Northland's only city offers a forgiving climate and easy access to the beaches and the top quality diving of the east coast.

But don't be in too much of a hurry to leave town. Take some time to see what makes Whangarei's people so proud of their home.

The Town Basin is the logical place to start. Take the walk along the river's edge, check out the speciality stores, browse the artists' studios, and grab a coffee from one of the many inviting cafés. With public art, children's play areas and an array of upscale restaurants, there's something here to suit all tastes. The views are pleasant too.

Clapham's Clocks (also known as The National Clock Museum) is worth a look. This family-run attraction is filled with 1,500 timepieces of all kinds, from regal grandfather clocks to cuckoo clocks. Or if you'd rather some relaxation outside, kick back by the sundial with a hokey-pokey ice cream from the conveniently-situated ice cream parlour.

Whangarei also offers fantastic opportunities to get close to Northland's natural heritage. The AH Reed Kauri Park and Whangarei Falls walkway takes you past 500 year-old kauri trees – a remnant of the forests that once towered over Northland – and onto the picturesque waterfall. It's over 26 metres high and tumbles over basalt cliffs formed two million years ago.

This natural beauty spot is also a great place to see and hear the local birdlife. Keep an eye open for the brightly coloured kukupa (wood pigeons) as well as tui and grey warblers.

Whangarei is situated on a beautiful natural harbour, and you'll be missing a trick if you don't explore it. Take a day trip to Whangarei Heads, and walk or mountain bike the Waimahanga Walkway. This all-weather path is suitable for all ages, and takes you through the subtropical mangrove forests that grow so vigorously in this part of the world.

Another must-see is the Tutukaka coast and the jaw-dropping beauty of beaches such as Matapouri. It's only a short drive from Whangarei city.

Smuggler's Bay image courtesy of Northland NZ