Story: Northland places

Page 16. Whāngārei Harbour and north

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Whāngārei Harbour

Large inlet extending north-west from northern Bream Bay, 23 km long, and from 3 to 6.5 km wide. It is dominated by unusually shaped volcanic hills, the best known of which is Manaia, above the northern entrance. Manaia was an important ancestor of the Whāngārei tribes, and a tradition says he was transformed into one of the jagged peaks at the summit. Settlements and beaches are dotted around the harbour’s picturesque bays both east and south of Whāngārei City.

Return of the kiwi

The loss of native bush around Whāngārei Harbour and the prevalence of predators such as stoats and rats has spurred conservation groups to action. One project aims to increase the population of New Zealand’s famous flightless bird, the kiwi. Tactics include trapping predators, raising the awareness of dog owners, enlisting help from farmers, and tagging and monitoring kiwi that are breeding.

Marsden Point

Deep-water berth at the south head of the Whāngārei Harbour entrance, 38 km by road south-east of Whāngārei. Logs and timber are exported, and tankers unload crude oil for New Zealand’s only oil refinery there. An oil-fired power station, built in 1965–67, is close by.

The refinery, completed in 1964, was dramatically expanded in the early 1980s and in the 2000s. It produces petrol, diesel, jet fuel, kerosene, fuel oil, bitumen, sulfur for agricultural fertiliser, and carbon dioxide for carbonated drinks. Almost half the fuel output is carried by pipeline to Auckland, the balance being shipped around the country by coastal tanker or taken by road.

Bream Head to Bay of Islands coast

Indented, pōhutukawa-fringed, scenic coast stretching from Bream Head, at the entrance to Whāngārei Harbour, to Cape Brett at the entrance to the Bay of Islands. Shore-fishing excursions are run from Whāngārei (December to April). There is big-game fishing and all-year diving from Tutukākā, where an artificial reef has been created by the sunken frigates Waikato and Tui.

Bream Head Reserve has coastal broadleaf forest with a number of rare native plants, as well as kiwi and green and Pacific geckos.

The coast is cut off from the interior by hills, whose catchments drain north and south to Waikare in the Bay of Islands and Whāngārei Harbour. Therefore the coast was seldom visited other than by sea until roads were improved from the 1950s on. Since then a number of beach settlements – Whangaruru, Matapōuri, Ngunguru, Tutukākā and Whananaki – have developed along the coast. Whangamumu Harbour, south of Cape Brett, was the site of an early shore whaling station. It began in the 1840s, and from the 1890s until the 1930s it was a base for trapping humpback whales.

Poor Knights Islands

Group of rocky islands (total area 195 ha) 25 km offshore from Sandy Bay. The two main islands are Tawhiti Rahi and Aorangi, with Aorangaia and Archway islands at the southern end of the group. They are volcanic, and notable for their steep headlands and cliffs, tunnels, caves and natural bridges. They are also home to the rare Poor Knights lily (Xeronema callistemon), have populations of tuatara (lizard-like reptiles) and are the only known nesting place of the sea bird, Buller’s shearwater (Puffinus bulleri).

The waters surrounding the islands were made a marine reserve in 1981 because of the diverse sea life there, and are one of world’s top diving spots. The islands are a nature reserve, and landing without a permit from the Department of Conservation is prohibited. They were named by Captain James Cook on 25 November 1769, allegedly after a popular English dish of fried dumplings, called ‘poor knights’. The name is thought to refer to the lumpy appearance of the islands.

How to cite this page:

Claudia Orange, 'Northland places - Whāngārei Harbour and north', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/northland-places/page-16 (accessed 20 October 2017)

Story by Claudia Orange, published 12 Dec 2005, updated 4 May 2015