Whakatane is known as the "Sunshine Capital of New Zealand" as it regularly takes the record for the most sunshine hours in a year of any place in New Zealand. Although a small town, it and its surrounding areas have a huge amount to offer the visitor.
Whakatane's Size and Location
Whakatane is the largest town and unofficial capital of the Eastern Bay of Plenty. It is approximately one hundred kilometers east along the coast from Tauranga and is situated on its own harbor. The town itself is reasonably small with a hinterland of farming lowlands and the mountains of the Te Urewera National Park beyond. Just over the hill is Ohope, another beautiful beachside town.
The beautiful beaches and wide range of outdoor activities make this a popular area over the summer, particularly in January. The rest of the year it is seldom busy, making it an ideal area to explore at a leisurely pace.
The combined total population of Whakatane and Ohope is just 17,000, although it swells to more than twice that in the summer.
Nestled in a sheltered easterly corner of the North Island, Whakatane's climate is pleasantly temperate, and doesn't suffer extremes of heat and cold.
In addition to having the highest sunshine hours annually in New Zealand, Whakatane is also one of the warmest part of the country. In fact, it has the highest recorded temperature for about 55 days a year.
Winters are mild and sunny. Spring and autumn can bring higher rainfall, but at any time of year one word describes the prevailing Whakatane weather - sunny!
Whakatane has a long history of Maori settlement, attracted by the climate and the abundant seafood. With the arrival of the European settlers in the 1830s, conflicts arose which culminated in the raiding of the town in 1869 by Maori chief Te Kooti. He succeeded in destroying the town's few buildings!
Agriculture, forestry and, more recently, tourism have brought development and prosperity to the town. However, many remnants of the historical past remain and are one of the fascinations of the area.
Main Attractions in Whakatane
White Island, New Zealand's only active marine volcano, is just 50 kilometers off the coast, and can be visited from Whakatane by boat or from the air.
White Island and the nearby Volkner Rocks are also two of the best scuba diving spots in New Zealand, if not in the world.
Fishing abounds - deep sea game fishing by boat and angling in the many rivers and streams are both very popular. Whitebait, a New Zealand delicacy, is also fished for in the season which runs from August until November.
Ohope Beach, an eleven kilometer stretch of pristine sand, is one of the best beaches on the coast.
There are also numerous trails and hikes around Whakatane, many of them affording spectacular elevated views and pristine New Zealand flora and fauna. The town itself has a number of pretty parks and gardens.
Where to Eat in Whakatane
There is a small selection of restaurants and bars in Tauranga, but the standard is high. There are also a number of casual cafes and takeaway bars. Most of the restaurants in the town are located on the main street, with a greater concentration towards the seaward end. Ohope also has two or three cafes.More:
Where to Stay in Whakatane
Whakatane, Ohope and surrounds offer every level of accommodation, including camping grounds, B&Bs, backpacker hostels, motels and apartments. Booking is not normally necessary, apart from in the summer months.
Read More: Freedom Camping in New Zealand
Things to Do in Whakatane
Apart from the obvious attractions, the thing to do in Whakatane is to get out and explore! There are walks around the harbor, at Ohope (and the adjacent Ohiwa Harbor). Opotiki, a further 20 kilometers down the coast is also well worth a visit for yet more beautiful scenery and places of interest.