Kawhia Harbour's coastal charm

By: Esha Chanda, Photography by: Esha Chanda


MCD visits Waikato's Kawhia Harbour, a harbour-side township with fascinating Maori and European history

Set on the rugged west coast of the North Island, the coastal village of Kawhia is approximately an hour’s drive southwest of Hamilton.

Home to around 650 people, this harbour-side township is easy to miss it on the map, with most travellers making their way here only after a recommendation or, as in our case, after finding a last-minute beautiful bach on AirBnB during a long weekend.

Kawhia Harbour history

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Kawhia is steeped in fascinating Maori and European history. As the story goes, the great waka Tainui arrived at Kawhia more than 750 years ago. The expedition was led by Hoturoa and Rakataura who were in search of their prophesied landing place.

On reaching Kawhia, they tied their waka to a pohutukawa tree—the ancient grove still marks the point of the landing. Maori artefacts, art exhibitions, and stories of local history can be viewed at the regional museum and gallery that doubles as the visitor information centre.

Each year in February, the town hosts the Kawhia Traditional Maori Kai Festival, bringing together artists, performers, and musicians in a celebration of Maori culture and food, including the traditional hangi.

Te Puia Springs—Kawhia’s claim to fame

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The quiet roads of Kawhia lead to a quieter place where geothermally heated water lets you dig your own sandy spa pool. Drive to the end of Te Puia Road, walk over the black-sand dunes, and at either side of the low tide, dig a hole and soak in the warm water. It is perhaps Waikato’s best-kept secret. 

Accommodation in Kawhia

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While there are plenty of baches to choose from, motorhomers can relax and unwind at the Kawhia Camping Ground—a quite holiday park that has 14 power sites and four standard cabins.

On-site facilities include a laundry (with clothes dryer), fridge/freezer, microwave, oven, and even a free barbeque. If you are a keen fisher, there is a fish cleaning facility on-site that includes a smoker and a bait freezer.

For accommodation with harbour views, you can park your motorhome at the Kawhia Beachside S-Cape Holiday Park—600 metres from the township—that has motels, cabins, camping sites, and powered motorhome sites.

The annual Kawhia Regatta

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Surrounded by the coast, it is only natural to find people casting a rod in the waters for their daily catch. You will find a fresh feed of snapper, kahawai, and trevally in the waters that surround this town. Keen fishers without a boat have the option to hop onto one of the many fishing charter vessels available.

The waters also play host to traditional whaleboats that battle it out every year at the Kawhia Regatta that takes place on New Year’s Day. Rowing teams from around the town battle for honours in three regattas that bring the community together on the first day on the year.

Travelling to Kawhia

  • If you’re travelling from the north, take the scenic route via Raglan
  • The 2018 Kawhia Traditional Maori Kai Festival will be held on 3 February
  • There are plenty of hikes and walks around the town, including the two-hour harbour walk, the three-hour Ocean Beach walk, and the 1.5-hour walk around the Aotea Harbour—a 15-minute drive from Kawhia
  • Standard cabins at Kawhia Camping Ground cost around $50 to $60 for two people plus $18 per extra adult and $9 per child. The campsite tariff is $18 per adult and $9 per child. Off-season discounts are available for NZMCA members. For more information, visit kawhiacampingground.co.nz.
  • Cabins at Kawhia Beachside S-Cape start from $65 per night for two adults. Powered campsites are available from $40 per night, with non-powered tent sites ranging between $20 to $40 per night. Off-season discounts are available to NZMCA members.

Check out more Waikato destinations to visit.

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