An Insider’s Guide To Whakatāne – More Than You Ever Imagined

summer whakatane ohope strike

Small and perfectly formed, Whakatāne is an Eastern Bay of Plenty jewel worth discovering.

Labour Weekend might be the traditional welcome to warmer weather and planning longer summer breaks, but Whakatāne’s holiday vibe is all year round. You just haven’t looked closely enough.

Hailed as New Zealand’s sunshine capital, this Eastern Bay of Plenty gem has a lot more sparkle to see. Smaller than its closer tourism hotspots, Whakatāne’s size is actually its greatest asset. As a boutique destination, it boasts an extraordinary array of attractions. Ōhope and Ōhiwa Harbour are big jewels in the crown, of course. Steeped in history and legend – amid nature and pristine beaches – it’s what’s not so obvious that enhances the allure.

Discover Moutohorā eco sanctuary, walk the iconic Ngā Tapuwae o Toi trail or encounter new experiences at Toi Ōhiwa Oyster Farm. Now under iwi ownership, bold plans were launched this month as the farm looks to the future. This includes a harbour cruise starting at Port Ōhope to share the history and cultural significance of Ōhiwa Harbour. Expanding the oyster farm itself, you’ll learn how to shuck oysters and dine on the delicacy. Paua, mussels and fresh fish also sit on the menu at this popular harbour landmark.

Whether on the water or by the water, Whakatāne is blessed with beauty and nature – from endless golden sands along Ōhope Beach to bush-clad trails in the hills all around. Walkways are everywhere – none more defining perhaps, than Ngā Tapuwae o Toi – the footsteps of Toi – named after the legendary explorer and chief who ruled the area centuries ago.

Either in its entirety or short stints, this 18km loop twists and turns up and down coastal hills, through stunning bush and along two beautiful beaches. Breathtaking views stretch far out to sea and distant islands. A little-known fact is the area is dubbed by locals as the kiwi capital of the world. Around 300 wild kiwi live here – their evening calls heard often by nearby residents. Night walks are possible – but, while these shy birds might not appear, glow worms at part of the trail known as Fairbrother Loop will definitely put on a show. Entry is at the bottom of Ōhope hill – marked with a ‘gated’ Māori invitation.

Moutohorā Island – commonly known as Whale Island, due to its humpback shape – is a protected sanctuary. Only three local companies have access – and it’s here, where further revelation can be found. Sail around the island and meet friendly seals at their colony, before a tour on land to discover Moutohorā’s history and wildlife. Moutohorā even has its own hot water beach at Sulphur Bay. Far less people than at Coromandel. This is exclusive, thanks to boutique tours that only allow around 25 people at a time.

Kayak around the island, kayak around Ōhiwa Harbour, stroll along the harbour to watch boats come and go, dine on fine cuisine and bask in the sunshine. With its location – around an hour to Rotorua or Tauranga – Whakatāne is an easy day-trip adventure. Better yet, stay longer – and discover more than you ever imagined.

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