Mangawhai cliff walk is one of the best short walks in New Zealand. It features a walk on the beach, high over the cliffs with stunning views and along the rocky shore line...and all in 8km!
The walk starts at the Mangawhai surf beach. There’s a parking lot that can get quite full in summer. As you walk down to the beach, you turn left and first enjoy a lovely stroll along a semi-dark beach.
After about a 20 minutes’ walk, you’ll see a sign for the turn off to the cliff part of the walk. I suggest you do the cliffs first, but you will have to check your time to see when low tide is. Mangawhai Walkway can only be done within about 2 hours either side of low tide!
Mangawhai Cliff Walk: High above the sea...
If you decide to do the cliff walk first, there are steps that bring you high up over the beach. The steep bit only lasts for a short while and it will mostly be flat once you’re at the top.
The views over the beach and the ocean are unbelievably stunning! The blue of the ocean and the sky against the white waves, the yellow of the sand and the hills shine with a vivid green.
The walkway is very well maintained by the DOC but sometimes you still need to be careful to watch your step as you’re too much in awe of the view!
At the end of the cliff walk, there are steps that bring you back down to water level. This is where the rockier, but not less beautiful, part of the walk starts.
… and Over rocky terrain
For most of the way back to the sandy part of the beach, you will climb over small and big rocks and pebbles. Watch your step because it’s very easy to sprain an ankle here, especially if the rocks are wet.
What I found really interesting about the walk over the rocks was how they changed shape and size every time we turned a corner. Some were smooth and washed round from the waves, others were downright spikey, and all in their own little corner. Yeah I know, things you think when focusing too much on the floor, lol!
Mangawhai cliff walk is thought to take 3 hours for the whole loop of about 8 kilometers. We managed to take more than this, but only really because we have been walking so sloooow, taking in the views and exploring some more of the rocks. It’s probably very doable in about half the time, if you’re on a tight schedule. And remember that you can only do the walk within about 2 hours either side of low tide or the beach part of the walk will be flooded!
Other things to do in Mangawhai
Every Saturday from 9am to 1pm, there’s a small farmers market in the center of Mangawhai. There are local produce to be bought, handmade clothes and jewellery and much more. In the small gallery next to the market you can marvel at local art pieces.
Explore the sand dunes
The sand dunes in Mangawhai are quite impressive. They might probably not keep up with the giant dunes on 90 Mile Beach, but they’re definitely worth exploring. To get to the dunes, you have to drive to the Pacific Beach access (off Back Swamp Road, before the entry into Mangawhai).
Once on the beach, you can go either left or right. We went right and after a while of beach walking, came to a little river that flowed into the ocean.
If you turn left, you will reach the big sand dune. It might need some walking, though.
Surfing and kayaking
Mangawhai is popular for surfing. There is a quite reliable surf on the beach in Mangawhai Heads and Te Arai. The harbour behind the sandbank is nicely sheltered for wind and kite surfing as well as kayaking.
Relax on the beach
The beach and sand dunes are great for a relaxing day on the beach! Go play in the waves or go for a swim in the harbour. But whatever you do, don’t forget to bring your own sun umbrella as there isn’t much shelter from the sun on the beach.
Auckland to Mangawhai
Driving from Auckland to Mangawhai is quick and easy. From the city center it will take you about 90 minutes. Drive north on Highway 1 and about 10 minutes past Warkworth, there will be a turn-off sign in direction Mangawhai. Just follow the signs until you arrive.
From Warkworth, you also have the possibility to turn right into Matakana - Matakana Village Pub has great food if you’re after lunch and there’s a popular farmers market on Saturdays - and then take the road less travelled towards Mangawhai.
Although Mangawhai officially belongs to Northland already, it could easily be visited as a day trip from Auckland. But you might just not want to leave, so better add a night and make it a weekend.
Accommodation in Mangawhai
There is not a lot of accommodation in Mangawhai. Most places to stay are small bed & breakfasts, which are great for a romantic getaway as a couple. Or there are apartments for families. Either way, I suggest you book ahead when you decide to stay in Mangawhai for the night.
We stayed in the lovely Mangawhai Lodge to celebrate my one-year-anniversary of living in New Zealand.
The charming house towers over Mangawhai Heads and both B&B rooms of the house have views of the beach and ocean. Downstairs, there are two self-contained apartments.
Every room has a little private balcony section to sit with a glass of wine, look over the ocean and with some luck you can even spot dolphins or orcas in the water (most likely in spring)!
Discover Aotearoa Tip: Don’t close your blinds over night and let yourself be woken up by sunrise! It’s totally worth it! For about an hour, we just lay there in bed and watched the sun go up. It was magical!
Once you do get up, there will be the most amazing breakfast waiting for you. Muesli, yoghurt, fruits, bread and jam, bacon and eggs! If you’re hungry, you can order it ALL! I actually wanted to take a picture of our brekky, but we completely forgot over all the goodness on our plates!
Mangawhai Lodge has a warm, homely feel, as if you stayed with family or friends. If you’re after a romantic weekend getaway, this should be your place to stay!
Compared to accommodation, there is almost an abundance of restaurants in Mangawhai. Most of them are in the town of Mangawhai. Mangawhai Heads has a very small center with a cafe, restaurant and some take-outs.
The historic tavern opened in 1859 and was first visited by kauri bushmen and ship passengers. It is now a modern pub, famous for its great live music and yummy pub-grub. It’s the only pub in Mangawhai that sits directly on the water and the views from the garden are just amazing! And as I said, they have heaps of live music. To see what’s going on, it’s best to visit their Facebook Page.
Wood Street Freehouse
The restaurant in Mangawhai Heads has a big deck and outdoor area for warm summer afternoons and nights and also looks quite charming inside. There are Atari games to keep small and big children busy.
The pizzas are homemade and delicious. It’s always a treat to find a place in New Zealand where they make their own pizza dough instead of those cardboard-tasting wheels.
The ribs they served us, however, were one of the worst we had! It could’ve been a one-off, or not, we don't know. But I suggest you stick with pizza, you can’t go wrong there.
Discover Aotearoa Tip: If you don’t travel in off-season and would like to go for dinner in Mangahwai, make sure to reserve a table for the evening as it can get very full.
If you are looking for a time off from the hustle and bustle of the big smoke, you should definitely consider a weekend or more in Mangawhai. The town’s relaxing atmosphere, the beaches and the cliff walk will calm you right down. The only downside is that you might not want to leave anymore.