Mangawhai, a gorgeous coastal area of the Northland region in New Zealand, is home to many awesome things to do including stunning hikes, beautiful ocean views and outdoors activities. I visited Mangawhai on a day trip from Auckland since it’s only a two-hour drive north from the city.
Below I’ve outlined my own one day Mangawhai itinerary, as well as noting some extra activities and tips which you may find useful.
Things to do in Mangawhai covered in this blog post include:
- Tanekaha Walking Track
- Mangawhai Heads Beach
- Mangawhai Cliff Walk
- Mangawhai Scenic lookout
- Te Arai Beach Reserve
- The Mangawhai Spit Sand dunes
- Mangawhai Village (and where to eat)
Tanekaha Walking Track
Tanekaha Walking Track are a series of trails through the Tanekaha forest. Along the walks, you will pass the Tanekaha Falls along with some other notable natural attractions, depending on which route you take.
Tanekaha Falls Track – It’s the dense forest scenery that makes hiking here so memorable, but the three waterfall crossings are great places to stop and take note of the serene setting.
Tanekaha Puriri Track – I chose to combine this with the Tanekaha Falls Track to make my walk a circular loop.
As you can see on the map below, this meant I passed the three waterfalls, along with the waterfall lookout and the ‘big puriri’ tree. This meant my total walk took around 2 hours.
The beginning of the walk goes over a swing bridge and shortly you arrive in the forest. Thankfully, the trails are well signposted here. On the falls walk, follow along the river through the dense bush. The pathways are thin and earthy, with roots, rocks and branches crossing the path, but it’s generally fairly well maintained and easy to follow.
However, since much of the walk is very steep, be sure to bring water and hiking boots. The three waterfall stops make a great spot to take a short rest and enjoy the falls.
After reaching a signpost and going back down the Tanekaha Puriri Track, we knew we’d made the halfway point. The viewpoint over the waterfalls, photographed below, was a really impressive way to see the falls we had previously crossed by foot. This is marked on the map and on the route itself, so you shouldn’t miss it.
The puriri tree is notable not just for its size but is also endemic to New Zealand. Qualities within the leaves were once used for minor ailments before the European settlers arrived and the wood itself was used to make weapons and other tools.
Difficulty level – The Tanekaha Walking trails are a Grade 3 / 4 walk. There are multiple river crossings, in which you have to pass the river by stepping stones, as well as steep walks up and down the valley over stairs and tree routes. Other walks, marked on the map, are slightly easier, with a grade 2 / 3 rating.
For an easier walk, I would recommend the Mangawhai Cliff Walk below, which is, in any case, the most memorable of the two walks. However, Tanekaha is satisfying for any hiking enthusiasts especially if you’re looking for a cardio work out.
Mangawhai Heads Beach
This is the spot for holiday-makers and families who are looking for time to relax! The beach here is long and photogenic, with the notable Mangawhai Heads jutting out from the ocean.
Along with swimming and sunbathing, this beach is particularly popular for surfers. Amateur surfers can take lessons here while experts can enjoy reliable surf breaks.
Mangawhai Cliff Walk
The Mangawhai Cliff Walk is the ‘must-do’ activity of the area. With lush, green rolling hills to your left and the vibrant coastal blues to your right, this walk is the best of both worlds for those of us who are countryside and ocean lovers.
While the full walk is 9km long (return) taking about three hours, you can alternatively just walk as far as you like before turning back. The first lookout, photographed below, is only around 20-minutes into the walk.
The hike itself begins from the beach, parking at the Mangawhai Beach car park, so it’s easy to combine this walk with a stop at the beach. Once you leave the beach and head on to the well-maintained cliff walk pathway, which is thankfully signposted, there are many steps at the beginning of the walk. After this, the path levels out and the rest of the walk becomes fairly leisurely.
From the first lookout, I walked around an extra 15-minutes to reach this spot.
As well as enjoying panoramic views of the coastline, the islands in the distance include the Taranga Maroter… later named the ‘Hen and Chickens by Captain Cook. While researching this post, I discovered the Pohutukawa tree below blooms with red flowers from mid-November to December so look out for that if you’re visiting in early summer.
