New Zealand is famous for its hiking. We even have our own name for it – ‘tramping’ – which always raises a giggle. New Zealand has a series of Great Walks and there is no doubt these are some of the best hikes in the world, through landscapes that would impress even a hobbit.
The walk I want to talk about today is not one of the Great Walks but a very modest one – it only takes about five and a half hours and is to be found over on the east coast of the North Island. A place where New Zealanders go on holiday but not so many tourists arrive.
This walk does have a great name: Nga Tapuwae-o-Toi, which means ‘the sacred footsteps of Toi’. According to Maori tradition Toi was one of the early Maori explorers who migrated to New Zealand from Polynesia around 1,000 AD. It doesn’t have the spectacular scenery of the Milford Track or the Routeburn but it offers a variety of landscape and visits two of my favourite beaches in New Zealand and is replete with memories from across the 40 years of my life.
The Nga Tapuwai-o-Toi is a circular hike so you can start it at a few different points – from Whakatane town or from Ohope Beach. It is fairly easy hiking on a well-graded track. I bit of up and down – a good stretch of the legs. I will describe it from the town.
From Commerce street turn behind the Pohatoroa Rock and climb the steep steps leading up to Hillcrest Road. Carry on up a few hundred metres until you turn left onto Seaview Road. Stop here to look at the views across the town, the river and out to sea.
If you have plenty of time walk five minutes up the track on your left and get an even better view point including across the plains and out to the high humped back of Whale Island, which is a native bird sanctuary. I have never visited Whale Island – access is only on tours a few times in the year – but hope to one day.
From here there is a sign-posted track past a house, across a wooden bridge and on up to Kapu-te-rangi. The forest (New Zealanders call it “bush”) on this hillside is regenerating and I have watched it grow since I was a small child. Kapu-te-rangi is an old Maori Pa site. A pa was a fortified village. They certainly picked an impressive spot to establish themselves. Look out for the handful of big trees that survived pioneering clearing.
At the top of the track there is a path to the right up to Kohi Point where you can enjoy views all around. Come back to the main track and continue along the cliff tops. The forest retreats and you are surrounded by low manuka scrub and flax with its tall flower heads.
The views out to sea are superb and you can see the smoking pile of rock that is White Island – an active volcano. Once you come around the headland there are wooden stairs leading down to gorgeous Otarawairere Bay, where the sea crunches into a beach of fine shells.
This beach is only accessible by car with a 20 minute walk so is often deserted and therefore a great place to have your picnic.
You will see plenty of examples of the ‘New Zealand Christmas Tree’ – the Pohutakawa – around this coast. Watch out for the red-beaked Oyster Catchers that breed here in the summer.
Note that this beach is not accessible from the Nga-Tapuwai-o-Toi track in this direction at high tide so check the times before you set out. Although I have crossed the beach a number of times when the tide was quite high – with wet feet….
At the other end of the beach the track continues up into the bush and climbs up over the hill to Ohope Beach. There are fabulous view in both directions from the point. From the West End of Ohope where the surfers hang out to the shops and surf club takes about half an hour of relaxed walking along the beach.
Ohope has got more expensive/glamorous over the years but it still remains an old-fashioned New Zealand beach holiday charm.
After an icecream head across the road at the roundabout and plunge under the carved gateway into the Ohope Scenic Reserve. There is a loop walk from here that will bring you back to Ohope Beach or continue on the main track up to Burma Road.
A number of endangered Kiwi birds have been introduced here – one of the few places they survive in the wild on the mainland of New Zealand rather than on sanctuary islands. But as they are nocturnal you are unlikely to see one. The track follows a ridge and after crossing Burma passes through forest and wetland, at times on boardwalks. It meets the Mokorua Reserve walkway at White Horse Drive Junction.
Then there is some up and down, climbing the ridge overlooking Whakatane and descending into the Mokorua Gorge which leads back into the town. Stay quiet along here and listen for the sounds of New Zealand’s native birds.
So there you have it, my favourite New Zealand walk.
By Natasha von Geldern