Approximately 100km north of Auckland is the small village of Mangawhai and just north of that is Mangawhai Heads. This popular seaside town epitomises laid back Kiwi living and is full of artists, craftsmen (and women) and families seeking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. It has an estuary that makes it a perfect launching spot for boaties heading out to the nearby Hen and Chicken islands for a spot of fishing or diving, and when the swell is running from the north east, it has a good break that makes it a popular surfing spot.
Needless to say, in summer, the beach at Mangawhai Heads can get pretty busy. But if fishing, surfing or simply hanging out on the beach is not your style, don’t be tempted to give this place a miss because it offers something rather special in the form of the Mangawhai Cliffs Walkway. This looped walk (at low tide) gives you the opportunity to explore the rugged coast just north of Mangawhai Beach and offers clifftop views of nearby Bream Head to the north (another great walking spot) and on clear days, views of the northern tip of the Coromandel peninsula almost 100km to the south. For us personally, this walk is a real highlight of the area and if you do it, we’re sure you’ll feel the same way.
This 5km walk starts at Mangawhai Heads Beach itself where there is parking and toilets but no shops so you may want to stop off in the village first. There are however pop-up stalls in the busier months selling coffee or frozen yoghurt but on the day we were there, it was way too early for them.
Heading down onto the sand, you’ll walk for about 1km north along the beach until you reach a small stream and just after that, on your left, you’ll see a sign where the path begins. At this point, depending on the tide you have a choice. You can either head up to the top of the cliffs and then return via the beach, or you can continue along the beach and return via the clifftop path. The reason why tide is a factor is because at the northernmost point of the loop is a feature (more on that later) which is impassable once the tide comes in so you really want to time it to be there around low tide.
So assuming the tide is not an issue which is the best way to do the loop? It depends on your attitude towards the steps (lots of them) at the northern end of the loop. If you don’t mind a bit of a sweaty workout as you climb a seemingless endless set of stairs then do the beach section first as we did.
The further north along the beach you go, the more rugged and interesting it becomes with many coves, channels and rock pools to explore. Apart from a few signs of life, you could almost imagine that you were the only one on some deserted island far from civilisation.
Just over a kilometre from the stream, there’s a section of rock hopping before you reach a secluded beach where, if it’s hot, you can stop and rest in the shade or better yet, take a little dip. We’re not sure if this beach has an official name, but we’ve decided to call it Column Beach. It will become apparent why as you continue north.
From Column Beach, the track continues along the coast for almost another kilometre until you reach this rather spectacular looking arch which, assuming you’ve timed it correctly, you’ll be able to walk through without getting wet.
After the arch, the track makes its way back via the clifftop path. There’s nothing to stop you continuing along the coast from this point and one day we most probably will although we’re not entirely sure what we’ll find or where we’ll end up. But assuming you’re happy to head back at this point, this is where the step workout begins.
From the beach you climb steadily up the hillside through forest until the path eventually levels out. At this point, you join a section of Te Araroa, the 3,000 km walking trail (no, that’s not a typo) that stretches from the northern tip of New Zealand’s North Island all the way to the bottom of the South Island. Now that’s a walk! You can read more about it here.
Walking back along the clifftop towards Mangawhai Beach, the views are spectacular. To the north east you’ll see the jagged points of Taranga Island and looking south, you’ll see the white sands of Te Arai Beach that stretches some 9 km from the mouth of the Mangawhai estuary to Te Arai Point, another popular surf spot. 100 meters below you, you’ll get a whole new perspective on the beach you walked along earlier, complete with azure blue water if you’re as lucky as we were. Add to that some weather beaten trees and occasional stands of nikau palms and you’ll soon why we rate this walk so highly.
There’s lots to see and do along the east coast between Auckland and Whangarei but if we had to choose just a few highlights in the area, the Mangawhai cliff top walk would definitely be on our list. We’ve done it once and we’ll definitely be back there again some time. Maybe we’ll see you there?
Looking for more ideas on things to do and places to see when visiting the Northland region? Have a look at our guide, Top things to do in Northland.
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