Mangawhai Scenic Lookout
I had this spot marked on my phone as ‘the random lookout’ haha. The spot is basically a fairly nice boardwalk up to a wooden lookout structure, which in itself is quite fun. The view is just as much over car parks as it is the rolling hills, and you may spot someone golfing on the green fields below if you look closely!
The lookout is only a few minutes walk from the car park so not a wasted stop and I’d definitely recommend it for families who don’t want to take on a hike. The short walk begins at the Mangawhai Information Centre, which is also a good place to stop if you want to get hiking maps or find out more information on the local area.
Te Arai Beach Reserve
Te Arai Beach Reserve is a great inclusion for a day trip to Mangawhai. Whilst there is more to do in the greater Wellsford area, of which Te Arai Beach is situated in, I still recommend stopping for sunset if you have time on a Mangawhai day trip.
You can reach the beach from the car park at the end of Te Arai Point Road. These sunset photos below were taken around a five-minute walk from the car park! You can see the rocks from the car park itself. I stayed around forty minutes to enjoy the golden glow before heading back to Auckland.
If you’ve visited Mangawhai as a day trip from Auckland, it takes 2 hours to drive back from Te Arai to Auckland, depending on traffic. Alternatively, there are various camping sites or accommodations within this area and Mangawhai if you’re staying overnight.
If you have longer in the area, get the best views of Te Arai on the Te Arai Point Regional Park Loop Walk, which takes around two hours to complete. It’s partially sign-posted but does include passing through fields, so check your directions in advance before embarking on the route.
Mangawhai Spit Sand dunes
Although I was not able to visit the sand dunes on my trip, I visited with an Auckland local who went on a previous visit and kindly provided these photos.
With advice from a local – to ensure you’re updated on the conservation efforts within this area – you can rent a kayak and paddle over to the spit. The giant dunes provide dramatic scenery and a fun walk.
Please note, part of the dunes are a protected area and some road access is cut off. Be careful to check where you’re allowed to access in advance, preferably visiting with a local – especially if you’re a bird-watching enthusiast. This is due to the rare birds here, including endangered fairy terns, and its important to stay clear of conservation areas.
Where to eat and drink in Mangawhai:
Stop for lunch at Mangawhai Village. There are numerous options to choose from depending on what you prefer. Two eateries with vegan options in Mangawhai include The Dune (which I have to admit has a lovely menu) and The Mangawhai Tavern. I ate at the tavern which had great views over the ocean and was surprised by the quality and effort that went into their vegan options.
If you fancy a glass of wine with your meal, there are actually local wineries nearby, such as Lochiel Estate or Millars Vineyard. Vineyard tours and tastings are available.
It’s definitely worth stopping at Bennetts Chocolate Shop! This famous Mangawhai chocolatier has many delicious varieties to choose from and is run by a local family. They use traceable, sustainable cocoa beans and are aware of their environmental responsibility which they talk about in detail on their website here. There is also a cafe next to the shop so if it’s raining, why not settle down with a hot chocolate while you wait for the sky to clear?
While in the area, stop at the Mangawhai Museum after lunch. This museum, with its distinctive modern design, is a great way to learn about the early settlers within the area. There is also a cafe within the museum and a village market on Saturdays.
What to take on a Mangawhai Day Trip:
Hiking boots are a must if you’re taking on the Tanakaha Walking Tracks, but otherwise normal sneakers will do fine for the Mangawhai Cliff Walk.
A warm jacket or raincoat may be worth bringing depending on the weather – it can get a little chilly over the bay.
A daypack with some healthy snacks and a refillable water bottle is worth bringing, especially if you will be hiking. I love my fully recyclable water bottle from Water to go. The filter is powerful enough to refill in a river, even in countries where you can’t drink the tap water. I partnered with Water to go a while back so you can get a 15% discount with the discount code HAG15. *affiliate code 🙂
More of my favourite Auckland Day trips:
Hi, I’m Cassie, and I’ve been solo travelling the globe since May 2018. In this time, I’ve backpacked around Southeast Asia, Japan and The Balkans, alongside spending a year living in Australia. Currently isolating in New Zealand.