Whakatane, a little town in the eastern Bay of Plenty, is one of New Zealand’s best kept secrets. It’s known for its gorgeous beaches and vast rugged coastline, and you’ll feel like you’re on a deserted island – except with great food and hot coffee at your fingertips.
Whether it’s surfing, snorkeling, fishing or long walks on the beach that you’re interested in, chances are you can do it in or around Whakatane, and you won’t have to fight the crowd to find it. There’s a strong Maori heritage on this coast, too, which makes for a truly New Zealand cultural experience.
What is Whakatane known for?
The Whakatane region is most famous for sunshine and glorious beaches, with its crown jewel being Ohope, just ten minutes drive from Whakatane town. Ohope was actually voted New Zealand’s best and most loved beach, with 11 kilometres of walkable sandy beach stretching as far as the eye can see. Well, from Ohiwa harbour to the West End, at least. The harbour is a wonderland for those on a search for adventure activities, with kiteboarding, windsurfing, kayaking, sailing and waterskiing on offer.
If swimming with dolphins is on your bucket list, this is the place to hang out. In fact, Ohope is known around the country for Moko the friendly dolphin, who used to hang out with surfers all the way along the coast in the summer of 2010.
The region has always been famous for White Island, the active marine volcano just off its shores. However, after the tragic volcano eruption in 2019, White Island has been closed to visitors. Whale Island (Moutohora), however, is a gorgeous island sanctuary, and a little known gem. It’s pest-free, full of native New Zealand birds and forest to discover, and tours can be organised from Whakatane. When you’re done appreciating the wildlife, dig yourself a natural steaming spa in the sand at Onepū Bay, Moutohorā’s secluded hot water beach.
Whakatane is also known for its local cultural heritage, with the land and hills around the district dotted with ancient Maori pa sites. The history brings in both domestic and international tourism; check out Tuawhare Pa, Kohi Point Scenic Reserve and the Whakatane exhibition centre to get immersed.
If walking is your thing, Whakatane is surrounded by some amazing tracks, from short family-friendly hikes to overnight missions into the neighboring Te Ureweras.
What should I see in Whakatane?
If you’ve only got a day in Whakatane, it’s time to extend your holiday. There are far too many attractions for one day. Take the classic walk down the white sands of Ohope and watch time disappear into the endless horizon. Visit the dreamy Ōtarawairere Bay, which is only accessible by foot or kayak, and well worth the trip.
Fancy a soak? Awakeri hot springs offer just that, and a whole range of accommodation, too, from charming cabins to classic Kiwi campsites. It’s located just ten minutes from Whakatane but feels utterly secluded, and is close to some great rivers for fishing, too.
The Bay of Plenty offers some of the best surf spots in New Zealand, and Whakatane is at the epicenter. The ocean is a surfer’s paradise round here, with some fantastic breaks and (arguably) the most sunshine in the country. Whakatane Heads, a right hand point river mouth break, is just one of them, but there are plenty more on the menu, and if you explore just a little you’ll find some waves that you an have all to yourself.
How do you get to Whakatane?
Whakatane is pretty accessible from anywhere in the North Island of New Zealand. It’s halfway (ish) between Auckland and Gisborne, and close to both Rotorua and Tauranga. You can drive, you can bus, you can fly, heck – you could even catch a boat.
Can you fly to Whakatane?
Little ol’ Whakatane actually does have it’s own airport, though it only offers limited flights. The closest regional airport is Rotorua (about an hour’s drive away).
How long does it take to drive from Auckland to Whakatane?
The drive from Auckland to Whakatane takes about four hours, but make sure to leave yourself more time, there are some charming spots along the way.
How far is Whakatane from Gisborne?
Whakatane is about a three hour drive to Gisborne, (although if you wanted to go all the way around the East Cape, you’d be in for a day-long adventure).
Is Whakatane a good place to live?
As far as lifestyle goes, Whakatane offers a little of everything. It’s popular with families, retirees and die-hard surfers for its year-round warm climate and ocean vibes. It’s just a small town, but the main street has got its fair share of charming cafes and restaurants.
What is there to do in Whakatane on a rainy day?
Though the nature of the Bay of Plenty district is best enjoyed on a sunny day, when it’s miserable outside (rare) there are plenty of attractions on the menu within four walls. The Whakatane library and exhibition centre is a learning hub; it’s a museum filled with local culture, an art gallery with three separate gallery spaces, and a classic library offering a range of council services. Search their website for opening hours and exhibitions.
What time of year is best to go to Whakatane?
The best time to visit the Whakatane district is during the New Zealand spring and summer. The days are warm and long, so there’s plenty of time to explore, though be prepared to share the shores – it’s a popular Kiwi summer holiday destination. If having the beach to yourself sounds more like a bit of you, come in winter (with a jacket) or in the shoulder seasons.
How long does it take to drive around the North Island?
Whakatane on its own its fantastic, but it’s best enjoyed as part of a road trip around the North Island. Give yourself a couple of weeks, hire a campervan and make like Jack Kerouac and get on the road. Welcome to sunny New Zealand.