Twin towns: Whakatane and Ohope

By: Liz Light

Twin towns: Whakatane and Ohope Whakatane, from the hill walk. Twin towns: Whakatane and Ohope
Twin towns: Whakatane and Ohope Twin towns: Whakatane and Ohope
Twin towns: Whakatane and Ohope Ohope. Twin towns: Whakatane and Ohope
Twin towns: Whakatane and Ohope Whale Island in the background. Twin towns: Whakatane and Ohope
Twin towns: Whakatane and Ohope Twin towns: Whakatane and Ohope
Twin towns: Whakatane and Ohope Twin towns: Whakatane and Ohope
Twin towns: Whakatane and Ohope Twin towns: Whakatane and Ohope
Twin towns: Whakatane and Ohope Twin towns: Whakatane and Ohope

A pretty river town, an amazing beach and a great walk between them… we take a trip to Whakatane and Ohope.

The cosmic beach designer got everything right when Ohope Beach was on the drawing board. It's a 13-kilometre sweep of sand, sea and surf, facing sunny north. It has a wide gently sloping stretch of sand, the waves are not usually too rough for safe swimming and there are some famous surf-breaks for board riders.

The beach is a much appreciated playground for the locals; runners pace out the kilometres, walkers stroll and dogs chase tennis balls and seagulls. In summer, swimmers, surfers and body boarders enjoy the waves and children play in streams that trail across it. On windy days, kite surfers and blow carters come out and zoom over sea and sand – both look to be enviably thrilling sports.

Ohope Beach has something for everyone and on a morning walk I enjoy the added bonus of watching a surf club competition. There are all sorts of races involving swimming beyond the breakers around buoys and back, paddling boards a great distance, and surfing in on those boards.

At the west-end of the beach, surfers pull on their wetsuits because, as a lad describes it, the waves curving around the headland are "small but fun".

This area is popular with families mainly because of a park, public toilets and shady pohutukawa trees. As the day warms the water fills with people enjoying the waves; diving through them, jumping over them and body surfing. This is old-fashioned family fun.

Walking from Ohope to Whakatane

The walk from Ohope to Whakatane – around the coast and over the hills – starts at the northwest end of Ohope Beach.

The path is mostly through the Ohope Beach Scenic Reserve which, amongst other things, boasts one of New Zealand's biggest pohutukawa forests (gorgeous at Christmas) and a good selection of native birds including endangered kiwi and little black robins.

A staunch 10-minute hike upwards takes us to the top of the cliff. We look back, down along the beach, over aeons of simmering sea to the dusky purple mountains of East Cape in the far distance. It's a moment to savour: sometimes we don't stop to notice, and appreciate, the beauty of this land.

Ohope _Whakatane _4

The next stop is a small cove totally bedded with shells. There are hundreds of millions of them, crunching under foot, sun-bleached and bright-white. I want to stay and fossick through them while finding shell-treasure, but we are only 10 minutes into a two-hour walk.

Otarawairere Bay, a neat sandy half-moon where bush touches the shore, is a rocky headland away. It's deserted by all but a few red-legged gulls. It is a paradisiacal place: forest, sparkling clear waves, breezeless and blue. It would be a great place to picnic, swim and laze around.

It's up hill from here but, luckily, through mature bush so is shady on this hot bright day. Between the feathery crowns of pongas there are glimpses of White Island sitting in bright blue ocean and, as the track heads north, zig-zagging its way along the cliff top, Moutohora Island (Whale Island) comes into view.

Captain Cook sailed past this headland in November 1769. He named White Island (not very imaginatively; it's white with volcanic ash) and Mt Edgecumbe, the pointed volcano he saw on the plains beyond. This ridge looked very different when he sailed by.

Near Kohi Point, the bush is luxurious, green, cool and shrill with cicadas. There are viewing spots where we look down over Whakatane, its heart and business district wedged between the river and the hill and the residential suburbs spreading between wide loops of the river.

The track finishes on a quiet residential street and its downhill to town, to lunch and a long cold drink.


Whakatane's central business area is small enough to easily walk around but big enough to have plenty of terrific little cafes and restaurants; choices include pizza, Indian, Turkish, Chinese and classy restaurants with fusion cuisine.

We end up at the river-edge wharf where Wally's Fish & Chips and the Wharf Shed and have an unbeatable location next to each other.

Wally's has the bonus of a talkative parrot but the Wharf Shed has more imaginative food. We have a slow lunch; fishing and tour boats come and go, and we watch children leaping from the wharf into the river.

The children, and there are at least 30 of them, come from the houses around nearby Wairaka Marae. The boys do dives, jumps, flips and bombs, in and out of the water, time and again, swimming like seals against a strong out-going tide. They ham-it-up for me and my camera, "Look at me, Miss," "Take my photo, Miss," "We are the Wairaka kids, Miss."

Ohope _Whakatane _6

The girls are less show-offish in their tricks but they jump in, swim and then lie flat on the hot concrete, chatting and warming-up between dips. It's a joy to see them and to be part of their uncomplicated delight in the wharf and water.

When the sun is low and the heat fading I walk along the riverbank. I reflect that though I can't afford the big-ticket entertainments that many people come to Whakatane for visiting White Island, diving and deep-sea fishing – I have had a terrific day in this cute town and its beautiful beach sister over the hill.

And except for lunch it was all free.

Where to stay

  • Ohope Beach Top 10 Holiday Park. Next to the beach, 36 delux beachside sties plus a whole lot more. $26 per person high season and $21 other times.
  • Whakatane Holiday Park. By the river, five minutes riverside walk to town, 70 large sheltered sites. $15 per person, increases during high season.

Where to eat in Whakatane

  • Roquette. Elegant, contemporary cuisine, superb salads.
  • The Wharf Shed. Great location, excellent seafood.
  • Buket Turkish Kebab House. Eat in or take away, good food, great value, 113 The Strand.
  • Wally's on the Wharf. Good fish and chips and more. Wally, a talking parrot, adds to the ambience.

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