Kerikeri is a small town on the northern end of the North Island of New Zealand. I came to the area to see the Bay of Islands. Paihia is the town most people stay in, which is why I chose not to. Kerikeri is much more authentic, with more to it than meets the eye.
When you pull into downtown on the bus, you might, for a moment, wonder if it has much to offer. As it turns out, after two months in town (and frequent walks), I’m still discovering the amazing hidden gems of Kerikeri. It’s the perfect place to stay if you love nature walks, a small-town feel, and kind people.
Here are some must-see spots in Kerikeri.
On the surface, it appears to be a restaurant with an art gallery. Look deeper, and you’ll discover that Wharepuke offers a winding trail through a hillside full of international subtropical plant and tree species. You’ll see African violets and fruit you might never have heard of, like rose apples and feijoas.
I highly recommend staying in one of the cottages, where you’ll sleep surrounded by lush green trees and, if you’re lucky, hear the sounds of possums, kiwis, and morepork owls. By day, you’ll find rosemary, comfrey, and verbena — and that’s just what’s easy to spot.
If Robin is available, ask him to take you on a walk around the property. He introduced me to many of the plant species and explained the history of this amazing place. Each generation has contributed to it; Robin turned the orchard into the beautiful walk through nature it is today, and his daughter, Tania, added the sculpture garden, so you’ll see creations by different artists as you walk through.
If this isn’t temptation enough to spend at least a couple of hours there, Monte and Bella, the resident dogs, will be delighted to greet you.
Just down the road from the Wharepuke accommodation is a nature walk to one of the five waterfalls in Kerikeri. Your journey will bring you across a bridge, where you can look out on the river where the ducks and swans eagerly await any food that might fall from your hand.
From there, you’ll loop around on a nature trail full of local kauri trees and views of beautiful reflecting ponds. Snap a few photos of the Wharepuke waterfall (technically, it’s Wharepoke, but all the marketing is incorrect) and continue onward, all the way to Rainbow Falls, either by way of the woods or via the road along the highway if you’re feeling tired.
Te Wairere And The Secret Waterfall
These two waterfalls are close together, and the walk through the woods is beautiful. You’ll discover wooden bridges and a boulder plateau along the way. Te Wairere is a lovely place to sit and contemplate. There’s a perfect semicircular viewing spot to appreciate what’s right in front of you.
A short distance away, I was surprised by the Secret Waterfall. Of course, it’s not a secret, but I thought it would be less interesting than Te Wairere. Instead, it was like something out of an Indiana Jones movie! Complete with vines and a strange, movie-backdrop perspective, this smaller waterfall was awe-inspiring, and I highly recommend it.
If you have a GPS and it’s cloudy, you might become momentarily lost, but eventually you’ll happen upon a grove and a tree. You’ll know which ones I mean, because you’ll feel like fairies must have made them both. A short climb downward will bring you to the pools. If you’re lucky, swans and pukekos will be gliding on the water, and small rock rapids make the view beautiful.
As I walked out of the fairy pools with friends, I realized how it must have gotten its name. The grove is surrounded by huge trees, which I hadn’t even noticed on the walk in. The trees make the humans look tiny, almost like fairies!
The Kerikeri Basin And Stone Store
At the bottom of Kerikeri Road is an inlet full of history. It’s where the indigenous people and the Europeans first met and lived together in New Zealand. For this reason, the Kerikeri Basin has been nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status.
Today, it offers a beautiful place to relax right near the Stone Store, a former storage area for mission supplies that now offers souvenirs. Just down the path is a lovely garden and walk along the water to the Honey House Cafe. A short distance away is the entrance to several hiking paths, all of which are beautiful walks through nature.
There’s another hiking trail farther up Kerikeri Road from the basin on the right side. It’s marked with pink ribbons and a sign stating that it’s not maintained and to hike at your own risk. Locals explained that since it’s not maintained by the National Park Service, they had to put that sign up. It is, however, maintained by the locals. They do a fantastic job, and the hike is well worth it.
Where To Eat
If you like falafel, baba ganoush, and other Israeli food, you’ll love Cafe Jerusalem. The owners are an Argentinian-Israeli couple who make everything with love. You can dine in or take out. They make some of the best falafel I’ve ever tasted and are extremely friendly.
Honey House Cafe
One of the most peaceful places to eat in Kerikeri is the Honey House Cafe with its serene view. Grab a snack and a cup of coffee to enjoy on one of the white wood tables outside. It’s like sitting on the threshold of an old town inn with the perfect river view, blocked slightly by the gorgeous plant life surrounding the cafe. A walk along the river will not disappoint — you’ll get great photographs of the birds that walk around freely.
If you’re in the center of town, Cafe Zest is the perfect place to go for a casual bite to eat and a great cup of coffee. The cooked salmon sandwich is one of my favorite dishes at a reasonable price, and the coffee is great. They have a cooler where you can help yourself to as much water as you’d like, and the staff is beyond friendly.
If you prefer a simple salad, you could try the Fishbone right across the street from Cafe Zest. They also serve coffee and snacks that pair nicely with it.
For a fancier meal outside the center of town, try Maha Restaurant. With the fish, chicken, meat, and vegetable options, you’ll have no trouble finding something for you.
If you need a reminder of home, there’s even a Subway shop right in the town center. Thankfully, Starbucks has not made its way here.
Where To Shop
While Kerikeri may not be the fashion capital of the world, there are a few places worth perusing.
I wanted a merino possum sweater to keep warm for the winter, but they’re expensive. Possum Trendz offered a range of prices and options, and I finally found mine! Nothing fancy, but it’s warm and it fits, and, more importantly, it fit my budget.
If you’re more in the market for souvenirs or chocolates, try Makana Confections.
For such a small town, you can find virtually anything you need and much of what you want, from souvenirs to housewares to electronics.
The Old Packhouse Market
Just outside the main center is this local market. Open on weekends, it has a local farmers and craft market complete with fresh food and handmade items.
This week, some of the shops opened for takeaway services. I was delighted to stop at the Kerikeri Bakehouse and speak with the owner, a lovely Chinese woman, and see one of her playful sons. I said hello to my friends at Jerusalem Cafe and got some baba ganoush to go. These are all people I met my first week here, and with that small-town charm, we all remember each other, and I feel like I’ve made friends.
Where To Stay
Gooseberry Hill Studio
I spent a week with Keri at her Airbnb just outside the center, complete with my own room, bathroom, and cooking area; a beautiful view; and a sweet dog and cat. It was only a 10-minute walk from the city center and offered a peaceful night’s sleep.
This is where I’ve been blessed to hibernate for lockdown. The cottages are spacious, one-bedroom residences where you can cook and feel at home or wander down the path to the Maha Restaurant.
If you prefer to stay closer to the center of town, check out Stay Kerikeri or the Kerikeri Court Motel.
This is one of those places you can run in and out of for the highlights, or spend some time and get a deeper experience of the nature and the people, enjoying a hidden world of forests, bridges, rivers, and friends.