Nearly a 4-hour drive southeast of Auckland (and much closer to Tauranga and Hamilton), Whakatane is a small seaside city known for its incredible adventure location and plentiful sunshine. Set along the Sea of Plenty and facing one of the world's few active volcanoes, the constantly fuming Whakaari (White Island), this community deserves a good few days in your itinerary if you truly want to attempt all that it has to offer.
First off, that volcano we mentioned. Located over an hour's boat ride from Whakatane Wharf, the tiny island is accessible via a number of local tour guides, who will provide you with precautionary safety equipment for when you are trekking the rims of steaming fumaroles to the 321 meter (1,053 foot) summit. It's a rare opportunity to hike an active volcano, and it's all the more interesting for the great scuba diving that can be had off of its shores. Incredible, colorful biodiversity and excellent visibility make this a highly sought after diving destination.
A trip to White Island shouldn't be your only focus, not when there is plenty of mountain biking, surfing, swimming, hiking, and more in the region. Ohope Beach is widely acclaimed as one of the few best in New Zealand, allowing for about 11 km ( miles) of safe swimming, the westernmost portion of which is notable for its stellar surf breaks. For a beach destination a bit more off-the-beaten-path, continue walking beyond Ohope's “west end” to the exquisitely secluded Otarawairere Bay, where rock pools and inviting sand await you after a short bush trek.
An array of hiking opportunities of all lengths and difficulties can be had near Whakatane. The Nga Tapuwae o Toi Walkways may be the best way to see what the city's natural environments have to offer in the span of a half day's hike, encompassing scenic waterfalls, pukatea forests, hidden coves, and much more. There are also a number ofa chance to walk this dormant volcano, then take it; it's yet another amazing adventure-in-waiting.
Honestly, why even go to Auckland when everything exciting and off-the-beaten-path can be found in Whakatane? That's what we're asking ourselves!