Kia ora: Waihi Beach

For a fantastic surf or swim, Waihi Beach is the place to be, says Elisabeth Easther.

Just a few steps up from glorious Waihi Beach you can satisfy thirst, hunger and your need for shade at The Secret Garden. Photo / Babiche Martens
Just a few steps up from glorious Waihi Beach you can satisfy thirst, hunger and your need for shade at The Secret Garden. Photo / Babiche Martens

Where is it? In the Bay of Plenty, 45 minutes from Tauranga, 105km from Hamilton or two hours' drive from Auckland.

Origin of name: Waihi is Maori for rising water, and relates to a legend about a traveller who stopped to drink from a stream near the beach.

Population: 2043 residents (2013 census).

Town slogan: It's about time.

Town mascot: 10km of safe, sandy surf beach.

Dig this: Back in the day, Waihi Borough invested in Waihi Beach, seeing its potential as a "health resort" for miners with respiratory ailments caused by their work. The borough built baches, some of which still stand, so the poor chaps could take the seaside air before going back to work.

Famous locals: Sir Edmund Hillary had a bach here and Sir John Kirwan still does.

Helen Clark's dad, Teresa Gattung and Dame Sylvia Cartwright are all around. Truly remarkable people.

Infamous locals: Andy at the Flat White Cafe likes to go for "realism" in his April Fool's pranks. Most recently he put an ad in the local paper about building a pier for cruise ships, just out from the Flat White. Caused a bit of a stir.

Best website: waihibeachinfo.co.nz.

Main form of employment: There's a fair bit of retirement going on, but not a lot of lounging. Tourism keeps people busy, as do boutiques, holiday parks, cafes and restaurants. There's even a yoga studio.

Source of pride: The community really knows how to rally.

Source of pleasure: The feelings of nostalgia invoked when staying at Waihi Beach. It feels like holidays used to be.

Town fiestas: Waihi Beach Op-Shop Ball in July; The Beach Hop Warm Up. Top bands around New Year at Waihi Beach Pub, the surf club's events over New Year, including the popular sporting competition. Bowentown Fishing Competition and Bathtub Race.

Here for a short time: Play a round at Waihi Golf Club. It's a lovely course and the 19th hole is very welcoming. Learn to surf with Aidan from Waihi Beach Surf School. Cycle the Hauraki Rail Trail. Enjoy a session with Jeanette from Yoga and Reflexology. Go fishing. Hang out. Relax.

Best reason to stop: To see the beach with your own two eyes.

Best places to take the kids: Inky Fingers Art School. Children produce impressive art pieces under the guidance of a professional artist. Learn to surf with Aidan. Play mini putt. Swim at Athenree Hot Springs' huge heated pool when it's a bit nippy. Or enjoy the fab new tennis courts at the north end of the beach - sea views with your match points.

Best playground: Brighton Recreation Reserve. It has barbecues, a basketball court, an excellent children's playground, plus toilets and showers.

Best walk: Stroll to Orokawa Bay. Follow the bush-clad path around the coastline, where you'll find a deserted surf beach, fringed with pohutukawa. Breathtaking.

Best view: From Bowentown Hill over the harbour and towards Athenree, or from Anzac Bay, across the bar to the ocean and along Waihi Beach.

Best swim: Anywhere along the 10km of surf beach. If you're not confident in the surf, choose the north end where there's a surf patrol. If you've got gills, find your own spot and frolic or check out the beach at the southern end, where Bowentown Surf Club lifeguards patrol the waves.

Best museum: Athenree Homestead is the lovingly-restored home of settlers George and Adela Stuart, built in 1878. Aside from doing super high teas, and being fun to visit, they also have a fantastic collection of period costumes for dressing up in on special occasions.

Best shops: Molly's and Ebony are hard to beat for clothes if you fancy a bit of retail therapy.

Spuds: Get your roasting gear round some freshly dug potatoes from Beach Road Nurseries. They also sell five big avocados for $4 when the season is high.

Tops for coffee: You won't go into caffeine withdrawal here, with the Secret Garden, The Porch, Flat White, Waihi Beach Hotel Restaurant, Flip'n'Bear Cafe, The Deli, the RSA and the Hot Pipi all producing excellent brews.

Best bakery: There's always a queue outside Waihi Beach Bakery in summer, because there's nothing like a pie before, or after, a surf. The Farmgate Deli and Kitchen is also fab.

Best food: You won't go hungry here, either. Flat White is good for casual beachfront dining, The Porch in the centre of town does delicious food beside a cosy fire in winter. Waihi Beach Hotel Restaurant will make you think you're back in the big smoke and the RSA has the best views and great roasts. Or Flip'n'Bear for pancakes, always a winner with children.

Best place for a drink: The Porch's $5 Friday night drinks are especially popular.

Best bike ride: Hauraki Rail Trail is a lovely ride, and you can tackle legs between Thames, Te Aroha, Paeroa and Waihi, with the section through Karangahake Gorge especially beautiful. Check out the cycle track from Island View to Bowentown, following the harbour.

Best adventure: Walk to Orokawa Bay, William Wright Falls or Homanga Bay. Or try the fishing charters on offer.

Best kept secrets: The handful of pretty little bays that offer privacy and unparalleled beauty. Try Anzac Bay, or walk over the hill to Shelly Beach with its white, shell-studded sand and turquoise water.

Wildlife: You'll see a few dolphins if you're lucky, and lots of birds, including pheasants and quail.

Safety warnings: Be sea-wise, it's bigger than you are.

Locals say: Waihi?

Visitors say: Why not.

Thank you so much to Jeannette McCallum for her enthusiasm for Waihi Beach, and life in general.

- NZ Herald

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