Nestled along the Kāpiti Coast and just an hour’s drive from Wellington, the rural town of Ōtaki is best known for its strong Māori history. It is also a base for some great outdoor activities.
There’s plenty to do in Ōtaki – from visiting heritage sites in the main town to heading to the Tararua Ranges for some fantastic hiking.
An overview of Ōtaki
|Ōtaki Beach, hiking in the Tararua Ranges, Rangiatea Church & Ōtaki Museum
|Wellington and Porirua
Māori culture in Ōtaki
Ōtaki became home to the Ngāti Raukawa iwi (a local Māori tribe) in around 1819. They migrated there and firmly established themselves in the area.
These roots are still an important part of life in
Ōtaki. The Māori university (or wānanga) ‘Te Wānanga o Raukawa’ is based in town and aims to provide official qualifications that fall under the Māori worldview.
Forty years ago, the Māori language was almost extinct among young people in Ōtaki (and across New Zealand). However, today Ōtaki is making a push to become New Zealand’s first official bilingual town!
Did you know? Ōtaki roughly translates to ‘place of sticking a staff into the ground.’
Things to do in Ōtaki
There are many outdoor activities and cultural sites to explore during your time in Ōtaki.
These are the most notable Ōtaki attractions…
Before an arsonist burned it down in 1995, the Rangiatea Church was the oldest Māori-Anglican church in the country.
Initially completed in 1851, the church was built under the direction of Māori chief, Te Rauparaha, and English missionary, Octavius Hadfield. It incorporated a beautiful fusion of English and Māori design.
Fortunately, a replica was built in the early 2000s, and much of its original and distinctive design has been restored.
The unique features of this church are best seen inside, so be sure to pop in if you can.
33 Te Rauparaha Street, Ōtaki 5512
If you want to learn about the region’s rich cultural heritage, then Ōtaki Museum is a great place to start.
This small museum tells the story of Ōtaki through a selection of documents, photographs, archives and artefacts. In addition, the passionate locals who run the museum are happy to answer any questions while you’re there.
49 Main Street, Ōtaki 5512
Ōtaki Māori heritage sites
While in the area, we also recommend you explore the Ōtaki Māori heritage sites.
Ask the museum for a booklet about the Pipi Trail – a self-guided heritage walk passing the town’s cultural highlights.
Māoriland Film Festival
The Māoriland Film Festival is one of the best places to see the work of Māori and indigenous filmmakers from New Zealand and around the globe.
In fact, it’s currently the largest presenter of indigenous films in the Southern Hemisphere!
In 2023, the 10th Māoriland Film Festival will showcase 130 indigenous films from the 15th to the 19th of March.
It’s held every year and is well worth checking out.
Toi Matarau Gallery at Māoriland Hub
This free gallery showcases a wonderful collection of traditional and contemporary Māori artworks.
Whether you stop by to appreciate the art, or plan to take a piece home, we recommend paying the gallery a visit.
68 Main Street, Ōtaki 5512
Whether you like swimming, sunbathing, surfing or kayaking, Ōtaki Beach is definitely worth a stop.
Facilities include changing rooms, toilets, BBQs, and picnic tables, so it’s the perfect spot for families and friends to gather and enjoy the scenery.
And thanks to its location on the west coast, it’s the place to be when the sun sets.
Ōtaki River Trail
Follow the banks of the Ōtaki River on foot, by bicycle, or even on horseback for a delightful and leisurely stroll with stunning views of the coastline and Tararua Ranges.
Total distance: 7km return.
Total time: 2 hours.
Hiking in the Tararua Forest Park
There are a wide variety of trails with the Tarurua Ranges, from short and easy to long and challenging. One of the great starting points for exploring the Tararua Forest Park is Levin, which offers breathtaking views of the surrounding valleys and peaks.
The highest summit in the range, Mount Hector, reaches 1,529 metres above sea level and requires a steep climb for the best views of the valley.
