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Exploring New Zealand

Whakatane Area Guide

View from the coast to the Crater of White Island
(Whakaauri) - active marine volcano - ©
Sunny Whakatane, the eastern Bay of Plenty's main settlement, has a picturesque location on a natural harbour at the mouth of the Whakatane River, with the steaming active volcano, White Island, 50 kilometres offshore.

The town is an hour's drive down the coast from Tauranga, and is the last main stop before Eastland. It has a reputation as one of the sunniest places in the country and is a good place to get out on the water to swim with dolphins, watch whales, go deep sea fishing or take a tour to White Island.

Whakatane (pronounced 'fa-ka-ta-ne') has a long history of Maori settlement, and there are many sites of significance to the local Maori people in the centre of town. The Whakatane Information Office on Quay Street has a good booklet, Discover the Walks Around Whakatane, which will provide information on walking tracks and historic sites.

The centre of town at the intersection of The Strand and Commerce Street is marked by the large rock known as Pohaturoa, an important traditional site for the Maori people, where warriors were once tattooed and where New Zealand's founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, was signed by local chiefs in 1840.

There are two good walking tracks in the area. The first is the four-kilometre River Walk, which follows the southern bank of the Whakatane River on its journey out to sea. The walk takes in the town's main attractions, including River Edge Park with its children's playground and model railway, the Whakatane Wharf where fishing boats are moored, and the Mataatua Reserve, where there is a replica of the historic Maori Mataatua waka (canoe).

The second, the 16-kilometre Nga Tapuwae o Toi (Footprints of Toi) walkway, takes you to Toi's Pa, reputed to be the oldest Maori fortified site in New Zealand and through the Kohi Point Scenic Reserve on the headland. The walkway has great coastal views and, like the River Walk, can be walked in sections.

Offshore, there is the wildlife reserve of Whale Island, and the steaming, active volcano of White Island to explore.

Whale Island (Moutohora), nine kilometres offshore, earned its name because of its whale-like shape. The island is home to a large breeding colony of grey-faced petrels, and to other endangered birds, including little blue penguins, dotterels and saddlebacks. There are guided tours of the island between December and February.

Volcanic White Island (Whaakari) was named by explorer Captain Cook because of its permanent clouds of mist and steam. There are guided boat and helicopter trips to the island to see this other-worldly landscape with its billowing clouds of gas, steam and ash at first-hand. Tour operators will provide gas masks and hard hats so you can stand close to the pools of bubbling mud and pillars of smoke and steam. The island is also a great place for scuba diving, with crystal clear waters around the island, and water temperatures of up to 24 degrees Celsius in the summer. The island is a breeding ground for the Australasian gannet, which can sometimes be seen diving for prey at speeds of up to 145 kilometres an hour.