Waihi Beach

Explore: Waihi Beach

Once a gold town, always a gold town. Waihi is not only home to the richest gold mine in New Zealand (still in operation today), but it also offers a treasure box of experiences to enjoy, whether you prefer to relax on the beach, the adrenalin surge of surfing, or explore historic walkways. Waihi Beach is the ultimate spot for those planning summer RV trips, as Mel de Jongh discovers.

The appeal of that iconic New Zealand beach holiday is a strong pull for many RV adventurers over the summer months. Waihi Beach in the Northern Bay of Plenty is a mere 40 minutes south of Whangamatā and offers all the beauty of the Coromandel Peninsula without the dreaded traffic or population density.

From first glance, Waihi Beach gives you that feel-good nostalgia of beach holidays past. The white sand stretches for 10km all the way to Bowentown and is buttressed at the northern end by a peninsula covered in New Zealand bush.

The vibe in here is relaxed and centred around the beauty of the beach, rather than a bustling town as many beach havens have evolved into. As I jumped out of the camper and released the kids from their restraints for a closer look from the sand dunes, a shared exhilaration and sense of calm swept over us all.

New Zealand’s oldest camping ground

The Tasman Holiday Park was the ideal base for our family to enjoy Waihi Beach.

I visited with my husband Simon, daughter Peyton (nine years old), and son Aidan (five years old). We were welcomed on arrival with a warm introduction to the park before being designated a generous site bordered by trees and greenery – a common theme throughout the park.

According to Anna Hansen, park operations coordinator, “The much-loved resort is arguably the oldest holiday park in the country, opening in 1899.”

Anna passionately adds, “There’s no other place like it. The beach and surrounding native bush make this place an absolute beauty. Our great community puts a lot of love into welcoming visitors and keeping our little village beautiful.”

The park did well to satisfy my clean-freak tendencies with immaculate facilities. Not at all impressed by cleanliness, my children were elated to see the swimming pool, air cushion, and playground. I would imagine the spa pool is a real bonus for winter visitors.

Orokawa Bay: children love a view

Waihi Beach
Mel’s husband Simon, daughter Peyton, and son Aidan enjoy the Orokawa Bay views

Not to be missed is the walk to the neighbouring bay, Orokawa. Starting from the northern end of Waihi Beach, this coastal bush walk is brimming with native flora. Pōhutukawa drapes itself over the cliffs, with branches stretching for the ocean and in full bloom a spectacular sight at this time of year. The 3.3km track took our family roughly 45 minutes each way, with a few short stops to snack and take in the views.

Well worth the effort, Orokawa Bay is wild, beautiful, and secluded, as it cannot be accessed by road. Swimming is not recommended due to dangerous rips, so we opted for a refreshing paddle to calm our weary feet and set up a picnic to take it all in.

The track to the bay is uneven and steep in places, so I would not recommend it for toddlers, strollers, or anyone with a walking aid. My family managed the walk comfortably. However, when they did start to whinge towards the end, I naively reminded them, “but children love a view, isn’t it beautiful?” To which Aidan replied vehemently, “No more walks today mummy.”

For the avid walker, the Homunga Bay track is 7.8km and starts at the same place as the Orokawa Bay walk. Approximately 5.5km along this walkway are the William Wright Falls. Given my son’s strict instructions, we did not attempt this on our visit.

A feast of foodie options

Waihi Beach
Flatwhite café has beautiful oceanfront views

Until I’ve had my morning coffee, the world appears a little foggy, so thankfully, the Hui café is only a few minutes’ walk from the holiday park. Offering takeaway coffees and snacks between 7.30am and 1pm most days, we purchased an Allpress coffee on our first morning before a relaxing stroll along the beach.

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For a full breakfast or lunch, the helpful Tasman Holiday Park staff recommended a 15-minute stroll south along the beach to the Flatwhite café – oceanfront with an unimpeded view and delicious food (though notably at Auckland prices).

Erika Herbst, events coordinator at the café informed me that it originally opened in 2005.

At that time the café operated from a bach that was built in 1948. In 2015, the owners built a new, larger space, directly overlooking the beach. The impressive wooden beams that feature in the café structure were sourced from the old dairy factory in Tāneatua, southern Bay of Plenty, built in 1900. These heritage features give the café a rustic feel despite its modern furnishings.
Even at this time of year, the café is alive with a constant stream of patrons, with the baristas working methodically to produce order after order. We learnt that when busy, you may wait up to 45 minutes for your coffee, so I would recommend booking ahead or arriving early. The café has a kids’ menu and drawing material that kept ours occupied while we waited for our order and if you can book a table on the deck, the gorgeous ocean view aids with the passing of time.

At the southern end of Waihi Beach sits The Village boutique shopping area, which hosts a range of eateries, including bars, restaurants, cafés, and takeouts. The Secret Garden restaurant offers Mexican food, cocktails, and regular live entertainment. While the decor has a Balinese island theme with lush greenery, the food is Mexican-inspired.

