Perhaps the hardest thing about visiting Whakatane is being able to pronounce the place’s name. The “wh” is sounded as an “f”, making it more “fokka-tar-nee” than “wacker-tain” but practise carefully or you might be accused of mouthing an obscenity. Once you arrive, you can ask a local resident how close you’ve come to getting it right.
Things to do in Whakatane
Hike/Take long walks
This small town in the Bay of Plenty, about fifty miles south along the coast from Tauranga, is thought to be the sunniest in New Zealand. Set in the midst of some beautiful scenery, Whakatane’s the perfect base for taking long walks. One of the most rewarding walks in the area is the Nga Tapuewae o Toi (Footsteps of Toi) track, where you’ll spot native plant species such as silver-leafed ponga, climbing ferns, vines, orchids and tawa trees.
It’s worth the climb to Toi’s Pa, if you have the legs for it. Via the Kohi Point Scenic Reserve, the hike takes you past the Wairere Falls and through lush vegetation to reach a cliff top viewpoint with panoramic views of the Bay of Plenty.
Explore the harbour
Whakatane sits at the mouth of the river that shares its name. Check out Wally’s on the Wharf for a fish and chip supper or simply take a stroll along the waterfront. Look out for the bronze statue perched on top of Turuturu Rock at the entrance to the harbour. It depicts Wairaka, daughter of Toroa, captain of the Mataatua waka, the canoe of Maori legend. When the canoe began to drift out to sea, she was the one who seized a paddle and brought the canoe safely back to land. So the story goes, she cried “Kia Whakatane au i ahau!” which translates as “I will act the part of a man!”
Visit the beach
If the harbour doesn’t cut it and you yearn for the sea, then it’s only a short drive to Ohope Beach, located to the east of Whakatane. A long strip of fine white sand extends east to the spit that protects Ohiwa Harbour, perfect for an early morning jog, a stroll with the dog or a cycle along the coast road. In the water, the gentle waves make this a great place to learn to surf and of course, there are plenty of opportunities for sailing, water skiing or paddle boarding. Just to the north, solitude seekers might prefer the more secluded Otarawairere Bay, reached on foot via the Kohi Point Scenic Track. In such a beautiful setting, you’ll wonder where everyone’s gone.