New Zealand may be as far from the rest of the world as it’s possible to get, yet Kiwis still like to retreat even further into anonymity for their summer break. If this sounds like you, sleepy Wairoa in the Northern Hawkes Bay could be your destination.
Thanks to recent developments highlighting the Wairoa River, the pretty town lives up to its Maori name of ‘Long Water’. Very much a focus for the community and its visitors, the river now glides gently past picturesque public gardens, parks with picnic tables, grazing water fowl, and tranquil fishing spots.
For those with a little exercise on their mind, the river also plays host to a 5km-long walk and cycleway. The route begins at the town’s historic Portland Island Lighthouse – a structure which once stood on nearby Mahia Peninsula from 1878 until 1959, and which was then moved to Wairoa to save it from demolition. The walkway meanders through the township via the Marine Parade where stately Norfolk Pines define the landscape. The trees are of historic significance with at least 40 having been planted as early as 1923.
Pilot Hill punctuates end of the 5km walk, and offers commanding views of the Mahia Peninsula and Cape Kidnappers. Rich in history, this heritage reserve was once the site of the well-defended Rangi-houa pa. Look closely, and it is possible to see the remains of earthworks in the form of low walls. Offering a high level of security for its community, the hill was also used to grow kumara.
Once settlers began arriving by ship, the river mouth area became known as ‘The Heads’. With an ever-changing and challenging bar to negotiate, a system of flags (and, later, balls mounted on masts) was used to alert shipping as to the safety or otherwise of venturing into the river.
The Wairoa township to Pilot Hill (return) walk takes around an hour, but thanks to an extension to the route, it’s now possible to continue on for a further 2.9km to Whakamahia beach. This sandy spot isn’t for swimmers (a dangerous undertow makes entering the water too dangerous) but if you’re a surf-caster, you’re in luck, with snapper, kahawai and gurnard all waiting to be caught. The beach is also popular with self-contained freedom campers so if you have your caravan in tow, this is the place for you.
At the end of your walk, return to Wairoa for coffee and cake at the Eastend Cafe. With a yacht themed décor, you’ll find yourself sitting beneath colourful sails as you look out over your old companion, the river.
And to finish off your outing, poke your nose into an intriguing main street shop you won’t want to miss. Kiwi Buckaroo is heaven to anyone with equestrian inclinations, but even those with no interest in horses will more than enjoy a mosey around the premises. The colour and art that goes into producing owner Ilana Cheiban’s hand-crafted horse ropes and leather goods has sent her sales soaring. With 90 per cent of her business going to overseas customers, Illana is putting Wairoa on the map for all the right reasons, and says she finds living and working in the town a super-friendly experience.
We’re sure you’ll find Wairoa that way, too!