You will even find a Swiss chocolate shop, Chez Moi, that offers delectable treats. Although Waihi Beach is not known for its shopping, The Village does have some funky boutique stores, gift shops, and a surf shop to peruse when you need a break from the ocean. There’s also a market held every Sunday from 9am to 1pm from Labour Weekend up until Easter.

If, like us, you hanker for the traditional Kiwi beach meal, there’s a local dairy and takeaway shop at the northern end of the beach, a few doors down from the Hui café. There are also takeout options in The Village. We took our fish and chips to the beach where there are picnic tables in direct view of the ocean and enjoyed our fresh, locally caught meal, doused generously in Wattie’s sauce by Aidan.


Access for all

Waihi Beach
Mayor Island in the background of Waihi Beach

Waihi Beach offers two beach wheelchairs and access mats free of charge for disabled individuals to use on the beach, allowing all to enjoy its beauty. The beach is relatively flat and therefore ideal for all mobility levels to meander without navigating hills or uneven ground. Bookings for the wheelchairs and mats can be made via the Tasman Holiday Park reception during their opening hours.

Year-round appeal

Although Waihi Beach empties out during the winter months, it’s still worth a visit in the off-season, if you’ve already planned your summer travels. Waihi Beach does experience relatively high rainfall, with July being the wettest month according to weatherspark.com, which may contribute to the abundance of native flora and fauna.

For the active traveller, you can enjoy walks on the beach or bush but don’t forget your rain jacket. Or to avoid the weather, you could try out Waihi Beach Indoor Bowls. They hold sessions every Thursday evening at the Waihi Beach Community Hall.

On one of our strolls down the beach, Peyton and Aidan enjoyed watching another family undertaking what looked like their first surf lesson. Lessons are available year-round from the Waihi Surf School and based on our observations on the beach that morning, they teach any ability level, even the most unbalanced novices.

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If pampering is more suited to your needs, a visit to Revive Massage Studio or Binti’s Beauty Salon may assuage your winter melancholy. While the Sunday market does not operate during the winter, on 4 June, the Waihi Beach Art and Craft Fair will be held at the Waihi Beach Community Centre.

A nice evening vibe can be found year-round. The Waihi Beach Hotel has live DJs or band play on selected weekends. At the Waihi Beach rugby club, you can watch Super Rugby or international games on a big screen and they also have live music on occasion. Just down the coast, the Bowentown Boating and Sports Fishing Club also hosts live music from 4pm on Sundays.

A home away from home

Waihi Beach
Overlooking Waihi Beach from the southern end at Bowentown

Having a motorhome for our weekend camping trip was a revelation. Pulling up and plugging in a campervan as opposed to packing the car to the brim, navigating tent pegs and bored children was a treat. Sure, I did whack my bum on the kitchen counter several times on descent from my bed, much to my family’s amusement. Although I did perfect the appropriate ladder technique to avoid further buttock discomfort, I wondered whether there are campervans better suited for family use.

I had a chat with Emma Love, marketing and sales coordinator at TrailLite Group to ask her opinion. Emma agreed that there are important considerations for travel with children.

She expressed, “Having forward-facing seat belts in the back are necessary for car seats and to ensure there is plenty of storage for toys.”

“It is helpful’’ she urged, “to have separate sleeping areas so you can put the kids to bed at night and have a living area to relax.”

In addition, she explains, “All TrailLite motorhomes have a habitation door on the side of the camper to ensure that kids’ won’t get out of the van straight into traffic. This is not always a feature on European-made motorhomes.”

Reluctant farewell

As we unplugged the camper and re-plugged the kids into their seats, we realised that we had not spent enough time in this lovely place. While summer will be buzzing with activities, with the beach and village spread down the lengthy coastline, it manages to avoid that crowded feel.

As we passed a playground on our drive out, Peyton called out “why didn’t we go to that playground?”  The answer was simple – we didn’t need to.

Where to stay

Waihi offers a host of options for RVers.

Goldfields Railway Station offers powered sites with access to toilets and running water, and all income from the campground goes to help maintain the rail heritage site.

Bowentown Beach Holiday Park offers more than 100 campsites, including some with sea views. It’s a popular spot, so don’t leave booking until the last minute. If you’re travelling by car this year but have an affinity for the RV lifestyle, you’ll love the Kombi Cabins, two cleverly built cabins designed to resemble an authentic Kombi. Perfect for two people, the Kombi cabins include a deck area and are absolutely charming.

Waihi Camp & Cabins is a rural setting on the banks of the Waitete Stream and just a short walk or bike ride to Waihi town centre and the Hauraki Rail Trail. As well as powered and unpowered sites, lock-up bike storage is available for guests.

Tasman Holiday Park – Beachaven is located at the northern end of Waihi Beach, just a few minutes walk from swimming and surfing. The four-acre property has 50 sites for motorhomes and tents (and dogs are welcome).

The NZMCA Waihi Beach Park is located at Emerton Road, Waihi Beach and has a 50-motorhome capacity.

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