We should start with the beach. It is the reason for the growth of this small town and why tens of thousands of holidaymakers flock to the ocean beaches and saltwater estuaries in summer to enjoy this popular aquatic playground. But Whangamatā is a characterful, outdoorsy town year-round with a culture all its own and an enterprising band of locals finding many ways to make their contribution to life by the sea.
The Whanga bar
Whangamatā has a long beach with a legendary left-hand surf break at one end, formed by a shallow sand bar, that is easy to paddle out to without having to brave the whitewater of the shore. For generations of surfers since the early 1960s, the “Whanga bar” has been surfing nirvana. When the optimum combination of wind and swell is forecast, surfers will drive in early morning darkness to arrive as the first rays of dawn illuminate (hopefully) a perfectly cylindrical tube wave running three or four hundred metres towards the shore.
Hit the beach
The beach is shallow and at 6km in length, there is room for every kind of beach lover, not just those ready to tackle the surf. Its a local's promenade at low tide (dogs are allowed off leash with some restrictions in peak season) and there's a wild feeling as you head south to the Whangamatā estuary, with the beachfront holiday homes barely noticeable behind the dunes. There are lifeguards in summer outside the surf club, so that is position alpha for safe family swimming, and Blackies Cafe is right there too for everything from brunch to afternoon ice-creams.
Browse the boutiques and cafes
The seaside village is possibly the best place in the country to kit yourself out in resort wear and surf gear, whether you play in the shallows or head for the big wave sets. Yes, it's a surf town, but there is a mix of sophisticated fashion (Contain is as good as any in bigger cities) and homestyle boutiques with carefully curated collections.
Most of the cafes are in the main street so it's a great place to start and orientate yourself with all there is on offer. Port Road Project, sixfortysix, (yes the number on the door) and the Whanga Bar are daylong favourites and Rassasy is retro cocktail lounge and evening vibe. Craft Haus will lead you into some of the local craft beers, some of which are available directly from the microbrewhouse at Salt District Brewing.
Walk to the Wentworth Falls
The bush backdrop to the town provides a cooling respite from sun and sand. Just south of town past the golf course a 5km-long gravel road leads you into the Wentworth Valley, an inland adventure, and the site of a great family camping ground, managed by the Department of Conservation.
The Wentworth River runs through the valley which you can explore on a number of walks through native forest from the campground, passing some great swimming holes along the way. The longest walk is about 3km up to the Wentworth Falls; there are two cascades of about 20m, and the track climbs on up to the basin at the top.
At the end of the 19th century the valley was home to around 300 gold miners and their families, and many relics of these pioneering days can still be found in an overgrown state of green.
Hit the trails
Adventure-seeking mountain bikers will find plenty to challenge their skills in Ridges Mountain Bike Park in the Matariki Forest just 4km north of Whangamatā. The trails are in mint condition with swooping berms, table-tops and gap jumps. Each member of the family will find a trail to ride, as the park offers everything from kid-friendly trails and jumps to Grade 2-5 single track. From the main entrance, head up Causeway Road, where over half a dozen trails branch off full of fun features. The trails are signposted and graded, and the map at the park entrance helps you get around.
You need to grab a pass on Hivepass to ride, but we recommend an annual membership as it's a great deal and we reckon you'll be back time and again as word gets out and events and trails are developed. It's run by volunteers, so if you are riding with locals, chances are they'll have been out there on the end of a shovel or a rake, it’s that kind of place.
Kayak to Whenuakura Wildlife Sanctuary
Just off the shallows of Whangamatā Beach is a small island concealing a secret blue heart. Your guide will take you out of sight of the beach to the seaward side of the island to find the 12m cave granting you entry into the crystal clear lagoon in the collapsed volcanic blowhole. Join a local tour company for a guided kayak or stand-up paddleboard tour to hear the stories and make a contribution to the preservation of this special place. The island is a protected wildlife sanctuary so you must stay in your kayak and not set foot on the island, respecting the status and importance of Whenuakura to locals and local Maori.