We’ve spent months preparing Dazzler for our upcoming journey from New Zealand to Fiji and two an a half years waiting for this time to finally arrive. There’s no doubt we are definitely ready to move on but before we cast off our lines and say our final goodbyes we decided we needed to spend one last brilliant day exploring Whangarei.
Living in this town of around 90,000 people has been quite the experience for both of us. First of all, we never meant to have it feel like home, rather more like an extended vacation spot. Of course the “Vid” had other plans for us and, quite frankly, that’s okay. If the recent pandemic did anything good it gave us an opportunity to get to know New Zealand in ways many Kiwis never will.
It also gave us the opportunity to really get to know the little gem known as Whangarei. Whangarei is a quaint and diverse little city with a lot of culture and beauty. She’s got dazzling parks, walking and bike trails that skirt the fabulous basin as well as traverse lush forests filled with waterfalls and giant Kauri trees. There’s some fabulous restaurants and pubs, a little shopping and just about everything a yachtie could need in terms of tradespeople and supplies.
Comprised of approximately 70% Europeans, 25% Māori and 5% other nationalities such as Pacific Islanders, Asians etc…we’ve found the people here to be truly fantastic. They are kind and most will go out of their way to help you with whatever you need. Yes, living here for the past few years has been a wonderful experience.
So, on this, our final full day in the area, we’ve decided to spend our time visiting our favorite haunts as well as the brand new Hundertwasser Museum that we’ve watched being built here in the Town Basin. Yes, one last walk around town just to soak it all in before we cast off our lines and head to Marsden Cove to await our weather window.
The Rolling Ball Clock
One thing we love about Whangarei and New Zealand in general is their amazing use of outdoor spaces. The parks and walkways in and around the cities are truly special. Here in Whangarei they seem to have this obsession with clocks. There’s the Clapham’s Clock Museum behind the marina office that has a giant sundial in front of it.
Atop of the marina office is the black time ball time keeper where each day at noon the ball slides down the spire. It is a symbolic connection between the area’s maritime history and its maritime future, as represented by the cruising community on the Hatea River.
And now, there’s the new About Time Rolling Ball Clock right beside the playground and clock museum. Now this clock is actually something to see. It took 14 years to come into existence. The last two of which were the actual building and trial phase. The folks over at Absolute Stainless built it and it is truly fascinating. This “rolling ball” kinetic sculpture sits inside a glass enclosure that is topped with an stainless steel waved roof.
The sculpture is comprised of 35 “bowling balls” that run along stainless steel tracks. In one corner you have the the sculpture of a female peddling away. As she peddles the balls are lifted up a chain elevator and then dropped onto various tracks. They roll, twist, turn, do loop the loops, banked curves and more. Eventually the balls land on time teeter totters. There is one teeter totter that illustrates the hour, two for the minutes and one for seconds.
By looking at the balls in the trays you can tell the time. It’s really very fascinating to watch. I could literally sit there all day watching it. Click here to see a live feed of the clock in action.
A Tasty Treat At The Butter Factory
Next we were off to the Butter Factory for some lunch but we arrived a tad early so we ended up stopping at Split just around the corner where we had a beer and bought some time. We have enjoyed eating here too as they have great salads and incredible wings but my favorite meal in all of Whangarei is at the Butter Factory and if I am going to enjoy one last meal in the area then it’s got to be there.
The Butter Factory has become a true favorite of ours for the historical building, great staff and truly amazing food. Built in 1905 this building was actually used as a butter factory; hence the name. The stone floors are uneven and sloping reminding you that this is a very old building. Constructed of basalt blocks (volcanic rock blocks) and huge wooden beams made from Kauri trees this place reminds me of the inside of an old European castle. There’s a wonderful outdoor patio area that’s under cover and they even have a stage where they host bands on the weekends.
Today it’s a bit rainy out but it’s still warm enough to warrant sitting outside. We arrive early enough so as to beat the lunch crowd. I’m nearly drooling just thinking of the meal that I’ll be having. For me, my favorite is the spicy chicken sandwich but I opt to forgo the bread so they put the spicy chicken on a bed of greens and then drizzle chipotle mayo over it. Around the plate they scatter a few jalepeno poppers. It is sooooooo good!
For Dan, it’s the creamy garlic prawns over garlic bread, topped with cheese and bacon. I think we’ve both had the exact same meal the last dozen times we’ve been in here. And, honestly, that’s a bit crazy because they have so many other fabulously tasty dishes to choose from. In fact, if you ever get here you should try their Butter Burger. This sandwich is epic with slow cooked brisket, a cajun chicken breast, slaw and a deep fried pickle. I mean really….it’s a meat lover’s dream and it’s loaded with flavor.
