The small settlement of Mangonui north of the Bay of Islands at the top of the North Island is famous for its fish and chip shop. However, great as it is, there's a lot more to this harborside village that make it well worth a stop.
Read more: New Zealand Regions: Northland
Mangonui is located on the eastern coast of Northland, approximately 65 kilometers north of Kerikeri. The small village is on the north-western side of what is the most sheltered natural harbor north of Whangaroa.
Mangonui is just a short detour off the main highway heading north, just before Cooper's Beach and Cable Bay.
Read more: Driving Tour: Bay of Islands to Cape Reinga
History of Mangonui
Maori history in Mangonui goes back as far the arrival of the first Polynesian migration around 900 AD. The name Mangonui translates as "large shark" and is named after a large shark shark apparently guided a canoe into the harbor several centuries ago.
Because of the shelter provided, Mangonui was an important center for European traders and whalers in the 1800s. It provided the main access point from Auckland to the far north until better roads were built in the 1930s.
Since then the population has dwindled significantly, until today is it a charming, if very quiet, little place. Yet despite the fact that Mangonui is now little more than a small collection of shops and other buildings, there is a surprising number of things to see and do here.
Mangonui Fish and Chip Shop
The Mangonui Fish and Chip Shop is a national icon for one of New Zealanders' favorite meals. It is often mentioned as producing the finest fish and chip meals in the country. It may not necessarily be the best, but the location would be very hard to beat.
The shop, which is actually more of a cafe, sits in a magical location, right over the water. The fish is all locally caught and wonderfully fresh. The variety of fish used is determined by what has been caught that day.
There is little else on the menu, but eating your fish and chips on one of the bench-like seats from a white paper wrapper is one of the delights of Northland. You can also have a beer or glass of wine (the cafe is fully licensed) and don't forget the essential condiments - tomato sauce and a slice of lemon. Heaven.
Other Places to Eat in Mangonui
If you don't fancy fish and chips there are several other eating places in Mangonui. In addition to a couple of other fish and chip/takeaway shops, there are a few pubs and restaurants. Probably the most decent is the Waterfront Cafe where you can also get a respectable coffee throughout the day.
There is also quite a good Thai restaurant on the waterfront; grab a table by the window for a nice view of the harbor.
Where to Stay in Mangonui
Many people wanting to stay in the area would probably opt for somewhere at Coopers Beach which is literally around the corner. However, if you fancy somewhere quaint and on a harbor rather than on the ocean there are a few boutique hotels and motels in Mangonui and at the adjacent harbor beach, Mill Bay.
What Else to See and Do in Mangonui
A striking feature of Mangonui is the number of historic buildings which line the waterfront. The most prominent of these is the Courthouse, which dates back to 1892. Although originally used as a courthouse, from 1949 until 1975 it served as the local police station. Since then this beautiful building, made entirely from kauri timber, has been restored. It is now used as an art gallery for a co-operative of local artists. It is well worth a visit, both for the art on display and for the beauty of the building's interior.
Mangonui is a lovely place to go for a stroll, even if just around the waterfront and wharf area. Even more memorable is the three kilometer long Mangonui Heritage Trail. This begins and ends at the courthouse, is well marked and gives a fascinating insight into the history of the area, as well as magnificent harbor and ocean views. It is a little hilly in places although not too strenuous; allow an hour and a half to complete the walk.
Rangikapiti Pa: Stunning Coastal Views
One of the highlights of the Mangonui/Coopers Beach area is the view from the summit of what was once a Maori pa. The Rangikapiti pa site, now part of the Rangikapiti Reserve, provides some of the most panoramic views to be found anywhere on the Northland east coast. It is in a strategic position at the entrance to the Mangonui Harbor and the terraced hillside is evidence that this was once a Maori fortified village.
The views from here are amazing. They encompass all of Mangonui Harbor and the coastline north, including Coopers Beach, Cable Bay and the rest of Doubtless Bay to the Karikari Peninsula.
To reach the viewing point of the Rangikapiti Reserve, carry along north from the Mangonui shops until you see the sign to the right (it's a short distance past the fish and chip shop; if you reach the main road you have gone too far). Drive along to the small car park at the base of the pa site. From there it's a short but reasonably steep climb to the summit.