My hometown, Waikanae is located on the Kapiti Coast, just one hour north of Wellington. In many popular tourist destinations around the world Waikanae is the perfect distance away for backpackers to spend a day or two away from the ‘big smoke’. Sadly it doesn’t attract many backpackers at all, lets dig into why this is.
Waikanae is more of a village but I can definitely think of six reasons why a backpacker should consider basing themselves in Waikanae for a few days before heading to Wellingtons hustle and bustle.
There Are Numerous Chances To See A Kiwi
When people ask me ‘Where you from?’ my goto answer is ‘kiwi’. While this doesn’t exactly make sense, a massive majority of the time people will understand what I mean. New Zealanders identify as kiwi therefore backpackers keep it in mind that it would be cool to see an actual kiwi (the bird) while visiting.
Both Nga Manu Bird Sanctuary and Kapiti Island are home to kiwis and will take you on a nocturnal hunt to see them.
The Sunset Is Epic!
The sunsets from Waikanae match up with any other around the country if the conditions are right. The best spot to capture the sunset is to head down to Waikanae beach (any entrance works) an hour or so before sunset and take a walk along the beach until you find your perfect spot. If conditions are right you’ll find other people doing the same as you while the last of the boats come back to land after an evening fish.
With Kapiti Island providing the perfect backdrop, just wait for the sun to drop and get snapping away. If there is some light cloud cover, wait 10 – 15 minutes after the official sunset time to see the sky transform from orange to pink.
The beach is the number one spot but also consider going up over the railway tracks or at the Waikanae River area for more great backdrops.
The People Are Chilled Out
One of the great things about Waikanae is it’s large enough where rumours don’t spread like wild fire through the entire town but it is also small enough where everyone is nice to each other. Say hello to someone on the street and you’ll definitely get a smile and ‘how you doin’ mate?’ in return. This is a big reason why many people are happy commuting from Waikanae to Wellington each day, Waikanae is a relaxed lifestyle compared to the city. The sense of community was never more evident than in 2015 when Waikanae took down the award for Top Large Town in New Zealand, thanks to 100’s of volunteers from around town helping out in their spare time planting trees, volunteering at market days or with those in need. Overall just being nice people!
The Food Scene Is Growing
New Zealand and seafood go hand in hand. Unfortunately, with all of the fresh food available many restaurants were serving up fairly average food. The last couple of years this has started to change as creative cafes and niche restaurants have dived into providing great food.
Many people speculate the rising prices of houses is partly thanks to the restaurants Long Beach,The Front Room and cafes like Waimea Cafe becoming trendy places to visit.
There Are Various Hikes Nearby
The Hemi Matenga track is the perfect hike to get your day started off well. The track starts up the back of Waikanae and can be completed in a few hours along the clearly marked trail. Once you get to the top there is an epic view overlooking Waikanae across to Paraparaumu and of course a different view of Kapiti Island.
There are a few more advanced trails that continue on from the top of the Hemi Matenga trail or you can head 15 minutes down the road to Otaki Forks and hike your day away in that area.
Get An Authentic Kiwi Bach Experience
A bach is a small single story house with minimal facilities, a bit of lawn and a area for the BBQ. Summer holidays at the family bach in Waikanae were a regular for many families in Wellington who were lucky enough to own an additional property on the Kapiti Coast. The crazy thing is, 330 days out of the year the house would sit empty, see a spike in use over the summer before getting infrequent visits over the colder months.
What Is Holding Waikanae Back From Becoming A Backpacker Hotspot?
A Lack of Events
Once the working day is finished at 5pm, a vast majority of the shops (including cafes) close. A few restaurants scattered around town will stay open until 9, maybe 10pm but even then they are all disconnected. As soon as you step outside post dinner the atmosphere is non-existent.
No Dedicated Camping Space
It’s true you can get away with camping in a bunch of different spots around the town where no one will bother you but this does limit your options during the day because…
….It’s Tricky To Get Around
When backpacking, a campground plays the role of a place to stay and a storage facility. You can usually leave your tent up safely with just your valuables going on a day trip with you. Unfortunately when free camping takes this ease away, you will just have to hope no one unwelcoming sees your unsecured tent.
Lack Of Promotion
Kapiti Coast isn’t promoting itself towards backpackers. When I mention Waikanae or even the Kapiti Coast to fellow kiwis they often stare at me blankly; even if they’ve driven through Waikanae to and from Wellington several times. Given Waikanae won the top large town award in New Zealand 2015 this is the perfect foundation to create a marketing campaign.
While I am a proud Waikanae boy, I guess it ultimately isn’t the ideal backpacker destination. There are a bunch of awesome things to do in and around Waikanae, but the negatives just don’t quite make up for the difference unfortunately.