I have always loved Whakatane. My first proper visit there was back in 2010 when I helped move a friend from Auckland back home. And ever since I have been enamoured with the place. It feels like real New Zealand to me. Not that places like Auckland and Wellington aren't apart of New Zealand. But Whakatane (and places like it), are what I picture when I am travelling overseas and am asked to describe home. The sort of place where a trip into town for some milk and bread takes an hour because you bump into 5 people you know. It has that community feel. Everyone knows everyone, or at least has heard of everyone (a blessing and a curse I am sure). There is a warmth about it.
I'm speaking metaphorically of course because when it comes to actual heat, Whakatane is number one in New Zealand, or thereabouts, every year. (For those unaware there is a battle between Whakatane and Nelson each year for the title of 'Sunniest Place in New Zealand'). The summers there are EPIC! So much so, once (the aforementioned friend of mine) bemoaned over the phone to me one summer that she had, 'had enough of the sun'. Who says that?
But there is this one story about Whakatane that I think perfectly encapsulates what I am trying to get across. It involves another trip to the region, again a few years ago, this time to attend the wedding of some friends.
I had just flown back to New Zealand from India. I pretty much landed, dropped the bulk of my stuff at Mum & Dad's, repacked a smaller bag, and jumped on a flight to Whakatane.
My flight was the day of the wedding (...always cutting things fine), and I realised upon arrival I had forgotten to pack cufflinks. No stress I thought, I'll just buy some when I land.
My first port of call was Farmers which is just outside the centre of town as you drive in from the airport. I ran in and asked the first sales assistant I saw if they stocked cufflinks.
"No sorry", the man replied. "Is it an important day?"
I told him how I had just flown in, my friends were getting married that day, and thus the need was somewhat urgent.
"Well I just live around the corner", he said. "My wife is home now, I have a couple of sets of cufflinks in my top drawer, you are more than welcome to head around, see my wife and borrow them?"
To say I was speechless would be an understatement. I mean have you ever walked into a store to buy something, found out the store hasn't had it, for the the shop assistant to offer to loan you their 'something'? Let alone in a town or city that isn't your own?
Incredible. It is my favourite Whakatane story.
It is the kind of story I feel could only happen in a small town. But on further thought, having spent time in numerous small towns throughout my life (for all intents and purposes I grew up in one), in reality it is the kind of story that could only unfold in one small town. And that town is Whakatane.
Our first day in Whakatane was incredibly relaxed. Which when you live in a city is pretty much just what you want from some time away, yeah?
Even the flight from Auckland on Air Chathams was a breeze. No cues to check in, no waiting for hundreds of other passengers to find their seats. It was just in, on, and away. How flying should be.
Once in Whakatane we checked into our accomodation at Ohope Beach Top 10 Holiday Park.
We were staying in one of their beautiful beachfront two bedroom apartments. Lovingly maintained and equiped with everything you could need (even a hairdryer - I read an article recently about how much of a 'must' this is). And talk about location? Beachfront on New Zealand's favourite beach, Ohope Beach. Need I say more?
Well actually I need to because beyond the incredibly location (and the hairdryer), the Ohope Beach Top 10 even has a pool and TWO WATERSLIDES! Yes, I went on both.
Lunch was at the L'Epicerie, French deli & Cafe just behind the information centre in town.
A wee taste of France in depths of the Eastern Bay of Plenty. We had the Provencale omelette with feta, sundried tomatoes, pesto and spinach, and one of their galettes.
Having never had a galette before (similar to a crepe, but savoury), I wasn't sure what to expect, but the combination of goats cheese, fresh tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, roasted walnuts and honey, in their 'Chevre' galette, was nothing short of spectacular.
I could actually spend a week just eating the 'Chevre', but there are five other galette options that sounds just as delicious as the 'Chevre' was.
One of their almond croissant's and one of their tarts ended up leaving with us (whoops!), and they were both incredible too.
As was the coffee.
In short this place has nothing going for it at all. Ha! I jest. It was all so, so good.
Feed and watered, the rest of the afternoon was consumed by a walk to one of Whakatane's best kept secrets. I say this because not once, not once in my countless visits to this town, has a single one of my friends ever shown me this place.
They have obviously been trying to keep Otarawairere Bay a secret. And I understand why, the place is paradisiacal.
Otarawairere (or Ota-wai to the locals) is only accessible on foot. The walk is uphill (initially), but doable, and takes about 20min from the west end of Ohope Beach.
Of course one of the joys of New Zealand is that you are never very far away from a beach that you can claim all for yourself, but they don't always look like Ota-wai.
Against a backdrop of mature Pohutukawa, beautiful gritty white sand gives way to the stunningly clear turquoise ocean - I'm talking clarity the likes of which you see around the islands of the Pacific and the Caribbean. It really is one of the most beautiful spots I have had the chance to visit.
And we pretty much did have Ota-wai all to ourselves. While Ohope Beach was heaving, there was Tori and myself and one other couple for most of the time we were there. Maybe some of the locals don't even know about it?
Our time with the ocean (and all its spoils), wasn't quite done just yet, as dinner this evening was at Fisherman's Wharf Cafe, located just across the road from our accomodation at Ohope Beach Top 10 Holiday Park.
I don't think you could find a more picturesque setting for a meal. The cafe faces into the Ohiwa Harbour and is situated (I am unsure if by design or fluke), so as every person eating can enjoy the sun going down over the water. Spectacular (as Tori's photo attest)
Our host Tom agreed, having been a few places himself he thinks he has found himself a pretty magic spot.
Fisherman's Wharf Cafe is not just a dine in establishment, it also does take-away fish and chips, and many were enjoying just that on the nearby pier and in the park as we arrived.
We however dined in. The menu is everything you'd expect and want from a restaurant located in a region with such an affinity with the sea.
We had the oysters, the catch of the day, the fish tacos and the pana-cotta. All were delicious but the fish taco's..
Someone take me back to Fisherman's Wharf Cafe now and drown me in tacos. Please.
Our second day in Whakatane was action packed. We were up early so as to get to White Island Tours in time to catch their daily tour to the (other-worldly) White Island. You can read all about that incredible adventure on my blog here.
That was followed by a quick swim at Ohope Beach, and then dinner at Cadera as we waited for the sun to go down and the Kiwi (hopefully) to come out.
I think we ordered just about one of everything off Cadera's menu. We went to town. And as a lover of Mexican food and having been to Mexico a number of times, I wasn't going to be easy to impress.
But the meal was epic. The jalapeno poppers were a highlight for me, as was the fish taco but, I'm sorry Cadera, not quite as good as the ones we had the night prior at Fisherman's Wharf Cafe.
The evening saw Tori and myself head out on a Kiwi Walk with the Whakatane Kiwi Trust. You can head about that here.
And then, sleep. Between White Island and the Kiwi Walk, it had been a huge day.
Our final day in Whakatane was slightly more relaxed than the second. A morning swim at Ohope Beach before heading to