Down by the Riverside

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There’s something for everyone on Whangārei’s Huarahi o Te Whai (Hātea Loop) Walk

Story +  Photos Sheryl Bainbridge

Cycling or skipping, chattering, leading dogs while tugging at parents’ hands, on a fine weekend morning it’s heart-warming to see happy children wending their way around Whangārei’s Huarahi o Te Whai (Hātea Loop) Walk. In fact, the 4.2km loop walk alongside the Hātea River, across Te Matau a Pohe (Fishhook of Pohe) bridge and back along Riverside Drive to the town basin has become a popular destination for Whangārei locals and visitors of all ages.

This walk really has something for everyone. Parents and children love to meet friends here, and the shared path is both accessible and dog-friendly. As well as the Reyburn House gallery, an art trail lines the path which is increasingly used by families, regular exercisers, runners, joggers and cyclists. Chris Booth’s millennium sculpture Waka and Wave takes pride of place before you cross the footbridge, but there are many other art installations alongside the river. The website lists the works and gives a brief description of each one under the ‘Arts & Crafts (Taonga)’ section. There are also descriptive pamphlets available at Whangārei’s information centre.

There’s always plenty going on in the river itself too, from seabirds diving, to boats heading up and down the harbour. Children who need a break from steady walking can stop to play for a while at the Pocket Park’s grassed area and sandpit, or the beach-themed children’s playground at the town basin, and across the river a specially designated dog exercise park caters for canines. Adults who want a rest can recline on one of Justin Murfitt’s ‘seagull’ seats, concrete artworks that function as surprisingly comfortable places to rest. Some of these are placed near the 8-metre camera obscura sculpture, where once inside, one can get a different perspective of Te Matau a Pohe.


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A skatepark and a BMX track attract older kids, and round about here, for the more energetic among us, Huarahi o Te Whai connects to an easy 10km return shared path to the suburb of Onerahi. The route follows the waterfront, and the return trip takes walkers about 3.5 hours. Obviously, cyclists can do it in a much shorter timeframe.

While not particularly scenic, being mostly mangroves on one side and the road on the other, it’s possible to catch glimpses of moored yachts or the comings and goings at busy Port Whangārei across the harbour. But for many it’s a good workout.

People generally start walking from the town basin end of the loop. Whangārei’s new Hundertwasser art centre is the most prominent feature here. Although not due for completion until the end of 2021, the centre is easily the most distinctive structure in the city, right on the town basin end of the 4.2km walk and beside a large carpark. The building, which will incorporate the Wairau Māori Art Gallery caused some controversy when its plastic wrap covering was first removed, but as bricks, bits and bobs have been added, it’s becoming much more visually interesting. Locals were enthralled when the 8-metre high 3.5-tonne gold cupola was lifted into place on the roof. Custom-made in Whangārei its aluminium construction is covered by hand-applied gold leaf that is sealed for protection.


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Between the Victoria Canopy bridge over the Hātea River and the Hundertwasser building a new park is being developed with space for, among other things, an amphitheatre, interactive water feature and a large kinetic sculpture. Being a worksite, it’s obviously fenced off from the public, but there’s always that attraction of peering through the fence, coffee in hand, watching other people work.

Because after the walk, a coffee or smoothie followed by a wander around the specialty shops in the town basin is a welcome change. Inside the Burning Issues gallery, glass blowers can often be seen demonstrating their craftsmanship, and we watched Brendan create a colourful drinking glass. Claphams National Clock Museum is full of rare and unusual clocks, and there are several cafés and restaurants to choose from.

The town basin area is a real credit to Whangārei District Council, and it can only get better as developments proceed. Due to the variety of activities in the locality we found this to be one of the most enjoyable walks in a built-up area.


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The local council is doing some really smart forward planning. Links between the city and the suburbs of Raumanga and Kamo are being constructed, and a Tikipunga link is in the development stage. The Kamo link adjoins the rail corridor. It provides safer travel options for pupils at local schools, and creates an open, parklike feel alongside the school grounds. Being almost a direct line to the city centre, it’s also a great alternative for Whangārei workers. As part of the council’s 2021–31 long-term plan there is a proposal to create further connections between the city centre and the waterfront. Once the additional paths are constructed, they will add a lot of value to the future visitor experience. 


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