Moutohora - (Whale Island)
No matter from which direction one approaches Whakatane one cannot fail to notice Whale Island.
This massive remnant of an ancient volcano only 10 km from the town. The island is 142 hectares in extent and its highest point is 345 metres.
Over the last century there have been whaling, quarrying and sulphur mining activities based on the Island. Since 1965 the Island has been a crown wildlife sanctuary and is now guarded by the Department of Conservation. Since the eradication of all vermin from the island, there has been a lush regeneration of native plants. Many thriving seabird colonies nest on the island. Tuataras, the large NZ lizard, have been released and seals frequent the rocky coastal outcrops to rest and sunbathe.
The southern side of the island is sheltered and has a variety of coastline features including beautiful bays, where hot water bubbles from the sand. The rocky coastline areas have huge boulder stacks and giant pohutukawa trees that overhang the sea. The northern side of the island is more open to the sea and is captivated by sheer rock faces that rise up out of the sea to heights of 300 metres.
This is an interesting coastline for experienced kayakers to circumnavigate with surging channels and sea caverns to paddle amongst. There is always sheltered paddling available tucked in close to the rocks on the leaward side on the island for the more conservative kayakers and clear bottom viewers.
The Rurima Islands
East of Whale Island and 16km from Whakatane lie the Rurima Islands. It takes about 30 minutes, aboard The Phantom, to travel from Whakatane to the Rurimas. This group of three small islands form part of the same geographical structure as Whale Island. In the sea around them volcanic gas bubbles can be seen as they reach the surface.
The islands are a wildlife sanctuary and are owned by the Whakatane Maori tribe Ngati Awa. The islands are renowned for their population of tuatara, the large New Zealand lizard. The main island is called Rurima and to the west of that is Tokata and to the east Moutoki. The islands are covered in pohutukawa trees and the Rurima Island has two idyllic sandy bays.
Another feature of this island is a large rocky lagoon on the north side where the usually still and clear water allows good views of the underwater scenery and fish life. The 1km distance separating the two main island groups is made up of shallow water dotted with reef structures. These semi-sheltered waters along with the varied underwater geography provide a huge area suitable for snorkelling and clear bottom kayaking.