Are you looking for the best things to do in Whakatāne on your next New Zealand adventure? Explore our team’s top picks with our comprehensive travel guide!
Located in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty, Whakatāne is one of the country’s most beautiful hidden gems. It may not offer the major attractions seen in Auckland or Wellington, but this charming spot boasts a rich cultural history, gorgeous vistas, sprawling coastlines, and kilometres of ancient forests that stretch as far as the eye can see.
As well as being an area of immense natural beauty, there are also a host of incredible things to do in Whakatāne. Not only is this place the kiwi capital of the world, but it’s home to several wildlife conservation areas, impressive mountain biking trails, and several lookouts that offer panoramic views over rivers and mountain peaks.
Regardless of whether you’re here to learn more about Māori culture or want to experience the best of the North Island’s striking landscapes, you’re sure to find something you’d like to check out on our list of the best things to do in Whakatāne!
Unmissable Things to do in Whakatāne
1. Check Out New Zealand’s National Animal at the Ohope Scenic Reserve
If you’ve ever wanted to catch sight of New Zealand’s national animal, be sure to stop by Ohope Scenic Reserve for an evening of kiwi-spotting. Believe it or not, this area is home to more than 300 of these nocturnal birds, so if you visit at night you’ll have a reasonable chance of spotting one.
If you plan to visit during the day though, you’ll enjoy walking through the beautiful pōhutukawa forests and admiring the brilliant wildflowers that bloom here each summer.
If you have time to spare, head to the designated walkway that takes you through the wetlands. There, you can spot tūī, bellbirds, and fantails!
Cnr of Pōhutukawa Ave & Ōhope Road. Pōhutukawa Avenue, Ōhope, Bay Of Plenty 3121.
2. Explore the White Pine Bush Reserve
Fans of scenic hikes and beautiful coastal forestry are bound to consider the White Pine Bush Reserve one of the best things to do in Whakatāne.
This reserve is a stunning conservation area, and it boasts a number white pine trees (otherwise known as kahikatea trees) which are the tallest species in New Zealand.
The walks here are typically 30 or 40 minutes in total and are easy to moderate in difficulty. This means you should have little trouble tackling the trails with kiddos in tow.
Plus, as this reserve spans 4.5 hectares, there’s plenty of room to explore the hanging vines, native shrubs, and ferns that characterise this area.
White Pine Bush Road (SH2), between Awakeri and Tāneatua. 20 km south of Whakatāne.
3. Head Over to Moutohorā Island
Moutohorā Island (also known as Whale Island) is primarily a wildlife sanctuary for endangered birds, reptiles, and plants. There, guests can walk amongst the bush and listen to bird calls, appreciate the crystal-clear azure waters, or explore the beautiful rock formations that are completely untouched.
However, the most popular thing to do here is to dig yourself a geothermal spring pool at Onepū Bay, the island’s hot water beach.
If you’re willing to leave Whakatāne for the day, it’s well worth travelling over to Moutohorā Island. Located just off the east coast, this small, uninhabited island is the perfect way to return to nature.
We highly recommend going on a guided tour of the area, as you’ll get the boat trip, a wildlife adventure, a swim at Sulphur Bay, and professionally trained guides with you every step of the way.
4. Hop on a Scenic Flight
If seeing Moutohorā Island sounds appealing to you, it’s also possible to see it from the air on board a scenic flight.
In addition, White Island (where land tours were once allowed) is now best seen from the air. Of, if you’d prefer, you’re able to head inland towards Rotorua’s geothermal landscape.
Whatever scenic flight you choose, you’ll be guaranteed a window seat for unobstructed views and will enjoy commentary from your expert pilot. Plus, as you’ll be exploring some of the most intriguing volcanic and geothermal landscapes in the country, you know you’ll be in for a treat.
5. Pay a Visit to Awakeri
Enjoy the Awakeri Hot Springs
If you don’t want to visit Moutohorā but you’d still like to soak your sorrows away, then why not add a trip to Awakeri Hot Springs to your Whakatāne itinerary?
Located around 16km from central Whakatāne, this all-natural area boasts natural geothermal pools that feed into a larger swimming pool area.
The water is kept at a pleasant 38 degrees Celcius year-round, and the addition of kiddie pools makes this the perfect family pitstop.
If you’d like to extend your stay, simply book into the holiday park facilities! Offering a BBQ area, clean rooms, cooking facilities, and hot showers, it has everything you’ll need for a comfortable stay.
1363 State Highway 30, Awakeri 3192.
Related: The best hot springs in New Zealand.
Hop on a Self-Drive Awakeri Rail Adventure
Whilst in Awakeri, why hop on a rail adventure? There, you’ll travel along a piece of New Zealand’s rich rail history and experience the natural beauty and adventure from the comfort of a rail cart, cleverly adapted to be self-driven along what were once fully-operational rail tracks.
