West of Matauri Bay, the virtually landlocked and sheltered Whangaroa Harbour is the perfect antidote to Bay of Islands’ commercialism. The scenery, albeit on a smaller scale, is easily a match for its southern cousin and, despite the limited facilities, you can still get out on a cruise or to join the big-game fishers. Narrow inlets forge between cliffs and steep hills, most notably the two bald volcanic plugs, St Paul and St Peter, which rise behind the harbour’s two settlements, WHANGAROA on the south side, and TOTARA NORTH opposite.
Whangaroa Harbour was among the first areas in New Zealand to be visited by European pioneers, most famously those aboard the Boyd, which called here in 1809 to load kauri spars for shipping to Britain. A couple of days after its arrival, all 66 crew were killed and the ship burned by local Maori in retribution for the crew’s mistreatment of Tara, a high-born Maori sailor who had apparently transgressed the ship’s rules. A British whaler avenged the incident by burning the entire Maori village, sparking off a series of skirmishes that spread over the north for five years. Later the vast stands of kauri were hacked down and milled, some at Totara North. Even if you’re just passing through, it’s worth driving the 4km along the northern shore of the harbour to Totara North, passing the remains of this historic community’s last sawmills, which ceased operation a few years back.