The Waihi Beach and Bowentown region is a short drive from Tauranga but the beautiful beaches, hidden bays and walks make it an ideal escape for Bay dwellers looking for a change of scene.
We really are spoilt in the Bay of Plenty. Our region lives up to its name in many ways, and holiday spots are at the top of the list. I recently had a weekend at Bowentown Beach with my extended family. We loved it so much that I returned with my kids — Tilly (five) and Finn (seven) — the following week to continue exploring the greater Waihi Beach area.
Nestled into the Bowentown headland is a camping ground that offers all you need for a modest family retreat. My family of four stayed in a basic cabin, as did my parents and my sister and her family. We used the communal bathroom and kitchen facilities, which gave our stay a cosy school camp, kind of vibe. There are also options for tenting and self-contained motel units. Bowentown Beach, beside the campground, has all the character of a wild West Coast beach, with black sand, caves and rocky outcrops for climbing and adventuring. Treasures abound everywhere you look. While the kids were exploring and collecting seaside trinkets, Tilly came across a trembling little blue penguin huddled into the rocks near a cave. Though the kids were keen to nurse the frail bird back to health, the camp staff assured us that DOC advises to leave penguins that wash ashore during storms and they would likely take the next high surge of water back out to sea. Sure enough, we watched
as it eventually flapped back into the ocean. We were surprised to learn that little blues are frequent visitors to the area, along with seals and dolphins.
Anzac Bay & Shelly Bay
Just over the brow of the hill from the campground is a very different beach experience. Anzac Bay is an easily accessed, sheltered beach that’s popular for water sports, picnicking and fishing. It has more of a lake-front feel and the kids happily splashed in the calm waters that have a view out to the north end of Matakana island. From Anzac Bay there is a half-hour walk to a local secret spot; Shelly Bay lives up to its name and reputation. The enclosed bay has crystal clear water and a bounty of shells underfoot. Pohutukawa trees frame the beach at both ends, adding to its iconic kiwi setting. Best of all, we were the only ones on the beach when we visited.
A short drive from Bowentown is Waihi Beach — this sprawling coastline boasts surfable waves, in the right conditions. The north end of the beach is home to the Surf Life Saving Club and its monitored swimming zone. There’s also a great tyre swing that hangs from a giant pohutukawa tree overlooking the beach — a favourite spot for my kids. With loads of other trees to climb and rock pools to explore, this beach will keep children well entertained. In the heart of the Waihi Beach township, you’ll find the Wilson Road village where there are a number of quality shops including Ship Shape, with its racks of renowned designer clothing. It sits at the gateway of the tropical plantings and temple-like surrounds of The Secret Garden, a little outdoor hideaway that serves great coffee and reminds you more of Bali than
the Bay of Plenty. Also on this strip is The French Shop, which has a very continental feel, streetwear shop Roar, and Sunday — a very tempting
haven of contemporary homewares, think Paper Plane’s second cousin. For an authentic Kiwi family holiday, it’s always good to sample the local cheap eats. For fish and chips, check out Wilson Road Fish Shop (27 Wilson Rd) or Island View takeaways (1 Tuna Ave). The Waihi Beach Bakery (16 Wilson Rd) is well regarded by locals for its quality bread. For a coffee with a view, you can’t go past the beachfront Flatwhite cafe and if it’s an ice cream in a cone you’re after then head for the Waihi Beach Seaside Store.
This beach is a real find. It requires a bit of extra effort to get there but you’ll be well rewarded. The one-hour walking track begins at the rocky north end of Waihi Beach, which at high tide requires a scramble over rocks or a wade through lapping waves. The relative inaccessibility of Orokawa Bay could well be part of its
legendary status and certainly adds to the sense of achievement, once you finally clear your way through the Jurassic-like grass for a first glimpse of the idyllic white-sand beach. It’s a great family outing — my kids took the bush walk in their stride (with the aid of a few treats along the way) and loved climbing the prehistoric-looking pohutukawa trees that lean over the edge of the beach, creating ideal play areas. In warmer months, be sure to pack togs and towel, and a picnic lunch, as you’ll want to spend some time once you get there. It’s also a decent surf spot. Though we were initially the only visitors to the beach, we were soon joined by a few savvy board riders who hitched rides on motor boats from Waihi Beach (clearly it wasn’t their first rodeo).
We finished our trip with a relaxing soak in the hot pools at Athenree Hot Springs & Holiday Park. With an underground thermal spring as its source, the main pool naturally sits at around 34 degrees. There’s a second smaller pool that’s heated further, to around 39 degrees. Across the road is a spacious grass reserve and playground, kitted out with free public barbecues. Athenree Beach is part of Tauranga’s inner harbour and at low tide you can explore the estuary by foot. There are so many great adventures to be had in this gem of an area, even the stormy weather didn’t dampen our family’s enthusiasm. We will keenly make the easy one-hour drive from the Mount, any chance we get, for years to come.
Story & Photography by Alice Veysey
First published in issue 8 of Our Place Magazine.