Whitianga is a seaside town in the middle of Mercury Bay on the east side of the Coromandel Peninsula in northern New Zealand. It has a deep water harbour from which cruising boats depart for trips around the scenic Mercury Bay coves and cliffs to Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve and its abundant sea-life. The town is on Buffalo Beach and numerous beautiful beaches are nearby. With a permanent population of 5,000, it's the second biggest town on Coromandel Peninsula (after Thames) and the biggest on the east coast of the Peninsula, and hosts a variety of dining and accommodation options.
Coromandel Peninsula is on the north-eastern coast of the North Island, due east from Auckland. Whitianga is north of other Peninsula towns Tairua and Pauanui. Mercury Bay is called such because Captain James Cook and his crew came here in November 1769 to make scientific observations of the transit of Mercury across the sun. On the other side of the harbour, which is accessible by a short passenger ferry trip, is Cooks Beach, which is also named after the visit by Captain Cook.
- 1 Whitianga i-Site Visitor Centre, 66 Albert St. Daily.
The Whitianga passenger ferry runs across Whitianga Harbour, between the Whitianga wharf on the Esplanade in the township and Ferry Landing on the Cook's Beach side, every 10 minutes. Adult $4 (return $6), child under 15 $2 – now accepts EFTPOS.
There are scooters for hire at Ferry Landing, just a short way up the hill on the right. You only need a car drivers licence.
Whitianga town side of the harbour
- 1 HMS Buffalo memorial and anchor, Buffalo Beach Rd (near Halligan Rd cnr). HMS Buffalo was wrecked near here in 1840. Remains of the ship still lie underwater in the bay.
- 2 Mercury Bay Museum, 11A The Esplanade. Daily 10am–4pm except Good Friday, 25 Apr (Anzac Day), 25 Dec; winter 11am–3pm except school holidays. Local history from early explorer Kupe, to later explorer Capt Cook, and onwards, also natural history. Adult $7.50, child $2.
Ferry Landing side of the harbour
- Cooks Beach. A 3-km white sand beach suitable for swimming.
- Maramaratotara Track. Turn right after getting off the ferry for a 3-km walk through bush with good views. Track can be slippery.
- Shakespeare Cliff and Lonely Bay. A short track leads to a viewing point and a memorial to the visit of Captain Cook and HMS Endeavour in 1769. A track leads down to Lonely Bay.
- Banana Boat, Buffalo Beach, ☎ . Daily between 26 Dec & 1 Feb. Fall off on the Hellbender or take the more relaxing Scenic ride. Run by Steve and Kali Young. $10-$30.
- Buffalo Beach. This 3-km sandy beach adjacent to the town is safe for swimming. There are no huge bovines here – the beach is named after HMS Buffalo, which was wrecked here in 1840.
- 1 The Lost Spring, 121A Cook Dr. Day spa, geothermal pools and restaurant.
Scenic sea cruises
Several operators run similar cruises, with some variations, around the cliffs and coves to Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve and its abundant sea-life. The main cruises last between 2 and 2.5 hours, and some operators also run a 1 to 1.5 hour cruise early or late in the day, which may suit better if you are arriving or leaving Whitianga that day. All leave from Whitianga Wharf and some will also pick up from Ferry Landing if pre-arranged. If you are lucky, you may see dolphins or orca, but they are transient, rather than resident here. In May–Sep you may see fur seals. Some cruises offer snorkeling for 15 minutes to look at the marine life, with the gear provided – just take your togs (swimsuit) and towel.
- Cathedral Cove Scenic Cruises. 09:30, 13:00, 16:00 (Double C, 07:30). The Triple C Cruise (Coves, Caves & Coastline) lasts 2.5 hours. The Double C Cruise (Cove & Coastline) last 1.5 hours. Adult $85, child $50 (Double C adult $60, child $35).
- Cave Cruzer Adventures. 10:30, 13:30 (Express 09:00, 16:30). Scenic & Sounds Experience 2 to 2.5 hrs. Express Tour 1 to 1.5 hrs. Adult $80, child $45 (Express adult $60, child $35).
- Glass Bottom Boat. 10:30 and 13:30 all year, also 08:00 and 16:00 Dec–Feb. A 2-hour trip in a boat that has a glass bottom so that you can see the marine life. It visits Shakespeare Cliff, Cooks Beach, Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve (Cathedral Cove, Champagne Bay, Orua Sea Cave, Gemstone Bay). In summer you can go snorkeling for 15 minutes. Adult $95, child $50.
- Ocean Leopard Tours. 10:30, 13:30, 16:00 (Whirlwind Tour 08:45). The Full Monty tour lasts 2 hours and visits Lonely Bay, Shakespeare Cliff, Cooks Beach, Hahei and Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve (Cathedral Cove, Orua Sea Cave, Gemstone Bay). Option of snorkeling for 15 minutes. Also the Whirlwind Tour, lasting 75 min. Adult $90, child $50 (Whirlwind Tour $60, child $35).
- Sea Cave Adventures. 08:00, 11:00, 14:00 (1+ Hour Cove Tour 16:30). Full 2+ Hour Tour or Short 1+ Hour Cove Tour. Adult $75, child $45.
- 1 Cafe Nina, 20 Victoria St. Daily 8am–4pm (closing earlier in colder seasons?). Lovely quaint cafe in an old cottage with seating indoors and outdoors surrounded by greenery.
- 2 Espy Cafe, 10 Esplanade. Daily from 7:30am, closing between 3:30pm & 5pm depending on day & season. On the waterfront esplanade, hence the name. Includes outdoor seating where you can watch the boats. Liquor license. Lunch $9.50–21.
- 3 French Fig, 41 Albert St. Daily 7:30AM–5PM. Nice cafe.
- 4 Jandals Cafe, 5 Albert St. Daily 7:30am–4pm. $12–22.50.
- 5 Countdown, 24 Joan Gaskell Dr. Daily 7am–9pm, closed 25 Dec. Supermarket.
- 6 New World, 1 Joan Gaskell Dr. Daily 7am–9pm, closed 25 Dec. Supermarket.
- 7 Blue Ginger, 1/10 Blacksmith Lane. Lunch Tu-F 11am–2pm, dinner Tu–Sa 5pm-late. Southeast Asian food. Mains $22–28.
- 8 Squids Bar & Restaurant, Shop 15, 1 Blacksmith Lane. Lunch M–F 11:30am–02:30pm, dinner daily 5:30–9pm (may vary). Specialises in seafood. Lunch $15–18, dinner seafood main $26–28, steak $32, dessert $6–9.
- 9 Poivre & Sel, 2 Mill Rd. Tu–Sa (with exceptions), occasionally Su, drinks from 5pm, dinner from 6pm. French cuisine from French restaurateurs. Expect fine dining rather than a hearty meal – you'll have room for dessert. Two courses $55, 3 courses $72.
- 10 Salt Restaurant & Bar, 2 Blacksmith Lane. W–Th from 4pm, F–Su from 11.30am. Has a deck area looking out on the marina. Mains $29–42, dessert $16.
- Hahei and Hot Water Beach – near the Marine Reserve, not far due west as the crow flies, but 35 km (about half an hour) by road – at Hot Water Beach, two hot springs come up through the sand near low tide, and you can hire a spade and dig your own hot pool
- Kuaotunu – to the north
- Tairua – very scenic location to the south