Whangarei, 105 mi/170 km north of Auckland on New Zealand's North Island, is a good base for exploring the island's northern region. Whangarei Heads offers secluded bays, and within a 45-minute drive are beautiful sandy beaches such as Whale Bay, Matapouri and Ocean Beach. For some of New Zealand's best scuba diving, visit Poor Knights Island Marine Reserve (13 mi/21 km from the marina at Tutukaka).

For spectacular waterfalls, head to Whangarei Falls (just north of town) or to nearby Reed Memorial Kauri Park for an easy walk through a wide variety of native trees. The town itself has a pretty harbor, arts and crafts shops (don't miss the Kauri Clock Factory), a renowned teahouse and the fascinating Clapham's Clock Museum.

Dargaville, 30 minutes west of Whangarei on the west coast, is the gateway to the ancient forests of the Kauri Coast, the best of which is Waipoua Forest, home to the 2,000-year-old, 164-ft/51-m kauri tree called Tane Mahuta.

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