Remember how you used to hate going for bushwalks when you were young, and then as an adult, all of a sudden, they started sounding quite good? Funny how working for some drongo at a desk eight hours a day can make getting away from it all seem so appealing. Well, Whangarei has some incredible walks: along the coast, through massive Kauri forests and up spectacular mountains.
In fact, the surrounding area has enough natural wonders to keep your mind off work for at least a week. Legendary frogman (not a racial thing, that was his job) Jacques Cousteau named the Poor Knights Islands as one of his top ten diving destinations in the world. The islands are about 20km off the coast so you're best to go with an experienced skipper, but what better way to use that PADI qualification you almost killed yourself getting in Thailand trying to impress some hot Scandinavian, and haven't used ever since?
In beauty pageants, 'most photogenic' is the award they give the girl who's learnt which camera angle is best for hiding her gigantic schnozz. It's a different story with waterfalls: Whangarei Falls are the most photographed in the country, and you can get there on foot from the marina at the centre of town. Bring a camera, a picnic hamper and an iPod with TLC's hit song 'Waterfalls' on repeat to help get you into the appropriate mood.
The food's good up north too: bet you didn't know Whangarei had a destination restaurant. Fine dining mecca à Deco is regularly named among the best places to eat in New Zealand, and they do good-as deals for lunch.
And when feeding time's over for you, check out feeding time with the lions and tigers at Zion Wildlife Park. For more information, put the park's name into Google (just don't put it into Google News - trust us, it really ruins the vibe).