Whakatane Walk

Last weekend one of my wonderful coworkers took M and I to Whakatane, on the Bay of Plenty. She was there to hang out with her sister, who’s the town dentist, but we were there to do some serious walking! Whakatane is a small town on a river near the sea that we hadn’t really considered visiting, but when my coworker offered to drive us, we of course said yes. There’s not too much to do in town, as the main attraction is a distant offshore volcano called White Island. After Rotorua we’d had enough of unstable thermal activity, so we decided to walk over the hill to the next town, Ohope, which boasts “the best beach in New Zealand”!

Before our walk, we visited the local tourist center to get more information about the route, called the Kohi Point Walk as part of the Nga Tapuwae o Toi. The name of this system of trails means “the footprints of Toi,” named after a legendary Maori leader who founded the local tribe and built a pa, or settlement, on the hill over Whakatane. At the center, we learned that part of the path was along a beach that was only accessible at low tide, and (naturally) if we set off immediately we would reach it at high tide. With an hour or so to kill, we took a leisurely walk along the river past several playgrounds and a miniature railroad. It was all very nice, but a bit dull, so we decided to start the walk early and take our time.

Along the river.
Along the river.

The path started off extremely steep and followed a road; we looked jealously at the cars zipping up the hill while we struggled. It paid off very quickly though, as we reached an overlook over Whakatane. In addition to the city, we could better see the ridge that the path followed.

Downtown Whakatane and the hill.
Downtown Whakatane and the hill.

For the first time, we could also see over the small spit that separated the river from the sea, which gave us a great view of a main landmark in Whakatane, Whale Island. This island, like many off the New Zealand coast, is pest-free and therefore a bird sanctuary, but sadly tours out to the island only run during the summer.

Whale Island ... I definitely see it!
Whale Island … I definitely see it!

We were only about halfway up the ridge, so we set off from the overlook. The path soon deviated from the road and headed into the bush, which we soon discovered, due to some prominent signs, was a kiwi sanctuary. The signs prohibited dogs from the path as they are the kiwi’s primary enemy; when we went to the zoo, we learned that kiwis are especially susceptible to crushing injuries like being bitten by a dog because they lack certain bones in their chest. The sign also mentioned “kiwi aversion training” for dogs, presumably to make them afraid of small fuzzy birds, but even this training wouldn’t get a dog into this kiwi paradise. With all the signs and warnings, we were hoping that we’d see a rare daytime kiwi, but (spoiler alert) we did not.

As a consolation prize, though, we came across possibly the cutest fantail we’d seen so far. Many of his brethren were swooping around the path, scooping up bugs, but this guy landed on a nearby branch, puffed himself up, and cheeped at us.

So angry! So chubby!
So angry! So chubby!

He stuck around for a bit, staring at us, seemingly trying to will us to leave his little territory. After we’d gushed about how cute he was and snapped a few pictures, we decided to give in to his demands and resumed our walk.

Aww!
Aww!

The path continued along the ridge, past the ancient pa (which we wouldn’t have noticed if there wasn’t a helpful sign). We got one last look at Whakatane and the plains off of the Bay of Plenty from this location– it made perfect sense that the Maori people would build a defensive structure on this strategic spot. They must have had legs of steel, though, walking up and down the hill every day!

We could see quite far.
We could see quite far.

After the pa, the path started descending out of the forest and onto the point. For the first time we could see the more rugged terrain on the other side of the hill. The hill dropped sharply into the ocean, which was a wonderful blue color. After admiring the view, we turned to head back into the forest. The path was steep again, but we were heading strictly downhill towards the beach, which we hoped was not still underwater!

Could still see Whale Island, of course.
Could still see Whale Island, of course.

We soon reached a set of wooden stairs for the last descent to the beach, called Otarawairere Bay. The tide was just beginning to turn so much of the beach was still underwater, but we could just about clamber over the rocks and avoid getting wet. The water seemed fairly deep so I wonder if the path is always this tricky. The rest of the trail was definitely steep but not too rough, making this section a potential rude surprise for people unprepared; it would be a long way back! Luckily we could get over the rocks (just barely in some cases) to the flat beach part of the bay, which was much more pleasant to walk along.

The bay (don't ask me to pronounce its name).
The bay (don’t ask me to pronounce its name).

At the far end of the bay we came across some other people who had walked there from Ohope– we were close! We hoped that we could walk around the last point to the neighboring Ohope beach, thus avoiding another steep climb, but a local lady warned us that doing that would be impossible. Therefore, we lingered on the beach, resting after our long walk and preparing for the last stretch. We spotted some variable oystercatchers on some nearby rocks while relaxing. There’s only about 4000 of these birds in New Zealand but, according to our bird book, they’re making a comeback.

They kept an eye on us.
They kept an eye on us.

The sun was starting to go down so we climbed up and over the last rise to Ohope beach. Unlike the bay, Ohope beach had fine sand, was wide and flat, and stretched out for nine kilometers. There were only a few people walking and playing volleyball on the beach, which was nice as I imagine it is packed during the summer. The town of Ohope didn’t have much, and even less was open on an off-season Saturday, but we got some ice cream at a small convenience store. Hey, we could pretend it was summer!

Sunset on the best beach in NZ.
Sunset on the best beach in NZ.

My very kind coworker picked us up and drove us back to our hotel (as the small shuttle bus had stopped running). After a much-needed shower, we ventured out to a nearby Indian restaurant, then returned to the hotel and collapsed. It was a long day but a good one!

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