Just 2.5 hours drive from Auckland you can find Waihi Beach.
I knew of Waihi Beach, having driven past the turnoff on State Highway 2 multiple times on my way to Tauranga, but until just recently I’d never actually taken that turn off before, and so I wasn’t aware of the cute little beach community that lays at the end of that road.
Quick side note: If you also see this turnoff on your travels, take it! You can actually drive right through Waihi Beach, so you can have a wee looksie, and then just follow the road back out onto State Highway 2, about 10km further on from where you turned off – a little detour that’s totally worth it!
Anyway, what I recently discovered is this…
Waihi Beach is lovely – the perfect setting for a relaxed kiwi getaway.
Let me set the scene for you…
The beach is long, stretching some 10km+ down the Southern Coromandel area and boasts a fabulous surfing scene, one that I’ll never be part of due to my dislike of immersing myself in cold water, but it certainly looked popular! We sat on the beach for some time watching surfers glide along and eventually fall of waves.
Most of the houses at Waihi Beach have that typical ‘Kiwi-Bach’ look to them, (not like the garish mansions that line other beaches). They look honest and humble, the perfect backdrop for a sweet and wholesome family holiday… if I had a bach, I’d want one like this rather than some ghastly stainless steel thing with obtuse wall-to-wall windows.
While about 60% of the houses in the area are baches and empty (or rented through AirBnB) for much of the year, the locals who do live there are extremely passionate about their community and have created something that’s pretty special. We met a few locals while we were there and they were all so friendly and full of advice and local tips. We got so much advice, that we almost had trouble choosing what to do with our limited time.
One piece of advice that I’ll never forget is not to shorten the name of their community to ‘Waihi’ – that’s a completely different place about 15km away, and the locals really don’t like their town to be confused with it!
Here’s what we did, (and what you could do if you decide to go)…
Walk to Orokawa Bay
At the North End of the beach, take the track up past the very end of the beach, past the rocks, up the hill and follow it around the headland to Orokawa Bay. We got some incredible views, like the one above, and enjoyed the enchanting sounds of NZ’s native birds along the way. The track is well-used and easy to follow. Orokawa Bay itself is pretty magical – an untouched beach with no houses or roads nearby. It reminded me a little of New Chums Beach, in the way that you had to trek a bit to get there, and it’s lined with blooming Pohutakawa trees.
Athenree Hot Springs
These small but sweet hot pools are located at a campground so quite popular, but worth a visit. It doesn’t cost much to get in and on a cool evening, sitting in warm pure thermal waters is magic.
At the southernmost end of the beach is Bowentown and a hill you can walk up – which we did. You get a great view at the top, right back along Waihi Beach and on the other side you look over a pretty impressive rip in the ocean (seriously fierce) and can see Mt Maunganui in the distance. You also get a good look at Matakana Island, which looks like the perfect setting for some kind of horror movie – no civilisation that you can see, just pine trees and a long lonely white beach…. must keep that in mind for when the 48-hour film festival swings around again.
There also a Maori pa somewhere in Bowentown, but we didn’t find it. I suspect it was up the other big hill in the area but after our trig walk, I was finished with hills.
Take your kayak (if you have one!)
While in Bowentown we shot down to the harbourside beach, known as Shelly Bay, to take our newly-purchased kayak out for its maiden voyage. It didn’t leak which was great news for us, as we got it from Trade Me, so there were no guarantees, and even better, this little harbour was a lovely place to kayak around with overhanging trees along the cliff sides, which we manoeuvred around and under. We later found out that if you go first thing in the morning you can often spot stingrays in this area too, which (provided you were safely on a non-leaking kayak) would be pretty cool.
We spent a lot of time eating at Waihi Beach… too much time really, considering I’m meant to be slimming down so I can feel comfortable getting into a bikini in the Philippines… oh well, the food was seriously good so worth it right? There are plenty of options to choose from, but here’s where we dined:
- The Secret Garden Café (my favourite) I’ve never been to Bali before, but this café embodies the tropical laid-back (hippie) vibe that I imagine Bali has. We were treated to live music while we were there, which was so amazing. They had two English guys playing some acoustic laid back tunes – so good we actually bought their CD on our way out. First time in years that I’ve actually bought a CD! (NB: Guys are of Phil & Tilley). As well as a great ambience and our smoothies were delicious.
- The Porch We went here for dinner, and I’d recommend you do too. And if I can be even more specific, order crumbed chicken flatbread (pictured below) as a starter… holy-moly, Delicious. I think this place is a popular choice though, so if you’re visiting Waihi Beach in peak times (NZ summer) it could pay to book.
- Flatwhite Café Everyone loves a beachside cafe – and I’m not exaggerating, as man, this place was bu-sy! Good busy though! the place is pretty big, so there’s plenty of tables and they must have a decent-sized kitchen, as despite all the people there our breakfast didn’t take long to come out. It was tasty and even better the morning views of the sand dunes, sea & Mayor Island were gorge.
- The Surf Shack Café We weren’t particularly hungry but decided to check this place out just before we left Waihi Beach after hearing they won 3 awards in the 2017 Café of the Year competition (we’re hardly cafe connoisseurs, but will take any excuse to eat). However, arriving without empty stomachs was a rookie mistake. The food IS delicious and the servings are ginormous. You won’t go home hungry from here. A must visit, BUT a must visit on an empty stomach!
Where to stay
There’s a great range of options on the Waihi Beach website – look here first to see what suits you.
We stayed at a bed and breakfast called Waihi Beach Lodge, which was just a 2-minute walk from the beach and our room was delightful. We had our own on entrance, ensuite and large queen bed. Our hosts were lovely, full of advice – all of the delicious places we dined at were on their recommendation. It was also nice meeting the couple staying in the room next to us too, there’s something quite special about staying in a B&B.
Of course, there are plenty of places on AirBnB or BookaBach too.
After more info?
The town has an app, which at first I thought was a bit peculiar, but it was actually really helpful when we were there. You can find it in whatever app store you use under ‘Waihi Beach’.