When you visit Maketu beach you feel as though you’re stepping back in time.
This windswept stretch of coast is steeped in history and is where Maori, New Zealand’s original inhabitants, first stepped ashore off the Te Arawa waka (canoe) around 800 years ago.
Their navigator, Tamatekapua, spotted Okurei (later renamed ‘Town Point’ by Captain James Cook), jutting out into the bay. After rounding the point, they found a shoreline covered in sand, shells and driftwood, and the fertile Bay of Plenty beyond.
Today Maketu beach is a popular place to fish, kayak, wind/kite surf, picnic, gather shellfish and bird watch. An information panel standing on the Beach Rd foreshore marks the beginning of an ‘historic hikoi’ (walk) that will take you on a 6km trail around Maketu if you’re keen to learn more about the area’s history.
You’ll find a boat ramp and children’s playground on the edge of an estuary as you drive into town. This is a great place to look for shellfish such as pipi, cockles and mussels or have a picnic on the grass and enjoy the sea view. Surf-casting is also very popular here, especially around the estuary’s inlet.
The estuary is separated from the open ocean by Maketu Spit. This impressive sand dune is 3.5km long and covers 45ha. It’s one of the best preserved dune systems in the Bay of Plenty and is home to many native plants such as harakehe (flax) and pingao (used by Maori for weaving baskets and cloaks).
If you have keen eyes you’ll spot many native birds here – the endangered New Zealand dotterel build their nests in the sand in early spring and summer. Wrybills, kingfishers and white-faced herons also call this place home.
Pohutukawa trees line the shore and there are picnic tables and a public barbeque available beside the Maketu Surf Club for you to use. The safest area to swim is right in front of the surf club but swimmers need to be careful of rocks at the northeastern end of the beach and the fast-flowing estuary inlet.
On a rocky outcrop sits the Maketu Beachside Café and Restaurant. Order seafood chowder, mussel fritters or a muffin to enjoy with a hot coffee. This is the best place to grab an ice-cream cone or cold drink also.
The café’s enclosed deck overlooks the wide blue ocean, with impressive views back towards Mount Maunangui in the west and the towering Okurei cliffs in the east.
Freedom camping (motorhomes only) is allowed beside the estuary in Maketu’s Park Rd carpark for up to three nights in any four week consecutive period. Enjoy fish and chips on the beach from the local store or try one of Maketu’s famous pies from the shop right beside the Maketu Pie factory.
For a slice of Kiwi life the way it used to be, Maketu beach is the place to go to get away from it all.