Whangarei Heads

It’s amazing how quickly we got itchy feet after the we returned from the South Island so the chance to get away again and join a gathering of fellow Dethleffs owners in Northland was too good an opportunity to pass up. Despite the winter and worry about sodden campgrounds I managed to convince Sarah that we would find some nice places to stay and promised that a high pressure weather system was coming and it would be fine.

After rain on Monday and Tuesday and looking fairly gloomy Wednesday I wasn’t feeling so confident of fine weather coming but we headed away regardless with rain following us the whole way North. The plan was to check out the Waipu Caledonian Park for the first night as we had heard some really good things about the place. Sadly upon our arrival the camping area was roped off but we wouldn’t have parked there anyway as it was far to muddy and boggy.


We decided that we would move on towards Whangarei but first I wanted to try and catch up with Janice and Steve. I worked with Janice when I lived in Whangarei back in the early 1980’s and had completely lost touch until one day on the Motorhome Friends Facebook page I noticed that she had made a comment on the same post I had and followed it up from there.

Janice and Steve are full time in their 5th wheeler and have been for the last 3 1/2 years travelling a lot of New Zealand and loving the lifestyle. It was really good to catch up with them and I know we will meet again on the road one day soon.

So with Waipu out as a place to stay we decided that we would revisit the NZMCA camp at Manganese Point just out of Whangarei. Last time we visited this place we had to be towed up the driveway as we got stuck on the loose gravel. However shortly after we visited the tricky part of the driveway was sealed so we knew it would be OK.

It really is a pretty camp right on the harbour with views right out to the refinery at Marsden Point and up the harbour towards Whangarei. The only drawback was with the big hill behind the camp the sun still hadn’t made it to the van at 10.30am not really helping getting the house batteries charged.

We decided that we would move onto Ocean Beach where we knew there was walking track up the hill to the site of the WW2 Radar Station built in the early 1940’s as part of New Zealand’s coastal defence network. Parking in the car park we went to inspect the freedom camping area which has a maximum vehicle length of 10 metres. Sadly the only way you would fit a vehicle this size into the spot would be to take up the whole area leaving no space for others. Yet again a lack of thought on the part of planners not providing space for larger campers.

The sign showed a 5 to 6 hour walk for only 7 kilometres, thinking that we have walked this distance easily in 2 hours we set off along the pathway! Oh the ignorance of misplaced confidence! The walk starts off with a gentle climb through a small pine plantation and then starts heading uphill on a slightly steeper climb.

As we got higher up the hill we reached the foot cleaning station to assist with helping prevent the Kauri dieback disease which we would have used had they actually contained any of the chemicals in either of the bottles, but sadly they were both empty. Since we hadn’t been bush walking in these shoes since we brought them it probably didn’t matter anyway. Note to DOC: Put a phone number on the sign to call and let them know if the refill bottle needs refilling.

From the boot cleaning station the path takes a serious uphill slant and became quite the slog as we rose higher and higher up the hillside. All the while it was also a matter of watching were you placed your foot as the rain over the previous few days had left the path very wet and slippery. More than once both of us felt a foot slide out from underneath but thankfully both of us managed to remain upright.

There isn’t much left of the old Radar station and after about an hours climb to reach the ruins we felt a little cheated the views however did compensate for the lack of ruins. The station was manned by 5 staff we lived on site, with no road access you would have got rather fit getting up and down for supplies. I also wonder when I see concrete in a place like this how they actually got it here.

While we were at the Radar Station, Sarah got talking to lady who was coming down the track and she convinced us that it was only a short walk from here to the top of the hill and a spectacular lookout at that point. So even though I had struggled a little with the walk at this point I foolishly agreed to continue onwards.

It felt like the hill went from just being steep to being extremely steep with stairs appearing in a number of places as we rose up “vertical”cliffs. I am exaggerating here but for some reason I was really beginning to struggle and almost gave up when we reached the top.

At least we assumed it was the top as the path appeared to head downhill from here. We wandered out to the cliff edge to take in the views. Or at least Sarah did with my fear of heights getting the better of me. But to get the 360 degree views you would have to have climbed a really steep cliff or we where in the wrong place. Regardless I said to Sarah that I wasn’t going to proceed any further this was the limit of my climbing ability for the day and we started the downwards trek.


Of course the walk back down the hill was a lot easier that going the other way but the chance to have a seat and rest those legs has to be taken when a comfortable seat or at least a seat presents itself.

Despite my moaning and protests about the steepness of the climb it was well worth it and we both had a huge sense of achievement as we reached the lower levels of the hill on the way back to the beach.

It really is a very pretty beach and you can imagine in summer that it would be very popular despite it’s remoteness. The water almost looked good enough for a swim but the cold wind and common sense put paid to that very brief idea.

Whangarei Cruising Club - CAP

Proximity to Attractions

Right on Whangarei Harbour so good fishing and handy access to the walking tracks around Mt. Manaia.

Nearest Supplies/Town

A 10 minute drive into the local shopping centre.

Ground Surface

Parking on the grass right next to the water or when it's to wet then parking available on the hard next to the club.

Proximity to Water/Dump Station

Water on site but it's still a 15 minute drive into Whangarei to get to the dump station.

Outlook from Camp

Beautiful sea views with boats moored directly in front of you it's very pretty.

Noise during Day and Night

Very close to the road and rather noisy,

Cellphone Signal

Good signal but 4g faded in and out

Walking/Cycling Tracks

Nothing right here but a short drive to the walks at Mt Manaia and Whangarei Head.


Included in the charge for the night is free use of the toilet and showers.


There are 3 jetties nearby including one right at the camp or launch your boat right here.

Overall Rating:

A really nice place to stay but rather noisy. Limited to 5 NZMCA vans per night so get here early. At only $10 per night good value with the showers. There is a freedom camping area right next door if it\\\'s full when you get here.

We decided that rather than return to Manganese Point we would stay at the CAP Whangarei Cruising Club. There is actually also a freedom camp right next door too the club but it was just a bog so that ruled itself out. There is a limit of 5 motorhomes on any given night with this managed by the resident caretakers Dave and Karen who control the lockable gate.

It’s a really pretty spot right on the water with parking on the hard during such wet conditions it was the ideal spot for the night. At $10 including free use of the showers and toilets it’s also really well priced. About the only drawback is the traffic noise as when you park in the place we did you are rather close to the road. Still however the views made it worthwhile being there.

From here it’s off to Kerikeri where we are catching up with some fellow Dethleffs owners and the next part of the adventure….
If you would like to see all the places we have visited click here

If you would like to see the ratings of the places we have stayed click here

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2 thoughts on “Whangarei Heads

  1. So pleased you got away and are enjoying this lovely weather. Hope it continues for Kerikeri. Well done climbing up to the radar station – looked pretty inaccessible to me!

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