Whakatane, an Antipodean hidden gem

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: Whakatane River and hinterland
Whakatane with Whakatane River and hinterland: Photo Ulrich Lange / CC BY-SA 3.0

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.

Things to do in Whakatane: Native vegetation in the rainforest at Mokorua, near Whakatane by Benjamin Melville CC-BY-SA-3.0
Native vegetation in the rainforest at Mokorua, near Whakatane: Photo Benjamin Melville / GNU Free

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.

Things to do in Whakatane: Kapu-te-rangi (Toi's Pā) at Kohi Point near Whakatane, where Te Tini-o-Toi and later arrivals from the Mātaatua settled
Toi’s Pa: Photo Ulrich Lange / CC BY-SA 3.0

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!”

Things to do in Whakatane: The Lady on the Rock' statue
The Lady on the Rock’ statue

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.

Things to do in Whakatane: Whakatane Harbour
Whakatane Harbour: Photo Robert Engberg / CC-BY-2.0

About JuliaHammond

Website: http://www.juliahammond.co.uk

Julia Hammond is a Geography teacher turned travel writer with a passion for places. Winning Mail Travel's Deep South competition was the catalyst to write for a diverse range of publications including Bradt's Bus Pass Britain Rides Again. She’s written Kindle guides to Cape Town, Peru and London for Unanchor and advice on Savannah for Wanderlust. When not travelling, she can be found at home in Essex planning her next trip, her two golden retrievers curled up at her feet.

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  1. White Island Volcano in New Zealand - Go 4 Travel Blog

    […] island is only possible via an organised tour. Helicopters leave from Rotorua, Tauranga and Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty. Boat trips leave daily from Whakatane so long as the sea is calm […]


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