A Taste of Eutopia: Kaiwaka, Mangawhai and Bream Bay

February 2, 2024
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ABOUT a year ago, I did a post called ‘Travelling North from Auckland’, in which I described a journey north from Auckland, up the east coast via Pūhoi, Warkworth, Matakana, Leigh, Tī Point, and Pākiri, as far as Te Ārai Beach.

The area traversed in ‘Travelling North from Auckland’. Background Map data ©2022 Google. The name of Leigh has been duplicated for clarity. All maps in this post have north at the top.

The first part of the journey as far as Pākiri followed a regular tourist trail, but the latter part was more intrepid.

North of Pākiri, there is a confusing network of local roads, many of them only gravel, that form a sort of spider’s web with the village of Tomarata in the middle. Still, you get to see some things you’d never see otherwise. It’s very natural.

Ordinarily, though, if you had just done the touristy bit as far as Pākiri and were still heading north, you would double back via Whangaripo to State Highway 1 at Wellsford. It is a bit of a dogleg but beats meandering about on gravel roads.

Here is a wider view of the road back to Wellsford, and the next stage of the journey north.

Map data ©2023 Google.

Although you could think of Northland or Te Tai Tokerau as everything north of Auckland, the formal administrative limit of the big city is actually quite a long way up the peninsula.

All that area north of Pākiri that I described as “very natural” just above, even as far as Te Ārai Beach, is technically a suburb of Auckland.

So too is everything between Warkworth and Wellsford on the main road, bypassing Leigh. This is the quickest if least scenic way north.

Even on this stretch of State Highway 1, bypassing the seaside attractions of Matakana, Leigh, Tī Point, and Pākiri, you still pass through the mountainous and heavily forested Dome Valley, where there is a hillside café, walking tracks, and a lookout. All still within Auckland.

Anyhow, as the city ultimately relinquishes its grip, you see this sign.

Kaiwaka, the first sizable town in official Northland, is really my favourite stop on this section of road.

Kaiwaka is a bit of a craft village, with a dedicated Kaiwaka Cheese Shop and Dutch Shop. The latter specialises in Continental European and Indonesian products and perishables made locally but in the same style, including a further selection of cheeses.

Kaiwaka at Sunset

Pūhoi and Mercer also have notable cheese shops: I thought I might drop that in at this point. People from Auckland like to buy that sort of thing, and sustain many crafts in the neighbouring towns and villages.

The tourist trails leading out of Auckland are thus foodie trails as well.

But Kaiwaka does have one thing that is really unique, and that is the Eutopia Café, built up over the last quarter century or so by a pair of artists. The next three photographs are of the Eutopia Café.

You can’t miss it!

At Kaiwaka, you can either keep travelling north on State Highway 1, which remains well inland nearly all the way to Whangarei, or divert back east to the coast.

In this post, I head east. It’s a route that takes you to Mangawhai and Mangawhai Heads, just north of Te Ārai Beach, which you can also get to by this route.

The attraction of going this way is that Mangawhai is a really special place. There’s a lookout in the town itself, where you can look out over a Pacific Ocean studded with nearby islands.

View from the Mangawhai Lookout

However, the main attraction is Mangawhai Heads, the nearby beach suburb. The beach is studded with rocks, many of them white limestone, which has been mined from this section of coast for years. Not from the more touristy bits, of course.

White limestone outcrop above the beach at Mangawhai Heads

On the edge of the outcrop

Looking down from the outcrop

The rocks poke out of the beach, and many of them have been eroded into strange shapes, ranging from a rock just off the beach that looks like a sundial to boulders that have been half dissolved, or so it seems.

Rocks at Mangawhai Heads

Much of the limestone in this area displays spectacular surface patterns, formed by honeycomb weathering.

Honeycomb weathering

More honeycomb weathering

A major attraction is the Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway, which begins with an ascent up a green hill, from the beach, some way toward the north of the Mangawhai Heads Reserve, past a massive sandy dune and several sets of rocks.

Heading along the beach to the start of the Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway, past the dune

The rocks are awash at high tide, but you can walk along firm sands that lie between them at low tide.

The sign at the start of the walkway

A view from the Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway, looking toward Mangawhai Heads

On the walkway, looking north

At the walkway’s summit lookout

From Mangawhai Heads, you go over a hill quite similar to the one between Leigh and Pākiri, but much more heavily forested, to arrive in Bream Bay. This is a broad sweeping bay with several holiday resorts along it. Bream Bay finishes up at Marsden Point, the industrial-cum-canal home suburb of Whangarei.

One thing that dominates the view out to sea from Bream Bay, and Mangawhai as well, is the group collectively known Hen and Chicken Islands.

The largest island, Taranga, which appeared to Captain Cook like a hen with small chicks grouped around it, is about six kilometres long, with high pinnacles extending to 417 metres even though the island is only about one kilometre wide: so, it is clearly quite steep. These days, the islands are a reserve for birdlife.

Taranga, with Sail Rock at the right, as seen from Mangawhai Heads (telephoto photograph)

Here’s a relaxing video of the Hen and Chickens from Langs Beach (nothing much happens!) You can see Sail Rock to the right, quite some distance from Taranga. At Mangawhai, Sail Rock is in front. Sailors have long used the changing position of the islands relative to each other as a means of navigation.

North of Langs Beach are Waipu and Waipu Cove, famous for having been settled by Scots who arrived first at Nova Scotia and decided to press on to New Zealand. Some of the street names, such as Nova Scotia Drive, honour this epic journey.

Artwork on the public toilets at Waipu Cove

The Scots got here eventually, but found that the Māori had got here first!

It is also worth checking out the Waipu Caves Track.

Further north, you get to Uretiti Campground, and then Ruakākā. These are on the beach as well, and they are close enough to Whangārei to have dramatic views of Mount Manaia and the Whangārei Heads. These can also be seen from Waipu Cove and Langs Beach, but they aren’t so prominent.

Uretiti Campground signs

Uretiti Campground (telephoto view)

A map at Ruakākā, showing Marsden Point just to its north and the Whangārei Heads just across the water


In the vicinity of Marsden Point, you can hike the Ruakākā Pipeline Road Track for three kilometres, behind the beach.

From just south of Ruakākā, the main road curves inland to reach Whangārei. The Tangihua Forest Walks SW of Whangarei on the way to Portlland.

Map data via the New Zealand Department of Conservation by Land Information New Zealand, CC BY 4.0 (2022 or 2023)

One last spot that is worth visiting is the Otaika Valley, inland from State Highway 1 just south of Whangārei.

To finish up, the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) has a page on places to go in Northland, here. And there are more tourist photos of all parts of Northland on the website of the NorthlandInc Media Centre.

If you liked this post, check out my award-winning book about the North Island, available from this website,


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