Event: Magnificent footprints on a stunning collection of tracks
Whakatane is a popular place to get active in the outdoors — witness major events like Oxfam Trailwalker and, in 2018, Whai Ora Spirited Women Adventure Race.
The eastern Bay of Plenty town’s trail popularity is longstanding, with the annual Toi’s Challenge run and walk celebrating its 25th edition on 12 November 2017.
Toi’s Challenge follows the course of Nga Tapuwae o Toi (Footprints of Toi), a stunning collection of tracks and beach walking, taking you on a rigorous 17km loop from Whakatane to Ohope and back.
The first half of the loop is near or right on the spectacular coastline while the second half is further inland, twisting high through a forest including giant pohutukawa (and inhabited by many wild kiwi).
Nga Tapuwae o Toi surely rates as one of this country’s greatest coastal walks, with the bonus of being both easily accessible and easily split into shorter efforts of fiveto-10km.
Toi’s Challenge is definitely recommended, but if you can’t make that, the track is a treasure all year. Common places to start are at Rex Morpeth Park, Whakatane town centre, or over at Ohope Beach. Parking and toilets are available in all these points.
Toi was once the paramount chief of the area and after the stiff climb from Whakatane, you pass just below Kapu-te-Rangi, pa of gentle breezes.
On Toi’s Challenge event day, runners and walkers will be focused on swift forward motion, but if you walk or run Nga Tapuwae o Toi at other times of the year, make the 100m detour from the main track. It’s worth it!
The pa site has real historical significance and the view is sensational.
Beyond that first climb from Whakatane, you follow the up-and-down ridgeline, so there are lots of steps, some steep, and repeated coastal panoramas. The track might be super pretty but it does need treating with respect: it’s not easy. Wear good footwear and take warm clothing and some refreshment.
Otarawairere Beach gives you a kilometre of sublime, untracked walking. At low tide, this section is straightforward but at high tide you need to make your way over uneven rock formations (Otarawairere is impassable in a storm).
Just as Otarawairere’s wave-broken-shells and soft sand start to tire your legs, there are steep steps up and over another headland, and down to Ohope Beach and village. Ohope’s sand is firm, a massive east-west sweep; often there are swimmers and surfers, sharing space with oystercatchers, terns, gulls and other birds.
At Ohope village, cross the main road (Pohutukawa Ave/ Ohope road) onto the Fairbrother loop walk. This track forks after about 100m, both options are pretty climbs, though the left fork is a bit less steep; the two tracks rejoin at the top of the hill. You now traverse a heavily forested ridge, crossing historic Burma road on the way. The steps continue.
Stay alert on this last section, as in a few places it’s easy to miss the track markers and go awry, though it’s all logical if you keep your eyes open!
After a steep descent there’s final track fork, where you can take a shortcut to White Horse Drive and Gorge Road. Otherwise, to complete the full loop, turn left for a last, solid climb, a long descent, before you exit back near Rex Morpeth Park, 1km from the town centre, and a well-earned stop in one of Whakatane’s excellent cafés.
The main road from Whakatane to Ohope is only 6km with a good roadside path all the way, so you can use this to break Nga Tapuwae o Toi into shorter loops, still returning to your start point. Or, catch the bus.
The Toi’s Challenge run record is 1hr 16min, with most taking about one hour 45 minutes to two hours 45 minutes. Walkers should expect to take between four and seven hours. Probably longer if you take a camera….
. Above: Looking back at the town of Whakatane from the track.
Left: The boardwalk track goes through native bush.