A town rich in Maori heritage and history, Whakatane lies around 90km east of Tauranga, and the same distance northeast of Rotorua. The first settlements here date from about the 13th century, and around 40% of the Whakatane population claim Maori ancestry.
The town is the gateway to the volcanic White Island (Whakaari), and most boat trips to the island will leave from Whakatane. Walkers should not miss the Nga Tapuwae O Toi bush track, which includes many historic 'pa' (maori village) sites, as well as native bushland, amazing coastal views, a wide variety of wildlife and secluded beaches. It's quite hilly, though, but the photo opportunities offered from the top of Kapu-te-rangi are well worth the hike.
The waters around Whakatane are nice and warm, so try and head out to one of the many golden beaches such as Ohope, or try your hand at some scuba diving. Adventurers will love kayaking down the Whakatane River, and there are also some spectacular mountain bike tracks. Check out the ones that wind through the glades and forests of the headland and scenic reserves to the east of the town.
For the best views of the area, head to the Toi's Pa Lookout which is just a few minutes drive from the town centre. Heading towards Ohope, turn left along Otarawairere Road which offers a couple of scenic lookouts, before taking another left turn to continue on an unsealed road up to the lookout. From Toi's Pa, you'll enjoy fantastic views of White Island and the Whakatane coastline.
Whakatane is also known for its clear night skies, so enjoy an evening with a difference at Whakatane Observatory, when the public are invited to explore the stars every Tuesday and Friday.
The CBD lies around The Strand and surrounding roads, and is noted for the many floral displays and palm trees which line the streets. At the end of The Strand you'll find the historic Whakatane Hotel, and the Tourist Information Centre at the corner of Quay Street. There's also a good selection of shops, bars and restaurants, plus a small marina off Kakahoroa Drive at the head of the river where boat trips depart for White Island.
Accommodation is plentiful, with a particularly good choice of motels, backpackers, CBD holiday apartments and edge-of-town holiday villages and campgrounds.