Sunday, 30 March 2014

Why aren't we all at Whakatane?

A tentative title for this blog post was: "Please don't come to Whakatane, you'll spoil it".

However, being in a generous spirit I decided against this.

What is Whakatane (pronounced fark-a-tarnay)?

It's a small town in New Zealand's Bay of Plenty region and it feels like a perfect piece of South Pacific paradise.

This week I was there for work, but the idyllic setting certainly helped ease that burden.

Situated about a three-hour drive south-east of Auckland on the North Island, the town sits at the junction of the Whakatane River and the Pacific Ocean.

It's a laid back town that has plenty of appeal for visitors, yet didn't seem to be overrun by visitors.  In fact, the vast majority of people seemed be locals just getting on with their day.

Kiwi Boy overlooking the river
In town

Whakatane: where the river meets the sea
Unlike other picturesque coastal towns, like Australia's Byron Bay, there's a noticeable lack of "hippies" trying desperately to be alternative, or cashed-up, pretentious folk enthusing about a cup of coffee.   It's simple, unhurried and perfect.

The town's name commemorates an incident that occurred after the arrival of the Mataatua, one of the great voyaging canoes by which Polynesians migrated to New Zealand.   When the men were ashore and the canoe began to drift, Wairaka, a chieftainess, started to paddle (which women were not allowed to do) and saved the canoe.

This strong Maori connection to Whakatane is still evident today, including a statue commemorating Wairaka standing on a rock at the mouth of the river.

Statue of Wairaka looking back into Whakatane

Whale Island in the distance

Immediately offshore is Whale Island, while further away is White Island, New Zealand's most active cone volcano.

Whakatane is also renowned for having more sunshine than anywhere else in New Zealand, something I can certainly confirm.  With daylight savings still in effect, the evenings were long, mild and sunny.

The Whakatane River

Six kilometres away, "over the hill", is Ohope Beach, a 11km sandy stretch of beach leading to the Ohiwa Harbour entrance.

It has been named New Zealand's best beach and it's hard to dispute that.

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