill the picnic basket, or you can choose ready-made options from the onsite Black Stump Café.
The rest of the day is yours to explore as you journey Into The Wild Blue Yonder. Swim, surf or snorkel your way around the great Pacific Ocean, or simply wander the many picturesque bays and walks in this special area.
After a day of coastal adventure, you’ll be ready to hang up the wetsuit and walking shoes and step into the inviting hospitality of Tututaka icon Schnappa Rock. Pull up a seat, order a drink and peruse their relaxed Pacific-inspired menu. Absolutely committed to sustainability and freshness, each dish will likely feature an abundance of lovingly grown produce from their own restaurant garden. Enthusiastic locals will also tell you that any of the locally sourced kaimoana (seafood) dishes come highly recommended.
If you like to be in walking distance of your evening meal then you may have already booked a stay at Quality Oceans Hotel Tutukākā or Lodge 9, or take your pick from plenty of other options close-by.