Wayne Thompson

Wayne Thompson is a NZ Herald reporter.

Great NZ road trips: Whakatane

The picturesque Tarawera Falls. Photo / Rotorua Daily Post.
The picturesque Tarawera Falls. Photo / Rotorua Daily Post.

In Whakatane, you feel adventure is just around the corner. It's the frontier to discovery whether you're on wheels, on foot or on water.

From the ancient Toi's Pa site perched above the town, you get a 360-degree view of the prospects.

Behind you are forested mountains, their backs hunched against the southerly wind to shelter the bountiful eastern Bay of Plenty. Rolled out before you is the chance to drive up long, lonely valleys to the knees of those mountains of the volcanic fields to see spectacles such as the Tarawera Falls, where a lake pours its contents through a hole in a rocky cliff face.

Your eye may follow the pointing arm of Ohope Beach to where blurry blue hills run down to the sea. You see a faint scar - the main road of the East Coast, which will take you to places where little has changed in 50 years. Buy lunch in Ohope or Opotiki, sit on a sandy beach or shady riverbank and soak up the peace and scenery.

Now we are looking, 50km away, at the active volcano, White Island. About 10km out is the blue hump of Moutohora, or Whale Island.

Sea adventures beckon. From Whakatane, I could sail with White Island Tours' big launch for a memorable day trip on the volcano and in summer I could zip up on a Coastguard cutter for a guided tour of Moutohora's wildlife sanctuary. Or I could grab a water bottle and take to the red clay path of the Kohi Point Walkway along the clifftop to Ohope Beach, stopping at a remote rocky cove to fossick for tiny paua shells.

The next day's adventure has us heading northwards along the coast to Tauranga and Waihi, a distance of about 160km if you stay on the highway. Of course, we don't.

Passing through dairy and berry farms on the Rangitaiki plains, the first photo stops are of fishermen flicking pilchard baits at a kahawai boil-up at the river mouth and at Matata.

Near Te Puke, State Highway 2 intersects with SH33 to Rotorua and brings a cluster of visitor attractions. At Kiwi360, we join a few of the 50,000 annual visitors who take a relaxing cart ride tour of the kiwifruit orchard.

The roar of a jetboat comes from the Spring Loaded Fun Park on SH33 but further up the Kaituna River is the peaceful setting for Briar Mascheretti's forest and riverside horse treks.

Skirting around Tauranga City on SH2 is Katikati, dubbed "Mural Town" because of 37 outdoor works which depict pioneering settlers.

A short detour from SH22 leads to the Bowentown Heads for a picnic and sweeping vistas of Mayor Island, Tauranga Harbour and a seagull's eye view along 9km of Waihi Beach. The beach drive offers the chance to learn about the gold mining town of Waihi. See the displays at the Golden Legacy Centre and ride on the Goldfields Railway.

Next stop is Karangahake Gorge for a walk through a mountain via the old railway tunnel and a dip in the river swimming hole at the Crown Hill Rd bridge.

- NZ Herald

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