All of their rail cars are fully self-driven, meaning you’ll be in complete control of your vehicle. Stop anywhere you like for photos and enjoy taking in the scenery at your own pace.
This is a uniquely Kiwi activity that is perfect for people of all ages.
6. Get your Heart Racing at Onepū Mountain Bike Park
The next item on our list of things to do in Whakatāne is ideal for all adrenaline junkies.
Whakatāne boasts a surprising number of mountain biking trails, but our favourite place for biking in the area is the Onepū Mountain Bike Park. The terrain here is on the flat side so it allows the entire family to pedal along with the best of them!
Though you’ll also find are several gentle climbs here, those seeking something more exciting should try the Heavenly Creature Trail which includes substantial jumps and drops.
The Sandpit is also excellent for BMX enthusiasts, as it allows you to get plenty of airtime with little effort.
Pro Tip: If you’d like to combine mountain biking with sightseeing, the Whirikani Forest Mountain Bike Track is ideal. Although it takes 1.5 hours to get there from the centre of town, it boasts an incredible range of trails that weave through the wilderness.
7 . Take a Kayak or SUP Out on the Ōhiwa Harbour
Another one of the best things to do near Whakatāne is kayaking or stand up paddleboarding on the Ōhiwa Harbour.
This sprawling harbour has several beaches that you can stop at (over 11km of them, in fact), and you can head over to the islands of Uretara, Ohakana and Hokianga if you’re looking for a change of scene.
If you’re not sure where to start, Ōhope Wharf takes you westward towards Ohakana to see the beautiful pōhutukawa trees. If you keep going, you’ll also be able to see the gorgeous sandstone cliffs that are perched along the shoreline.
Although you can spend all day exploring, you can easily cover the entire harbour area in a couple of hours.
Just remember to stay safe and pay attention to the tides – they flow slightly faster than you expect, and you’ll need to be able to keep up to avoid getting into trouble.
A 30-minute drive east from Whakatāne.
8. Learn More about Māori Culture at Mataatua Wharenui
One of the most important things to visit in Whakatāne is the Mataatua Wharenui.
This ancestral house belongs to the Ngāti Awa people, and the imposing building is completely carved with tribal figures.
When you visit, you’ll be completely immersed in the culture of Ngāti Awa. The stories at this incredible house date back to 1350 when the people of Mataatua first arrived in New Zealand from central Polynesia.
Not only will you learn all about Māori culture at this cultural attraction, but you can follow a guided tour that covers the area’s history, traditional rituals, and even the meaning behind the famous New Zealand haka.
105 Muriwai Drive, Whakatāne 3120
9. Visit the Whakatāne Heads Lookout
For panoramic vistas over where the Whakatāne River meets the sea, you can’t beat Whakatāne Heads.
A favourite spot for couples to visit, we recommend you head there early to catch the sunrise before then going on to enjoy a relaxing morning at Ōhope Beach. Watching the boats leave the harbour as the sun breaks over the horizon is a pretty romantic way to start the day.
While you’re here, you’ll also spot the Lady on the Rock statue that has been looking over this area since 1965. It was originally erected to represent the famous defiance of Wairaka, who was the daughter of Mataatua navigator Toroa. While the men headed to shore, the tribal women were left in the canoes which began to drift out to sea. Despite it being forbidden, brave Wairaka picked up an oar and proved just how powerful women could be. To this day, she is remembered in this spot.
If you’re visiting the area with kids, it’s worth stopping by the playground and climbing area here too – it’s great for blowing off steam before bedtime!
10. Enjoy a Hike on the Ngā Tapuwae o Toi Walkway
The final thing on our list of things to do in Whakatāne is the Ngā Tapuwae o Toi Trail. The trail name itself means ‘in the Footsteps of Toi’, which explains why it passes through the heart of the land that was overseen by chieftain Toi.
This incredible trail is a 16km round trip, and it’s best completed in a clockwise direction to avoid the steepness that you’ll face if you go counterclockwise.
As you walk along the trail, you’ll pass the beautiful Kōhī Point, see native bush, the picturesque Ōtarawairere Beach, and various clifftop viewpoints that provide excellent vantage points for photographers.
To cover the whole thing, we recommend allocating approximately 5 hours to the trail. You can probably accomplish it slightly quicker if you walk at a decent pace, but you’ll want to account for rest breaks and scenery stops!
We hope that this list of incredible things to do in Whakatāne has helped to pad your upcoming travel itinerary. If you’ve recently visited the area, what did you do while you were here?
We love hearing about your adventures, so feel free to get in touch!