Road trips: Whakatane, Ohope and Ohiwa

By: Road Trip

Road trips: Whakatane, Ohope and Ohiwa Road trips: Whakatane, Ohope and Ohiwa
Road trips: Whakatane, Ohope and Ohiwa Road trips: Whakatane, Ohope and Ohiwa

Things to see and do in Whakatane, Ohope and Ohiwa.

Whakatane is a small town with a big heart. It’s apt that the town should be in the Bay of Plenty, as it is rich in many ways – its temperate climate (Whakatane is consistently New Zealand’s sunniest centre), its unpolluted air, and its lack of overcrowding.

The CBD is squeezed between high, bush-covered bluffs and the wide bends of the Whakatane River. As it has grown, the town has also encroached onto the flat plain that was once an area of swampland. A narrow isthmus separates river and town from the sea, but on a clear day, the ocean outlook with Whale Island in the foreground and the smudge of White Island (50 kilometres from the coast) anchor the eye. A curl of steam is often seen rising into the sky above White Island, New Zealand’s most consistently-active volcano.

From Whakatane it is just a short drive over tree-draped hills to Ohope. On the ocean-side of the long, narrow pohutukawa-backed peninsula, is a splendid surf beach and was voted the country’s best beach in a nationwide online poll last year. On the other side of the peninsula the road skirts the gentle marine environment of the Ohiwa Harbour, where the pardoned Te Kooti lived out his last years and where a plethora of wader and sea birds attract twitchers from around the world.

The area is rich in Maori lore. A commanding arch of rock (Pohaturoa) in Whakatane’s town centre was once the site of ancient ceremonies and further down-river is a modern incarnation of the renowned Mataatua canoe, which the famed Mãori navigator Toroa guided to its first landfall here.

More recently, a small shelter decorated with Mãori motifs has been built at the foot of Pohaturoa as a memorial to the heroes of the First and Second World Wars. Another natural feature of the town centre is the Wairere waterfall on Toroa Street, which is illuminated with coloured lights at night.

Along the modern riverbank walkway, signboards recount interesting stories from the area’s past. Today charter boats give visitors the chance to fish or dive in some of the most fish-abundant waters off New Zealand’s coastline. Launches and helicopters take people to White Island, and back on the mainland there are some exceptional bush walks.

Local knowledge

Scuba dive: explore the amazing water surrounding White Island, with a certified dive-master from Whakatane-based Dive White Island.

Cornevil: you need to be 16 years of age or over to experience this maze of horrors in a field of maize, open from 8.30pm every Friday (at the Amazing Maze ‘n’ Maize) from the beginning of January to the end of April.

A worthwhile gold-coin investment: the $2 booklet Discover the Walks Around Whakatane is available from the friendly i-SITE.

Sky of Plenty: on Tuesday or Friday nights when the skies are clear, head up the hill to Whakatane Observatory on Hurinui Avenue.

Pa of Gentle Breezes: follow the trail to Toi’s poetically-named pa, Kapu te Rangi, one of the oldest pa sites in New Zealand.

Ohope Scenic Reserve: take a guided nocturnal bush walk tour to hear the call of the kiwi.

Awakeri: visit the steaming hot pools just 10 minutes’ drive towards Rotorua from Whakatane.

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