As expected they did not disappoint. We enjoyed our last meal here chatting with the staff who we have come to know quite well. Our feast here was one to be truly savored. When we were done the staff wished us a fond farewell as we headed out for our next stop.
No Straight Lines
A short walk back through town and we arrived at the newly opened Hundertwasser Museum and Art Centre. Now, to fully appreciate this place you really need to know a bit about Friedensreich Hundertwasser. He was a famed architect, artist, painter and true friend of the planet. Born in Vienna, Austria in 1928 it wasn’t until he was fifty-five years old that he started designing buildings. Prior to that he was a painter and artist.
As you can see from the building here in Whangarei he was one who detested straight lines. Even the floors in and around the museum are undulating. He once said, “rolling floors are a melody to the feet”. He thought flat floors were unnatural and disconnected humans from the earth. He actually believed straight lines were evil and the downfall of humanity. Yes, he was the typical oddball artist. But, that said, he did create some very interesting paintings as well as thirty-five buildings around the world that are absolutely fascinating.
Hundertwasser moved to New Zealand in the seventies and purchased some land where he could live off grid for the most part. In Kawakawa, a town just outside of Opua, you’ll find the Hundertwasser Toilets. Yes, I said, “toilets”. We’ve been by there but never could go in because it was undergoing a giant reconstruction. The toilets were commissioned by the local council as a way to grab some tourists on their way up to Opua.
Unfortunately he died at sea in 2000 and was not alive to see the museum here in Whangarei or the beautiful park that was created around it. Having watched the construction here over the past three years we weren’t going to leave until we took a stroll through it. So, after lunch we decided to take a look.
In the bottom floor of the museum there is a Māori exhibit which, sadly, we found to be of little interest. There are so many talented Māori artists in this country and the handful of exhibits in this room were quite frankly, just not very good. We’ve heard that the reason for this is that with the Covid delays in construction many of those who planned to exhibit their pieces here pulled out and put their work in other museums so hopefully as time goes on this exhibit will get better.
The second floor houses a restaurant called Aqua. We haven’t eaten there but we did stop in for a pint not long after they opened. The view across the marina from the outside tables is lovely but quite frankly the menu just doesn’t appeal to us. With things like rabbit ribs and Vietnamese omelettes filled with shrimp, crispy pork and peanuts or oysters at $5 NZD a piece, this just isn’t a place we decided to try. But, if that’s your thing then you’d probably enjoy it and you’re sure to love the views.
The third floor is where the interesting paintings and artwork of Friedensreich Hundertwasser are on display. As I said, he’s a bit out there….sort of like Picasso in a way, so the paintings were a little strange as well but, nevertheless, they were interesting to view. He had a very energetic style filled with lots of color.
One of Hundertwasser’s signature elements in buildings is the living rooftop and this museum is no exception. In fact, this building hosts the largest living rooftop in the Southern Hemisphere. 540 cubic meters of soil were lifted to its rooftop before the plantings arrived.
From the roof you can see all of the basin and the town of Whangarei. On the northeast corner of the roof there is, as Dan affectionately refers to it, the Golden Tit of Whangarei. It’s the 3.5 ton cupola that crowns the tower and it’s actually covered in $50,000 NZD of real gold leaf.
What’s really interesting about this is that tile layers were tasked with abandoning what they know about tiling to create something truly different. There is not a single straight line of tile or brick in the entire place! Workers were given creative freedom to do what they thought fit the building. Some added Māori style artwork, others paid tribute to Hundertwasser himself and still others saluted the sailing community. In every corner there’s something unique about the structure.
All this said, you can see the museum in about a half hour…maybe an hour if you really take your time. The entrance fee is $21unless you are a local resident. Honestly we felt it was a bit high for what you got but I guess they to find some way to recoup the $33 million they spent building it. As Dan said, the place is really about the building itself and, well, you can see that all day for free. Anyway, we’re happy we took the time to stop in before we left.
It’s A Wrap
After our stop at the museum we needed to stop by Frings to pick up our personalized beer mugs and, of course, have one last beer with our friends there. There weren’t many people there as it was still early but it was nice to see Haydz one last time.
As we strolled along the quay looking at the restaurants and shops, watching the kids play in the new fountains and on the playground I felt as if we were saying goodbye, not only to the people here in Whangarei but to an entire way of life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m ready to move on but this place will always be very near and dear to my heart.
We took one last photo on the Victoria Canopy Bridge where we were married and from there it was back to Dazzler to prepare for our departure the following morning.
Until next time,