Thirty minutes north of Dunedin lies this thriving rural community. To the east the Hawksbury Lagoon Wildlife Refuge provides an ideal habitat for birds, particularly wetland species. An easy walk around the lagoon leads to Waikouaiti Beach which stretches between two headlands, Cornish Head to the north where you can visit the oldest farm buildings in New Zealand at Matanaka Historic Farm, and to the south Huriawa Peninsula, a historic Māori pā site.
In the main street you’ll find an eclectic array of curiosities. There's the boutique sized Waikouaiti Coast Heritage Centre housed in the former Bank of New Zealand built in 1869 during the Gold Rush. Its collections encompass Maori artefacts, family history, WW1, maritime history, whaling, farming, Seacliff Hospital, Johnny Jones, photographs of people and places, maps, documents, and domestic utensils and furnishings, it gives a fascinating insight into the history of the Waikouaiti Coast and its people.
>The Oddity Second Hand shop - a family business housed in an 1870s building complete with a tiny attic room. They like to sell things that aren’t mainstream, like old kitchenware, china, tins from past eras, collectibles and quirky playthings for children. Prepare to spend some time rummaging here. Next door at The Green Room you’ll find contemporary handmade New Zealand homeware and jewellery including designer clothing and baby gifts.
Beano’s artisan bakery specialises in satisfying the appetites of truckies, miners from the nearby goldmine at Macraes, locals seeking their favourite variety of bread, and visitors looking for a hearty lunch on the road. Espresso coffees are part of the service.
If you’re looking for a friendly country golf course where the visitors include the occasional duck or black swan, then the Waikouaiti Golf Course in Edinburgh Street is the place for you. It’s a 9 hole course with different tee offs for the second 9. Visitors are welcome and Green fees are $20.
Turn off the highway and drive two minutes into a different world. On a sunny day, the sheltered lagoon, white sand beaches and pale offshore rock stacks make it feel looks like a tropical getaway.
Salt & Sugar General Store feels like the village's social heart, with outdoor seats to settle into and wave at passing walkers off to the beach.
Spectacular Huriawa Peninsula at the north end of Karitane beach was the site of a historic fortified Māori pā. With the Waikouaiti River mouth on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, this was a perfect defensive position. In the 18th century chief Te Wera and his people withstood a six month siege here. The peninsula is owned by Māori and the reserve is managed jointly by local Māori and the Dept of Conservation. Enter the reserve through the ornately carved archway and follow the paths around the peninsula for stunning views along the coast, down the cliffs and into the blowholes.
A whaling station was located here in the 1830s, and Kingscliff, the holiday house of Sir Truby King, Medical Superintendent of the nearby Seacliff Lunatic Asylum, but more famous for his theories on baby care and the establishment of the Plunket Society, can still be found overlooking the river mouth.
At the turn off from the highway you may spy a sign for Evansdale Cheese Factory at Hawksbury Village.
From Karitane, take the coast road south towards Warrington and stop at the lookout to take in the view. It gives you a real sense of how this was once a volcanic landscape, with the pointed silhouettes of long extinct vents forming the outline of inland peaks.