When it comes to classic New Zealand beach destinations, Whangamata is leading the charge -surfboard in arm, barbeque tongs in the other. It’s a slow-paced, feet-in-the-sand, stop-to-chat kind of a place, with a bustling village, world class surf break and gorgeous four kilometre stretch of white sand beach. Tucked into the southeast coast of the Coromandel in the North Island, a beloved New Zealand beach holiday region, Whangamata is as quintessentially Kiwi as the Fat Freddy’s you (and everyone else) will be listening to as you roll slowly into town.
What is Whangamata known for?
Whangamata is probably best known for its main beach, Otahu beach; a long stretch where golden sands meet the Pacific Ocean. Whangamata Beach famous for being an amazing surf spot, but it’s also one of the safest spots for swimming, which is what makes it one of the most popular beaches in New Zealand with both surfers and family holiday goers. Whangamata is also home to the quieter waters of its harbour and estuary, if rolling waves aren’t your thing. Hire a kayak or paddle board and cruise around the estuary, drifting past the wharf, or venture further out to the little islands that line the coast. Whenuakura Island (or Donut Island, as it’s nicknamed) is a favourite.
Whangamata is only two and half hours from Auckland, which means in summer it absolutely mushrooms. It’s popular with partiers (especially of the teen variety), so if you’re coming with the family, look for a property to rent that’s a little way out from the shops. Even the drive will put you in holiday mode, winding down that Coromandel highway, ducking in and out of dense native forest to flashes of gorgeous views of the coast.
What does Whangamata mean in English?
Whangamata is a te reo Maori name. ‘Whanga’ means bay and ‘matā’ means a hard stone. The region used to be known as Wharekawa, and Whangamata and the surrounding beaches were places where obsidian and chert used to be found and made into tools. Maori have a strong presence in the Waikato area, and their settlement in Whangamata goes back over 600 years. The hand painted maihi entranceway to the little rural school outside of town is a good reminder of this.
Where’s the best place to surf in Whangamata?
The best place for surfing at Whangamata is anywhere along the beach, really. If it’s not working at Whangamata beach, or it’s a bit crowded for your liking, there are plenty of other breaks to explore up and down the coast, like Opoutere, Onemana and Whiritoa. Whilst it’s the same sea, the tide and the swell can hit these beaches slightly differently, making for more favourable conditions. Better yet, make friends with a local at a bar in town, and see if you can get in on one of the secret spots.
How much does a surf lesson cost in Whangamata?
There are several surf schools and board rental spots in Whangamata, most located a walking distance from the beach. Whangamata Surf School usually charges $90 for an individual surf lesson, and a slightly cheaper price for group lessons – around $70 per person. It’s a busy place, so book ahead to save your space.
Where’s the best post-surf feed?
Whangamata goes from fairly quiet in the winter to absolutely heaving in the summer, and each sunny season it seems that more great bars, restaurants and cafes open up to cater to the hungry. Most are clustered around the main road, with plenty of good coffee and creative food options on the menu wherever you go.
When is the best time to visit Whangamata?
Depends what you’re after. For waves, the best season is winter, with the highest chance of getting clean breaks at Whangamata Beach being in the month of July.
For long hot days, plenty of people around and the smell of barbecue drifting from every property, December to February is your time. Folks flock to the area, drawn by the number of attractions. The scene is pretty similar along the entire coast of the Coromandel at this time of year – New Zealand shifts waaay down in gears over the school holidays of December and January, and the Coromandel is the vacay spot for much of the North Island.
In winter and the shoulder months (from March through to November), life is pretty different in Whangamata. It’s a much quieter, local vibe, mostly free of visitors apart from the weekend variety, who often come across from central Waikato to go fishing or get their water fix.
The most popular way to holiday here is to rent and stay at a house for the week or weekend, unless you’re lucky enough to know someone with a bach in the area.
What else is there to do in Whangamata?
There’s more to Whangamata than beach life, would you believe it. The surrounding land is covered in lovely native forest, and there are plenty of walking tracks to discover. Wentworth Valley is just out of town, and offers a lush, bush-shrouded campsite, access to the Coromandel Forest Park and a walking track to Wentworth Falls. It’s managed by the Department of Conservation and tent sites are about $15 per adult.
Williamson Park at the south end of town has plenty of green space and could make for a nice change from the the beach if you’re after it – follow the main road (aptly named Port Road) out of town, turn left onto Ocean Road and you’ll soon see the sign for the park.
How old is Whangamata?
Like we said, Maori have had settlements in Whangamata for over 600 years. In terms of European arrival, it was gold mining and its related activities which put the area on the map. Prospectors starting mining in 1887, and it continued on and off until the 1920s.
Is Whangamata safe?
Just like most of the country, this sleepy beach town is a pretty safe site. That being said, the week around New Years Eve, it’s filled with (solidly tipsy) Auckland teenagers on school holidays, and whilst they’re not menacing, they can be a nuisance, and you definitely don’t want to be staying close to the main road over this time.