When you round Bream's Head and enter Whangarei harbor you are in the stretch of water know as the Mad Mile. As we entered at 3:30 AM the winds were blowing 35 knots from behind. We ran at 5 knots down the channel under bare poles but there is no seas to speak of because of the short fetch. The channel is pretty well marked but a harbor chart is advisable. Whangarei Harbor control monitors VHF16 and they are always ready to help.
Checking in to New Zealand was much easier than we expect with very friendly and helpful Agriculture and Customs inspectors completed the formalities within 90 minutes of our arrival. We told them about everything that they could want and they took almost nothing. Don't bring bottom paint because they will take it. We were docked by 10:00 at Riverside Drive Marina and happy to have that very treacherous crossing behind us. We were lucky and unfortunately some of our fellow cruisers were not as fortunate.
We helped organize a Thanksgiving celebration at the Riverside Drive Marina. Normally an American celebration we found that many foreigners wanted to participate. Quite a few of the cruising fleet have had a Thanksgiving Dinner while cruising in or near the US. I guess Turkey and dressing is addictive because we had participants from Europe, Canada, New Zealand and Australia amongst the 40 participants. Fortunately whole turkeys have recently become available in NZ and we had 4 cans of Pumpkin onboard. The potluck dinner had 6 turkeys, 3 types of dressing including oyster dressing, mashed potatoes with gravy, cranberry sauce (who had that in the bilge?), several salads, vegetables and pumpkin pies. It was a feast. There was plenty for everybody and few leftovers so it worked out perfectly.
After our return from the States we purchased a car (the Go West Land Yacht). It is a Subaru (pronounced suBAHru in NZ) Leone (pronounced Leon by us). We have traveled around Whangarei a bit more and we have found it a complete and enjoyable city. It has a strong marine industry which is close to Auckland on level of service and about 15% lower on price.
The big draw of Whangarei is for live aboard cruisers. The constant flushing action of the river seems to compensate for the constant flushing action of the cruising yachts so there are no restrictions on live aboards.
The Town Basin has limited dock space available for transiting yachts though they accommodated most boats the year we were there with spaces vacated by locals taking their boats up to the Bay of Islands for the Summer. Overflow yachts tie up on pilings which means the dinghy stays in the water and there is no power but it is very cheap and still very secure.
Cars weren't nearly as secure with almost everyone in the Town Basin having their cars picked through at one point or another. A car alarm was a good investment.
Riverside Drive Marina is smaller and not as close to downtown but it is closer to marine services and has a safe carpark. All boats are on the dock with power, water and even phone if you want. They accept advance reservations and have haulout and hardstand for dry storage. Go West spent 6 months here and we really enjoyed it. It seemed that most of the yachties choosing Riverside were repeat visitors to New Zealand so I guess we were lucky to end up there our first visit. More information is available in Haulout and Hardstand.
The Whangarei Marine Association is organized to bring yachties to Whangarei. They police individual businesses to ensure fair pricing and good quality work. They put on a Hangi or Maori underground barbecue for the visiting yachts each year and most of us showed up as cruisers can't resist a free meal.