I’m guessing that if you know three things about New Zealand, the fact that it has great scenery (and beaches) is one of them. Tucked away on the coastline between Tauranga and Gisborne lies Ohope Beach; well worth a stop, it has now claimed the title of ‘New Zealand’s Most Loved Beach’ in 2014 and 2015. You may be questioning why this might be, and don’t you worry – I’m about to explain why. Picture this. You will most likely arrive by car (as it is definitely the easiest way to thoroughly explore this country) over the hill from Whakatane, where you will catch a quick snapshot of glistening blue ocean, shimmering in what is no doubt another fine day in the Bay of Plenty. There is a look-out you can stop at, which provides extensive views of this delightful beach-side town, sprawling beach and surrounding greenery. Don’t panic though, this won’t be the only spectacular view that you will see. Ohope is pretty darn easy to navigate; it consists of one main road that diverges into two after the turn off to Gisborne. The entire township stretches about 10km – from West End down to the Harbour Entrance. Depending on the time of year you visit, you will either encounter too many people to count (summer) or you can count everyone in the vicinity basically on one hand (winter). Summer is definitely my favourite time of year to be there (as you can make the most of the beach) but winter definitely provides a secluded getaway.
The Best Places to Eat: Over the years Ohope’s quality and variety of cuisine has changed as quickly as the tide turns. I guess that’s part of living in a town that essentially survives off its summer to nourish. Currently on offer includes:
- The Quay Café: first on your right as you arrive from over the hill, the Quay is serves as one of the few providers of a family-friendly environment, with plenty of outdoor seating and space for dogs. While the quality of the coffee fluctuates (the constant highlight being the Whittaker’s stick served with each mocha), you can usually rely on a good atmosphere and half decent food. It is open for breakfast and lunch every day, and most summer evenings too.
- Hui: In an attempt to up the standard of dining in the area, this beach bar bistro opened its doors a few years ago and has done pretty well to stay afloat. A great source of live music, it is definitely one of the better places to be on any given Sunday afternoon, but I find when the place is quiet, the atmosphere can be a bit flat; making the formality seem a little stiff.
- Chez Louis: Probably the only food in town designed with any flair; and when that flair is of French origin, you know the food will be good. A little French takeaway bakery, it also does great coffee and the best wood-fired pizza for miles. The prices are probably standard for pizza and almond croissants, but can seem a little expenny in comparison to the rest of Ohope – although with that comes quality, and so this little takeaway joint continues to be a massive success.
- Fish and Chips: It’s only right to indulge in some fish and chips on the beach every once in a while. Just your stereotypical fish and chips store, it is located down on the Port Ohope wharf and provides some glorious views of the harbour.
- Port Ohope Dairy: This place has had more different owners than the number of times I have even been there, but its currently in the best form it has ever seen – with an outdoor patio, food truck, bean bags etc., and the dairy/café/bar serves ice-creams, burgers, shakes and other goodies, as well as hiring out kayaks, bikes, paddle-boards and the like.
- The Ohope Club: Home to the town’s only quiz night, the club serves bar food downstairs and a more formal structure upstairs. Again, it’s nothing spectacular, but it has reliably good pub grub at reasonable prices, and if all else fails; play a game of pool.
Where you should stay:
- Top 10 Holiday Park ($): I have spent many childhood summers at this campsite, and loved every moment of it. With endless activities for kids, including an open-air cinema, on-site pool complex, dairy and mini-golf, as well as daily games and competitions it is easy for the children to stay entertained, which is important when you’re on holiday! There is a range of sites available, and the facilities are great.
- West End ($$): a huge array of bed and breakfasts line the beach front road – West End is a great place to stay if you don’t have a car; it has the best surf, close the beach shops and trails.
- Resorts ($$$): there a few higher end hotels for those with deeper purses; whilst I have never actually stayed there myself, the Ohope Beach Resort is located extremely close to the Port Ohope Dairy, with the beach and harbour each both a mere 100 metres away (if that!).
What you should do: No trip to Ohope is complete until you have jumped off the wharf (and try throw in a cheeky fish if you get the opportunity), but whilst here you should also try to tick these off your list:
- Let’s go to the beach, beach; let’s go get away – in Ohope, this is SUCH a good plan. The beach stretches for miles; West End supposedly has the best surf (there is a surf school and SUPs available for hire) but there are swimming flags both here and down at the Holiday Park. We always go somewhere in between, where the population is far more sparse. Don’t forget your boogie boards!
- Climb the hill at the end of West End for that second promised view (20 minute walk, moderate gradient) and you will arrive at Shelly Bay: a secluded little beach, with shells aplenty (hence the name), and if you are feeling ambitious, you can actually follow the coast right around to Whakatane.
- There a few decent bushwalks about Ohope, but my personal favourite is at the Ohope Scenic Reserve. Walking the basic loop takes about 40 minutes, but you can veer off to Burma Road if you want to add another few hours to the trip. The scenery is beautiful, the warning against dogs in the area is due to the increasing number of Kiwi birds in the vicinity (good luck spotting one though – they aren’t that easy to find).
- There is a golf course down the far end (past the Holiday Park), a mini golf course opposite the Quay Café (albeit disproportionately expensive) and a set of tennis courts somewhere in the middle. Opposite the Ohope Club is a skate bowl, epic playground and a beach volleyball court. Something to bring out the inner competitiveness in every body!
- Held every second Saturday behind the Ohope Club, you can buy arts, crafts food and local produce at the local market. It’s a great place to stock up, because anything in the 4 Square (the town’s only decent convenience store) costs an arm and a leg, and you don’t want to have to journey into Whakatane too frequ ntly. For mid-week fruit and vegetables, scout out some road-side stalls (abundant in the summer) where you will find corn, watermelon and avocadoes to name just a few. Also, to top your trip off visit Ruby Dunes; one of the coolest, funkiest gift shops I have ever been to.
- White Island: A day trip away, White Island is one of New Zealand’s few remaining active volcanoes. It can be reached by boat, or for the more luxurious, helicopter rides provide an incredible view from above.
So why go? All of the points listed above combine to provide a wee township that absolutely thrives over the summer. With stereotypically good weather, warm water and something for everyone, it is a popular holiday destination for families and travellers alike. If you can find the time in your itinerary, make time to visit this wee pearl; yet another one of the country’s most spectacular beaches. Still not convinced? Check out my video here and see why me and my family love it so much.