The town lies on both sides of the big Wairoa River, with the main part on the south bank. The bridge crossing the river is the third to be here – the last one was swept away by Cyclone Bola in 1988.
From Napier, follow State Highway 2 north for two hours.
- 1 Old Portland Island Lighthouse, Marine Parade (beside the bridge). The lighthouse was shifted to Wairoa from Portland Island at the tip of Mahia Peninsula.
- 2 Wairoa Museum, 142 Marine Parade. M–F 10am–4pm, 1st Sa of the month 10am–noon, closed on public holidays. Well presented museum of local history, from early European–Maori contact to recent times. Free entry, donations welcome.
- 1 Gaiety Theatre, 252 Marine Parade. Go to the fantastic restored theatre and watch a movie with one of the best sound systems in New Zealand.
- Chase the wild birds on the Marine Parade. The marine parade isn't actually beside the sea, but it is where the river widens before forming a lagoon. All sorts of interesting stuff (100-year-old trees and the like) are washed down the river.
- Riverside walkway and cycleway. Runs 7.7 km from the lighthouse in the CBD along the south bank of the river to Whakamahia beach. The full walk takes an hour and a half, and biking takes 30 min.
- Sir James Carroll walkway. A 30-min walk along the north bank of the river opposite the CBD, starting from the bridge.
- Tramp Waikaremoana. Inland from Wairoa is Te Urewera (formerly a national park) and Lake Waikaremoana. If you like hiking/tramping this is a stunning walk that can be done in three to four days (or one if you run the whole way). Take all your supplies for the three or four days, including food, fuel, medical kits and toilet paper.
The town has four ATM machines but it's probably not a good idea to carry too much cash with you. Many merchants in the surrounding region do not have EFTPOS meaning you need to pay in cash. The town has a few boutique shops that are owner-operated and the town is virtually untouched by large chain stores.
Food in Wairoa is mostly good, as it reaps the quality benefits of being near the East Cape.
- 1 Cafe 287 (2ate7 Cafe & Motel), 287 State Highway 2 (on the road to/from Napier, 2.5 km from the built-up area). Daily (except 25, 26 Dec) 7.30am–4pm. Indoor and outdoor seating. Looks across the highway to the Wairoa River.
- 2 EastEnd Cafe and Bar, 250 Marine Parade.
- 3 Osler's Bakery and Cafe, 116 Marine Parade. M–F 4:30am–4:30pm, Sa–Su 6am–3pm. Consistently exceptional. On average it has the best pies (a meat filling packed inside pastry) available anywhere in New Zealand. A must stop. Last count they had about 56 pie awards. Many diverse flavours such as 'Boil up' (reflecting the local culture), 'Ostrich' and 'Cock' (trust them, they are the experts).
- Riverside Motor Camp, 19 Marine Parade.
- Wairoa Motel, 49 Clyde Rd, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. As you enter Wairoa there is a sign for it. Bookings generally not necessary. From $105.
- Vista Motor Lodge, 2 Bridge St (north side of the river). Has on-site licensed restaurant. From $110.
- The River Houses, 150 Marine Parade. Check-in: 1500, check-out: 1100. Locally owned and run accommodation provider with holiday homes of varying sizes available for short term rent, in the town centre and along the river. Bookings can be made via their website or on airbnb.