If you are heading to the Coromandel Peninsula, Whitianga is definitely worth visiting, no matter what time of the year. Summer or winter, rain or shine there’s plenty to do to keep the whole family busy. In this article there are top tips and excellent ideas for things to do when you plan your visit to Whitianga.
First things first – Where is Whitianga?
So you’ve decided to come to Whitianga, and now you are wondering what to do when you get here? Whitianga is the largest township in the Mercury Bay, located on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula. Beachside communities and towns are scattered along the coast and connected by inland villages and settlements, providing numerous havens to relax and enjoy the Mercury Bay in your own way.
Whitianga and its surrounding areas boast beautiful beaches, rivers, native bush and water activities within an easy distance of each other. It is a truly beautiful destination to visit. Whitianga itself offers great places to eat, entertainment and shopping experiences.
The All About Whitianga team have collated a huge list of ideas to give you a taste of all the things to do in the Mercury Bay. We’ve split the ideas into sections, but some of these activities can easily overlap into other areas – so we suggest you read the whole lot!
What to do in Winter and Autumn in Whitianga
Rug up in winter and visit Whitianga – some say it’s the perfect time as the rush and madness of summer is over! It’s a great time to pick up accommodation deals and just take some time to relax and experience a slower pace. You will get an insight into the life that local’s lead and understand why they love living in Whitianga. In winter you can still delight in all the fantastic water activities, and you can explore without battling the summer crowds. The locals even say the fishing is better in the cooler months, although they may not share their special fishing spots with you!
Over the winter months, Whitianga has hosted or has been included in sporting events such as the Whitianga Marathon, the NZ Rally, K2 Cycle Race and of course the Oceans Festival (formally the Whitianga Scallop Festival). In Tairua, just over the hill is the Tairua Boat Show, usually held in August. Whangamata hosts the famous Beach Hop, so Whitianga is the perfect stop over before or after the event. Keep an eye on our events pages for details of each event.
The Mercury Bay gets some magnificent sunrises and sunsets in Autumn and there’s no better place to see them than from a hot pool at Hot Water Beach, through the cave at Cathedral Cove or from the beach at Kuaotunu.
Things to do when it’s Raining
Never fear, there is still plenty to do in Whitianga when it rains! Opposite the car park in Lee Street, Whitianga has two big screens at the Mercury Twin Cinema complex. Enjoy the latest films along with all the classic candy bar treats or enjoy a coffee, wine or beer! If there’s a group of you, talk to the cinema team to hire the theatre exclusively for your special occasion.
While you are in town, why not visit the Mercury Bay Museum? This little gem which was the original milk factory has engaging displays that are updated regularly, and there’s activities for the kids too.
When it’s wet, take a wander and browse the shops in Whitianga. A huge variety to keep all the family happy, from fishermen and sports people to fashion princesses and homeware hunters. If finding a bargain is your thing, incorporate op-shopping into your rainy-day activity. Whitianga has three opportunity shops. For people watching, enjoy a coffee or hot chocolate at one of the many cafes and enjoy the activity of the main street.
When it’s raining the Lost Spring is a great retreat for a rainy-day massage or dip in the hot pool. An alternative if you don’t mind a drive is to head over to Hot Water or Cooks Beach. Stop in at the Alan Rhodes Pottery on the way, then head to Hot Water Beach to dig your own pool and then finish up with a tipple at the Mercury Bay Estate taking in breathtaking views of the bay.
More Adventurous things to do
Grab your bike and take a tour of Buffalo Beach. Ride right over to Wharekaho, there’s a track just about the entire way. You can hire a bike from The Bike Man in Coghill Street, if you didn’t bring your own wheels.
Up the 309 Road, there’s adventure waiting. Explore the road, there are tracks and walks along with the beautiful Waiau Kauri Grove and waterfall. The Waiau Waterworks is hidden in the bush up here and Stuart’s Pigs too. The 309 Road can also offer access to Castle Rock, 525 metres of former volcano core rising above the bush. Enjoy the scenery on the 309 Rd, but do take care on the road, it’s partly unsealed.
Just past the 309 Road you can take a right turn and head down to the popular Fun Zone Adventure and Family Park. You can spend the day and test your skills at archery, paintball, laser tag, clay shooting and more.
You can’t come to Whitianga without a visit to the famous Cathedral Cove. It’s a great day trip and there’s lots to do in Hahei, Cooks and Hot Water Beach. Local operators run boat tours and water taxis to the cove if you are not up to walking. Take your snorkel and togs to enjoy the clear waters and marine life of the Te Whanganui o Hei snorkel trail at Gemstone Bay. You can reach Gemstone Bay by taking a path down off the Cathedral Cove track. For something different you can walk all the way from Cooks Beach when the Purangi Ferry service is running.
Another popular spot is of course the Coroglen Pub. Why not check the tides and take your kayak up Coromandel Peninsula’s longest river, the Waiwawa. When you reach the Coroglen Bridge, you can stop and enjoy lunch and a brew at the pub.
