First settled by Europeans in the 1830s (although Cook had sailed by 70 years before), it rose up to become an important port throughout the 19th century. Today, the main industries revolve around the oil refinery (at Marsden Point), manufacturing, farming and tourism, with the harbour area being used mainly by people to park their yachts – New Zealand's very own Monaco.
The Town Basin is where you'll find most of the high end living going on. It's a favourite stopping off point for those lucky enough to get to sail around the coastal waters of Bream Bay. The waterfront development here is a pretty vista of galleries, shops, bars and restaurants, particularly beautiful at night, and is also where you'll find the National Clock Museum; housing the largest collection of timepieces in the southern hemisphere. Another museum worth a visit, is Kiwi North, which chronicles both the Maori and European history of Whangarei, including exhibits such as an original 1886 Kauri homestead, and working vintage machinery and vehicles.
The city's art collection can be found in Whangarei Art Museum, in Cafler Park, while the Quarry Art Centre is where you'll find artisans and craftspeople hard at work making the objets d'art of tomorrow, and is where you should go to bag that unique memento of your visit here. If you want to shop like a local, head for the Growers Market, held every Saturday in Water Street, and pick up fresh ingredients for a picnic in nearby Botanica Whangarei (Botanic Gardens).
To get a bird's eye view of Whangarei, get yourself up to Mount Parihaka Lookout, from where you can survey the kingdom below, everything from the city centre out to the harbour and the volcanic cones further inland. The war memorial that sits atop here, is illuminated at night, and serves almost like a homing beacon for boats out at sea trying to find their way back.
Back down below, Whangarei has a range of 'must dos' when visiting the area, including a trip to the AH Reed Kauri Park, with its walking tracks, waterfall and gigantic, 500-year old kauri trees. Perhaps head over to Whangarei Falls to get some spectacular pictures of what are called 'the most photogenic falls in New Zealand', then get the adrenalin pumping at Glenbervie Forest, with its zip wires, Tarzan Jump and high speed flying fox.
Further natural wonders can be found at Whangarei Heads, east of the city, around the bay, and the site of a marine reserve, kiwi sanctuary, and plenty of places to go swimming, fishing, kayaking and walking. A hike up Mount Manaia is essential if you want to see one of the best views in New Zealand.
In the city, browse around the numerous galleries and boutique arts & crafts shops, jewellers and workshops, before heading to one of the region's renowned seafood restaurants to sample the local, award-winning cuisine. The Brauhaus Frings in Lower Dent Street is one of the country's oldest micro-breweries, and worth stopping by to sample a flagon or two of ale, whilst the CBD has plenty of old-style pubs and restaurants in which to relax and make friends.
Whangarei is easily accessible via State Highway 1, and also has its own Airport operating domestic flights to both the North and South Islands. The city is also one of the North Island's greenest, with over a dozen different parks and reserves within the city limits.