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Wairoa – Guide for Backpackers


Things to do in Wairoa and northern Hawke’s Bay.

On the banks of the Wairoa River lies the historic town of Wairoa! Full of culture, walks and wonderful natural features, the small Northern Hawke’s Bay town of Wairoa is just the beginning of a Northern Hawke’s Bay adventure! Find out more in this Wairoa guide for backpackers!

Whether you are into the arts and foodie travel or more of a wilderness-lover, there is something for everyone in the Wairoa District. In the town, there are galleries, cafes and museums. Alternatively, you can hit the road to the largest tract of native forest remaining on the North Island, the Te Ureweras, located around the impressive Lake Waikaremoana. There are also plenty of road trip opportunities to check out the beautiful coastline of the Mahia Peninsula, or relax in a hot pool in the middle of a palm tree forest in Morere. Whatever your adventure, you’ll find it here in Wairoa!

Things you can’t miss in Wairoa

  • Do the Wairoa Township Riverside Walkway from the historic lighthouse to the beautiful Pilot Hill
  • Check out the history in the Wairoa Museum
  • Hike at Lake Waikaremoana
  • Relax in the Morere Hot Springs
  • Take a road trip to the gorgeous Mahia Peninsula
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Walks in Wairoa

Although Wairoa is an ideal base for exploring the wider northern Hawke’s Bay region, the township itself has a lot to offer. A great way to see the town is to do the Wairoa walks.

The Sir James Carroll Walkway (30 minutes one way) runs along the northern bank of the Wairoa River starting just across the bridge opposite the Vista Motor Lodge. You’ll see the remains of historic jettys from the river’s trading days. Alternatively, the Wairoa Township Riverside Walkway (1h30mins one way) which starts at Wairoa’s famous lighthouse. Follow the southern bank all the way to Pilot Hill for awesome views of the coast. To learn a bit of history along the walk, pick up the walkway brochure from the local i-SITE.’

For more walks in the region, check out 10 Wonderful Walks in Hawke’s Bay.


More things to do in Wairoa

First things first, you can’t miss the Portland Island Lighthouse seen in plain sight on the Southern side of the Wairoa River Bridge. It is the only inland lighthouse in New Zealand. Although it is not in use for traditional reasons today, the lighthouse still lights up at night, so is well worth visiting after dusk.

To learn about the history and culture of the Wairoa area, visit the Wairoa Museum, on 142 Marine Parade. They are open Monday to Friday from 10am to 4pm and Saturdays 10am – 12pm. See Maori artifacts, European settler’s relics, fossils and the donation box is an experience in itself!

It’s worth having a quick look around the local community art gallery, The Long River Gallery, at 94 Marine Parade for some cool and quirky paintings and sculptures inspired by the local environment.

Finally, Wairoa has plenty of delicious eateries that will not break the bank. Try the Eastend Cafe, 250 Marine Parade, for its quirky decor and a whole range of cafe food. As you are crossing the river bridge, it’s impossible to miss the fish n’ chips, called Tui’s Takeaways. Pick up some classic Kiwi fish and chips!


Visit Lake Waikaremoana

As the southern gateway to the Te Urewera Rainforest, Wairoa is the start of many adventures to Lake Waikaremoana. Head on State Highway 38 toward Frasertown then continue toward Te Urewera. Be aware that the majority of the roads into Te Urewera is on gravel road.

For backpackers, the most common activities are hiking in the Te Urewera forest or doing a tour around Lake Waikaremoana by boat. See Te Urewera – Guide for Backpackers for more information and don’t forget to check out our 17 Stunning Lake Waikaremoana Walks.


Explore Morere

While in Wairoa, or just as you are leaving and heading north, you can’t miss Morere! Famous for it’s natural hot springs and palm forests, the Morere Springs Scenic Reserve, just off State Highway 2, holds a hot pools and cold pools complex in a beautiful rainforest environment. There are also numerous walks to enjoy, such as the 15-minute Nikau Pools Track and the 25-minute Nikau Loop Track starting from the Morere Hot Springs entrance. Walk through lush nikau palm forest along the riverside.

For something a little more adventurous, try the Ridge Track (2 hours return), also starting part-way down the Nikau Pools Track. Climb through tall forests with a few clearings along the way for awesome views. A popular option for fit walkers is the Mangakawa Track (2h30mins return) taking you through one of the most diverse tracts of forest in the North Island. There may be stream crossings after heavy rain.

Finally, before you leave Morere, go and feed the eels in the river just behind the tearooms and campground.


Road trip to the Mahia Peninsula

An awesome coastal getaway in the Wairoa district is the Mahia Peninsula. Wonderful coastal views await anyone who takes the time to get there. With many beaches, stunning freedom camping areas, surf breaks and walks to do, you’ll find it impossible to leave! What’s more, you might be lucky enough to watch a rocket launch from the Rocket Lab at the end of the peninsula.

Check out some of the things to do in Mahia in 11 Mahia Peninsula Must-Dos.

If you have more time in wairoa…

  • Visit the Te Reinga Falls, 35km from Wairoa, to see the spectacular 35m falls.
  • Explore the Mangaone Caves, 40km from Wairoa, near Nuhaka. Follow a marked route through the caves full of beautiful limestone features.
  • Take a scenic drive on the Putere Road (gravel road should only be used in good weather) to see lakes and lush rolling hills.
  • Check out Shine Falls. Follow SH2 toward Tutira where you will see signposts to follow for about 17.5km. The Shine Falls Track takes around 1h30mins to complete. Find out more at Top 10 Natural Attractions in Hawke’s Bay.
  • Go horse riding, eeling, fishing and more in Iwitea.
  • Join a fishing charter on Lake Waikaremoana. Learn more about fishing in Fishing in New Zealand.
  • Enjoy a movie in the pleasantly vintage Gaiety Theatre, 252 Marine Parade.
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