Recently Whakatane was named the best city in New Zealand. Why had this town beaten every other in the country? Prior to an annual reunion nearby, we decided to spend a few days in Whakatane. I certainly wanted to find out what was on offer.
This area is suffering more than many. The lack of international tourists has adverse effects on many industries and towns in New Zealand. But I believe Whakatane’s suffering is more poignant. A huge portion of its tourist industry relied on people stopping at Whakatane to visit Whakaari/White Island. A surprising number – over 10,000 – used to boat out to the island each year. Why surprising? Because Whakaari/White Island is an active volcano. However, the need to stand on an active volcano is not something I’ve ever hankered to do.
December 2019 saw an end to this tourist venture when the volcano erupted, killing a number of both tourists and local tour operators. Whakatane suffered the loss of a huge portion of its economy. And it seems doubtful the island will ever be reopened to the public.
What impact had this had on Whakatane? Well, from the point of view of a random visitor, apparently not so much. Even without overseas visitors, the streets bustled and only a couple of stores appeared empty along the main street. The town had a welcoming feel about it. We made sure we visited a number of the many and varied restaurants and found them all very good.
Our kind hostess took us on a tiki-tour around some of the sights including the White Pine Bush Reserve. There was an interesting display of gumboots at the entrance. So I needed time to read the messages left on a variety of gumboots.
Wairere Falls was another site our hostess showed us. I doubt many towns can boast such a waterfall within their city limits. I can only imagine how spectacular it looks when not subjected to a long, dry summer.
Beautiful weather blessed us while we stayed in Whakatane. This helped make the visit enjoyable as well as memorable. We will certainly visit this beautiful town again.