Charming, unspoiled and laidback are words often used to describe Kawhia, on the west coast of the Hamilton & Waikato region.

Kawhia Kai Festival, Kawhia, NZ

Kawhia Kai Festival

The seaside town is situated around a peaceful harbour, sheltered by sand dunes and cloaked in an old-fashioned ambience that draws many visitors back time after time.

The 600ha Kawhia Harbour is packed with pipi, oysters, mussels, cockles and mud snails ripe for collecting when the tide is out. The area is also known locally for its good fishing and floundering, while Kawhia’s beaches provide swimming spots and natural hot pools when the tide’s out.

The town is home to around 650 people, making it a tight-knit community with friendly locals. Visitors will find affordable accommodation options and delicious meals available (often comprising of fresh fish and local produce) from cute cafes which are perfect to while away the time in, or friendly takeaway spots. Kawhia also boasts the local museum which provides a look at the area’s iconic history.

Maori significance

Kawhia is steeped in Maori history, particularly that of the local Tainui tribe. In 1350AD, the ancestral Tainui waka (canoe) arrived in Kawhia harbour. The tribespeople settled around the area, surviving on the abundant natural food sources in the area, which to this day are a celebrated part of Kawhia.

The ancestral waka is buried at the Maketu marae and every year many Tainui people visit the township to pay their respects as they consider this corner of Waikato, New Zealand their spiritual home.

A few minutes' walk north is also the sacred Tangi te Korowhiti, where a grove of pohutukawa trees pinpoints the waka’s landing point.

Kawhia Hot water beach

Kawhia’s Ocean Beach is the best place to be when the tide is low; dig a hole in the black sand and soak in the hot water that bubbles to the surface. Te Puia Springs as they are known locally are one of the best North Island attractions, yet they remain a true hidden gem. They can be accessed via Karewa beach, tucked into the south side of Kawhia, or by a short climb through the sand hills from the car park at the end of the forestry road.