Whakatāne is a busy, attractive, riverside town and, nearby, Ōhope has a sublime beach
1. Ōhope Beach
Beaches seldom beat this 13-kilometre sweep of sand, sea and surf, facing the sun. 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.
It’s a treat for visitors and a much-appreciated playground for the locals; runners pace out the kilometres, walkers stroll and dogs chase balls and seagulls. In summer, swimmers, surfers and bodyboarders enjoy the waves and children play in streams that trail across it. On windy days kite surfers and blow carts and zoom up and down. Beaches don’t get more beautiful than this.
2. Kohi Point Walk
The two and a half-hour walk from Ōhope to Whakatāne, or visa versa, includes deserted beaches, fantastic views, rich native bush and a strenuous uphill hike, whichever way you go.
Highlights include deserted Ōtarawairere Bay, a sandy half-moon where bush touches the shore. It’s great for swimming or a picnic. And, over a rocky headland, a small cove is totally covered in shells. Hundreds of millions of them, bleached and bright-white, are a shell-fossickers heaven.
From the ridge, there are great views. To the south down Ōhope Beach, over shimmering sea to the purple mountains of East Cape. Look north at Whakatāne’s commercial centre, wedged between the river and the ridge, and the residential suburbs spreading between wide loops of the river. To the east, there are aeons of blue ocean with volcanic White Island making a steaming focal point.
3. Cute shops
Whakatāne town centre is small enough to easily walk around but big enough to have plenty of cafes and restaurants and cute boutiquey souvenir, art and fashion shops. There is a busy wharf where children from Wairaka Marae do dives, jumps, flips and bombs, in and out of the water, while keeping an eye out for game fishing boats coming and going. And there are wharf-side cafes for visitors to watch the fun over coffee.
4. Whakatāne Riverbank Walk
This one-hour walk, or much faster cycle ride, from the river mouth to the road bridge, includes many lovely distractions such as the rose gardens, a skate park and playground, and the Whakatāne Heads, where boats navigate through a treacherous rocky gap as the river nears the sea.
It’s busiest in the late afternoon when after-work activities are in full swing; cyclists zoom along the river path, runners puff past and children roll laughing down the grassy bank. The river is busy, too, with rowers and runabouts and dogs fetching sticks. And the sunsets over the Rangitaikī Plains are often superlative.
5. Visit White Island
Explore the inner crater of an active volcano. Experience roaring fumaroles, bubbling mud, fantastically coloured earth and swirling sulphur-smelling steam. It’s 49 kilometres off the coast, a six-hour daytime adventure, and there is a good chance you will see dolphins and a whale or two. It’s costly but White Island is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.