School Holidays – Things to do with the Kids in Whitianga
Whitianga doesn’t sport any major theme parks or rollercoasters, but the selection of family and kid orientated activities on hand are sure to keep the young ones happy. One of the town’s favourite activities for a bit of family competition is the themed Wild Wood Mini Golf course. It’s in a central location and a short walk from the supermarkets in case a distraction is needed while doing the food shopping. Open daily, this is a great way to spend a few hours. In the school holidays the Wild Wood team run extra activities and specials for children, so keep an eye on our events pages for these.
Also, in central Whitianga, there’s the popular skate park and basketball court at the Albert Street end of Whakau Reserve (Taylor’s Mistake). Some fitness and balance obstacles can be found along the reserve path if you take a stroll southeast towards the river and marina. Plaques are embedded into the path from the reserve and along the waterfront to the popular Esplanade Park, containing pieces of historic information and local trivia.
The waterfront is the perfect place to stroll to the marina and along the shell path all the way to Brophy’s Beach to look at the variety of boats and launches, water views and activities. To keep the kids entertained on the 5km walk from the Esplanade to Brophy’s Beach, look out for the Fairy House which is cleverly nestled into one of the trees along the path, or go hunting for rocks that have been placed by the local Mercury Bay Rocks Club.
The Whitianga Toy Library is opposite the local area school in the Social Services building on Cook Drive. The library offers casual memberships which are perfect for holiday goers, bach owners or grandparents wanting to source toys for visiting youngsters. The Mercury Bay Library has a dedicated children’s book area and often runs kids activities too.
If you have your bikes with you, take a ride out to the Whitianga Bike Park on Moewai Road and see the wonderful tracks and facilities that have been constructed by a group of local volunteers.
In the school holidays there are regular children’s fishing competitions run by the Mercury Bay Game Fishing Club at the wharf. And, if you need fishing gear for some impromptu fishing off the wharf or beach, you are in the right town to get sorted!
If animals are popular and you are looking for a half or full day family trip, Mill Creek Bird and Animal Encounters located just out of town is a fun option. Take the family and enjoy a picnic or even stay in the campground or cabins. There’s also Whiti Farm Park just a bit further out on the road to Coroglen.
Summer fun in Whitianga
Summer in Whitianga is not all about the water, but it’s an obvious place to start! The Mercury Bay has accessible sandy beaches on offer and a beautiful bay to explore. You can get out on the water, see the bay and learn about the local marine environment and history by joining a Whitianga boat tour operator tour. For boat cruises and water fun Jet Ski Tours, Banana Boat rides and Epic Fishing Charters are available. Otherwise, just head to one of the many beaches for sandcastles and ice creams. You’ll find a couple of awesome ice cream stores in Hahei and Kuaotunu try and tackle the the Kuaotunu killer icecream if you dare!
Over the Christmas and New Year period in Whitianga, there’s a multitude of fairs, galas and markets to keep the shoppers and bargain hunters in the family happy. Details of these can be found on our markets page and in our events area.
Renowned for its art community, Whitianga hosts art exhibitions over the summer and autumn months. During January the Whitianga Art Group holds an annual exhibition and March offers open studios as part of the iconic Mercury Bay Art Escape.
With the influx of visitors to the town over summer, live music can be found at most bars or pubs throughout the week. Whitianga restaurants often have live acts for diners to enjoy. The Coroglen Pub is a popular spot for many well-known New Zealand bands during their summer tours. A raft of local and national talent can be found locally at the Whitianga Hotel, Salt Bar & Restaurant, Smitty’s Sports Bar, Luke’s Kitchen and Eggcentric Café. Whitianga is also lucky enough to host the Greenstone Entertainment Whitianga Summer Concert which attracts well known international artists.
Looking for free or cheap things to do in Whitianga?
If you are on a budget Whitianga has plenty on offer. One of the best kept secrets is the Whitianga Bike Park, located off Moewai Road. Run by volunteers, there are tracks for little ones and also the adults. Take a picnic or use the BBQ and enjoy the bike park bush walk.
In the summer the community pool is open if you are looking for something different from the beach.
Pickleball is popular in Whitianga. The club has regular game days and extra sessions scheduled over the summer and in the holidays. If you like ball sports, the Tennis Club is located on Albert Street.
Heading off to the beach, and take a sausage along to cook your dinner on the BBQ’s located on Whitianga’s Buffalo Beach and at the Purangi Reserve, Cooks Beach. Or just order some fish and chips and just soak up the sun and the beach views at any of the fantastic vantage points across the Mercury Bay.
Find out more about Whitianga’s history and take a wander around town along the historical walking trail. Or perhaps appreciate the murals throughout the town centre that were painted during the Tuia 250 celebrations. If you are in town on the first Sunday of the month, swing by Smitty’s at about 10am and you may get to peek at the local muscle car contingent who meet regularly.
Wanting to explore more of the Mercury Bay?
If you'd like to know more about the beachside towns and settlements around the Mercury Bay then head over to our Explore area for information, maps, eating out, events, activities and must do’s to help you plan your visit.