Kia ora: Whitianga

By Elisabeth Easther

Elisabeth Easther may just have to return to Whitianga in September for its famous Scallop Festival

Buffalo Beach is popular with all ages looking for a great spot to swim in Whitianga. Photo / Alan Gibson
Buffalo Beach is popular with all ages looking for a great spot to swim in Whitianga. Photo / Alan Gibson

Origin of name: Originally called Whitianga a Kupe, or Kupe's Crossing Place, on account of the intrepid Kupe, who passed through in AD950.

Population: 4100.

Where is it: 208km from Auckland, a mere 93km from Thames or, if you prefer, a two-and-a-half hour drive from Hamilton.

Town mascot: Either the palm trees down the main street or the anchor at Buffalo Beach, you choose.

Did you know: Buffalo Beach is named for the HMS Buffalo that was wrecked during a storm in 1840 while anchored in Mercury Bay. Her anchor is part of a monument at Buffalo Beach.

Main industry: Seafood is big business, as are charters that involve fishing, walking, kayaking and anything to do with the water. Farming, too.

Source of pride: The Scallop Festival is one of the biggest events, no prizes for guessing its focus and this year it's on September 14.

Town competition: The Speed Festival is another big one and includes the national helicopter competition, powerboat racing, aerobatic displays and jetski racing.

Best reason to stop: The beautiful scenery, outdoor activities and stunning beaches.

Best place to take the kids: The Waterworks are nearer to Coromandel Town, about 20 minutes from Whitianga, but you have to go if you're this near. Rated the top theme park in the area, it's quirky, not like anything you'll see anywhere else, and it's great for all ages. thewaterworks.co.nz

Best place for a drink: The Bay Brewery Bistro, a craft brewery, is popular.

Best food: The Salt Bar, part of the Whitianga Marina Hotel, is top notch for dining and right on the waterfront. Or try Squids Bar & Restaurant, which does great seafood with lots of fresh local produce.

Best flat white: Coffee is good in Whitianga. Velocity, Cockle Cafe and Jandal will all see you right.

Best bakery: The Bay Bakery. Try its Hotshot, which is pastry wrapped around salami or bacon. Its pies are also great.

Best local websites: whitianga.co.nz or thepeninsula.co.nz

Best museum: Mercury Bay Museum is full of fascinating bits and bobs, and right now there's a new and quirky exhibition all about the history of fishing.

Local newspapers: There is plenty of choice - the Informer, Peninsula Post, Peninsula Press, Coastal News and Hauraki Herald.

Best walk: The Cathedral Cove walk is rated one of the best in the country. Another is Shakespeare Cliff. Take the ferry to Ferry Landing, and set off through the historic cemetery and on past Front Beach and Flaxmill Bay before reaching Shakespeare Cliff. it's about an hour each way and the ferry goes all day.

Best view: The Cathedral Cove car park is a sight. You can see lots of Hahei's islands and the coast all spread out. Or try Whitianga Rock, an important pa site where you'll find middens and the remains of an early stone building.

Best kept secret: Check out Lovers Rock, a lovely walk five minutes' drive out of town heading towards the estuary. It's a large reserve with little information boards, a stone store and a spot where the timber millers used to bring kauri down the river. This area teemed with activity during the logging rush.

Best playground: Right beside the Whitianga Wharf is a playground that's been thrilling kids for decades. It's got swings, slides, monkey bars, and a big yellow ship called The Jolly Roger.

Best shops: Mosaic is like a cross between an art gallery and a shop selling the wares of local artists, ditto Bread and Butter, another gallery worth poking your nose into.

Best swim: Buffalo Beach is a lovely long beach that's great for all ages. Or, if you're child-free, The Lost Springs is restricted to adults. The water is thermal, the minerals great for your skin, and you can enjoy a cocktail while you marinate and relax.

Interesting item of wildlife: The Kuaotunu Kiwi Sanctuary on Waitaia Rd is doing exciting things for birdlife. In fact, all the native bird action is amazing. There are also loads of dotterels, dolphins, whales, seals and blue penguins.

Cycling: The council would like to develop a cycle track around the Coromandel, but in the meantime the Whitianga Bike Park is awesome. There's a kids' area for building confidence, intermediate to extreme areas plus 10km of mountainbike paths and a BMX track, too. This is a community-funded endeavour, slightly out of town, and you can walk up to a kauri reserve.

When a local has visitors from abroad: All of the above. The glass-bottom boat to Cathedral Cove is popular, there are kayak trips there as well. Or how about a fishing charter - there are hundreds of operators, so shop around.

Visitors say: I'd like to retire in Whitianga.

Locals say: Why wait 'til you're 65, come now and enjoy it longer.

- NZ Herald

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