But for casual visitors, we recommend enjoying one of the shorter trails during your time in Ōtaki.
If you’re travelling with the whole family, Arcus Loop is an easy trail that takes you along the river. It includes pleasant forest scenery, with occasional views over the valley.
Total distance: 3.5km loop.
Total time: 1 hour.
Walk up to the Rocky Lookout from Mt Holdsworth Road for a pleasant 90-minute walk.
You’ll have beautiful views over Powell Hut, Mount Holdsworth, Mitre Flat and Awiwhakatu Valley from the viewing platform at the top.
Total distance: 3.8km there-and-back track.
Total time: 1.5 hours.
Ōtaki Forks to Mount Hector
If you’re an experienced hiker after a challenging track, you can climb to the peak of Mount Hector from Ōtaki Forks.
You should expect a tiring ascent to the top, but the extensive panoramic views over the mountains make the hard trek worth it for capable trampers.
Total distance: 26km return.
Total time: 10-12 hours return.
Places to eat in Ōtaki
You can find some great local restaurants and cafes in Ōtaki. In fact, for the small size of town, there are a surprising number of quality options.
The following are a few of the top-rated eateries in town.
For high-quality homemade food in a welcoming setting, this family-run cafe puts ‘homeliness’ at the heart of its service.
Choose between the cosy indoor space or leafy courtyard before tucking into a home-cooked meal from the extensive menu.
170 Main Highway, Ōtaki 5032
Antonio’s Restaurant and Bar
You can’t go wrong with delicious Italian cuisine from Antonio’s!
Located opposite the Ōtaki Train Station, you’ll find all the Italian classics like pizza, pasta, and gelato, but with keto and veggie options too to keep everyone happy.
Choose to dine in, or get your pizza to go and enjoy it at the beach for sunset.
4 Arthur Street, Ōtaki 5512
If you’re mad about your coffee, you’ll be glad to know that this local coffee chain loves espresso as much as you do.
In addition, every barista is expertly trained, so you know your morning brew is in good hands.
They also carry a small range of snacks, so you can grab a nibble at the same time.
226 State Highway 1 Ōtaki 5512
For a laidback dinner with authentic and delicious flavours, head to Curry Town.
This local favourite serves up Indian and Malaysian food in their restaurant and as takeout.
57 Main Street, Ōtaki 5512
Where to stay in Ōtaki
Accommodation options are limited in Ōtaki, but the few hotels here are packed with local charm.
The following are our top picks.
Budget: Ōtaki Motel
Located in the Ōtaki town centre, this great-value motel is a convenient place to stay while visiting the Kapiti Coast.
Each room has all the amenities you need for a short stay, including complimentary toiletries, a kitchenette and onsite laundry facilities.
If you’re travelling with kids, family rooms are available, and you’ll find a children’s playground with picnic tables in the garden area.
260 Main Highway, Ōtaki 5512
5* Hotel: Greenmantle Estate Hotel
Arriving at Greenmantle Estate is luxurious from the offset, with the stunning grounds and a bottle of Prosecco awaiting your arrival. After exploring the terrace and gardens, we recommend you wind down in the outdoor pool or hot tub.
All suites have excellent facilities, but we suggest you choose one with a balcony, living area and fireplace if you want to treat yourself.
This gorgeous hotel is definitely worth the short 15-minute drive from Ōtaki.
214 Main Road North, Otaihanga, Paraparaumu 5036
Self-contained B&B: Sundari Retreat
Conveniently located in the town centre, each of the two suites at Sundari Retreat offers a terrace with garden views.
Inside, you’ll find a homely bedroom, kitchenette and living area.
Best of all, there’ll be a delicious homemade breakfast to wake up to!
140 Mill Road, Ōtaki 5512
Though Ōtaki isn’t on the normal well-worn tourist trail, it is a charming place to visit.
It’s also home to a number of memorable walks, intriguing Māori history and culture and epic sunsets.
What’s not to love?