Recharge like the mining old-timers who abandoned their gold prospecting pans and retreated to the sandy shoreline of this Bay of Plenty beach.
After years of chasing gold flecks in the region’s bedrock, weary gold miners descended on the small coastal township of Waihī Beach during the 1900s. Beckoning with its alluring sandy beaches and pōhutukawa fringed headlands, it turns out the retiring old-timers were on to a good thing here. There are plenty of relaxing adventures to tick off; some you can drive to, while others need snacks and a pair of sturdy walking shoes. Highlights include tackling the headlands to Orokawa Bay before going south along the narrow isthmus to Bowentown Reserve with its hidden caves and hill fort remnants. Don’t forget the togs for a refreshing dip, and finish your day by strolling the meandering dune paths. Here are five family-friendly walks to explore while visiting this laid-back destination.
Orokawa Bay Walk | Waihī Beach
This coastal pathway lopes around headlands fringed with pōhutukawa trees before arriving at a secluded bay with swoon-worthy white sandy beaches. Starting from the northernmost point of Waihī Beach, the path climbs steadily for about 30 minutes through shrubby coastal forest dappled with sunlight and the courtship tunes of freshly hatched cicadas. Cliffs add to the dramatic vistas of this walk but keep an eye on youngsters as they run ahead. Once you reach the upper exposed headland, it’s a quick 15-minute amble downhill past kawakawa and tree ferns to the bay where lofty windswept pōhutukawa trees provide pockets of shade for picnicking and wiling away a few hours. Bring a hammock to sling between the gnarly exposed pōhutukawa branches and enjoy views of wildlife refuge Tūhua/Mayor Island perched in the South Pacific Ocean. On your return, it’s a quick climb to the headland, then a leisurely stroll down to Waihī Beach.
Need to know: The beach is not suitable for swimming because of its strong undertow. Allow 45 min each way and plenty more for relaxing. Parking is available at The Esplanade, Waihī Beach. Walking only. No dogs.
Bowentown Domain | Bowentown Heads
Plenty of tribes have battled for this headland, and it’s easy to see why with its formidable views across the northern entrance to Tauranga Harbour. Two pā sites remain, including Te Kura a Māia, which appropriately translates to “the training ground for young warriors”. Many of the pā’s features, including terraces and large defensive ditches, are still visible near the car park. The steep trig path at the eastern end of the car park is only suitable for walking or buggy-pushing extremists. It flattens off after the first gut-busting paved section, and you can take a breather and watch boats navigating the churning waters between Matakana Island and the headland. Allow five minutes to the top for postcard views of Waihī Beach.
Need to know: Parking is available at the Bowentown Domain upper car park off Seaforth Road. Toilets at Anzac Bay. Only suitable for walking. Dogs on leads.
Cave Bay | Bowentown Heads
Explorers will love poking around tall volcanic rock columns and small sunbeam lit caverns at this secluded bay beneath the headland. Visit near low tide for the best experience as most caves become accessible. Steep stairs from the car park sidle past sheer rocks before emerging on a small rock-strewn boulder field which you’ll need to rock-hop across to get to the beach. Unfortunately, this is not a swimming destination; nearby Anzac Bay is a much better alternative.
Need to know: Allow five minutes one-way from the Bowentown Domain upper car park off Seaforth Road. Toilets at Anzac Bay. Walking only.
Trig Walk and Water Reservoir Loop | Waihī Beach
The Water Reservoir Loop is a picturesque 20-minute dose of nature, and the easy flat trail is ideal for little legs. But for some glute-burning action, branch off the loop and ascend past shady pine forests and mature tree ferns to the 151-metre-high-trig. The vantage point has impressive views of the township and off-shore volcanoes poking through the bay. Allow 90 minutes return for the three-kilometre-long trail.
Need to know: Signposted off Pacific Road. Toilets available. Walking only to the trig. Bikes and buggies suitable for Water Reservoir Loop. Dogs on leads.
Athenree Wetland Loop Walk | Athenree
When the appeal of beach-lazing wanes, this 20-minute stroll around an ecological reserve provides a leisurely alternative. Binocular toting bird-twitchers could glimpse threatened wetland species matuku/Australasian bittern, moho pererū/banded rail or tūturiwhatu/New Zealand dotterel. At just over one kilometre, this short adventure on land gifted by a local farmer, the late Maurice ‘Snow’ Garde-Browne, isn’t taxing. Follow the wooden trail markers through regenerating shrubs and flax and between avenues of sprawling flax fields.
Need to know: Steele Road between Athenree and Waihī Beach. Take it easy on the pot-holed car park road. Only suitable for walking. No dogs allowed.
Looking for more family-friendly walks? Our Hamilton & Waikato guidebook has 100+ outdoor adventures including adventures for walking, bikes, buggies and dogs.