Whakatane is located in the Bay of Plenty region of New Zealand. Sandy beaches are predominant along the 54 kilometres of coastline. Whakatane is the gateway to the East Cape, and the Whakatane and Motu Rivers. Activities include jet boating, rafting, dolphin watching, game fishing, bush walks, horse treks, 4×4 tours, hunting trips, helicoptor flights surfing on Ohope beach, and tramping in the Urewera National Park. Te Urewera National Park in the south is protected native forest home to a rich array of flora and fauna.
Whakatane is a town in the Bay of Plenty region, in the North Island of New Zealand and is the seat of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council. Whakatane is 90 km east of Tauranga and 89 km north-east of Rotorua, at the mouth of the Whakatane River. Despite officially being in the Bay of Plenty region, many local people prefer to say that they live in the “Eastern Bay of Plenty”. White Island, the Marine volcano that erupted in 2019 is located 50km offshore.
The town has a population of 18,750, with another 15,650 people living within the greater Whakatane District. Of the 34,400 people in the District around 40% have Maori ancestry. The District has a land area of 4,442.07 km² (1,715.09 sq mi). Whakatane was among the towns affected by the 1987 Edgecumbe Earthquake.
The site of the town has long been populated. Maori pa sites in the area date back to the first Polynesian settlements, estimated to have been around 1200 CE. According to Maori tradition Toi te Huatahi, later known as Toi Kairakau, landed at Whakatane, about AD 1150, in search of his grandson, Whatonga. Failing to find Whatonga, he decided to settle in the locality and built a pa on the highest point of the headland now called Whakatane Heads, overlooking the present town. Some 200 years later the Mataatua waka landed at Whakatane.
The name “Whakatane” commemorates an incident occurring after the arrival of the Mataatua. The men had gone ashore and the canoe began to drift. Wairaka, a chieftainess, said “Kia Whakatane au i ahau” (“I will act like a man”), and commenced to paddle (which women were not allowed to do), and with the help of the other women saved the canoe
The region around Whakatane was important during the New Zealand Wars of the mid 19th century, particularly the Volkner Incident. Its role culminated in 1869 with raids by Te Kooti’s forces. Whakatane beach heralded an historic meeting on the 23 March 1908 between Prime Minister Joseph Ward and the controversial Maori prophet and activist Rua Kenana Hepetipa. Kenana claimed to be Te Kooti’s successor.
Whale Island (or Motuhora) is a small island off the Bay of Plenty coast about 12 kilometres north of Whakatane. The island has numerous sites of pa (Maori fortified villages). It also provided shelter for Cook’s Endeavour in 1769. A whaling station existed on the island during the 19th century.
Industries and tourism
The town’s main industries are diverse: forestry, dairy farming, horticulture, fishing, tourism and manufacturing are all well-established. There is a paper mill and a newspaper press. Whakatane is the gateway to Whakaari/White Island, New Zealand’s most active volcano, located 48 kilometres north of Whakatane and a popular destination for day cruises. Whakatane is also used as a base for many tourists who wish to explore other activities in the surrounding region. Popular tourist activities include swimming with dolphins, whale watching, chartered fishing cruises, surf tours, amateur astronomy, hunting, aviation and bushwalking.
The mouth of the Whakatane River and Ohiwa Harbour have both provided berths for yachts, fishing trawlers and small ships since European settlement of the area. More recently, the construction of an airport on the western side of the river has provided the region with access to commercial air transport which dramatically reduced passenger transport times to and from the major international airports at Auckland and Wellington.
A branch railway line, the Whakatane Board Mills to the Taneatua branch line, which in turn is connected to the East Coast Main Trunk Railway. The Whakatane Industrial Railway is currently mothballed, but has never had a passenger rail service. Private cars and some limited bus services and taxis (as well as cycling and walking) are the primary modes of transport for residents.