Destination Whangamata and its islands
December 19, 2019
It’s no surprise New Zealand’s most popular holiday destination is also ripe picking for anglers. Aaron Levien takes us on a tour of his slice of paradise.
Whangamata lies on the east coast of New Zealand, approximately 100 kilometres north of Tauranga and Mount Maunganui. It has has been voted by Bookabach and NZ Herald as New Zealand’s most popular place to holiday for the last five years running.
With a local population of 3,500 people, Whangamata has everything you need, whether it’s a night out on the town or simply soaking up the rays on our golden sandy beaches. But let's get down to what you want to hear about – the fishing!
With Whangamata hosting the Southern Hemisphere’s largest female fishing tournament, attracting about 700 anglers each year, followed by the local fishing Classic of 550 anglers, it truly is a hotspot for fishing.
Fishing out of Whangamata
All maps used are created by LINZ / New Zealand Hydrographic Authority and made available by Creative Commons 3.0
Maps should not be used for navigation
Whangamata sits virtually smack centre of the well-known Alderman Islands, Mayor Island and Slipper Island. Slipper Island lies around 10nm north of Whangamata with Mayor and the Aldies approximately 17nm east and north respectively.
Fishing out of Whangamata is extremely good all year round with most species available to be caught. One day you could be chasing inshore fish like snapper, terakihi, kahawai, John dory, trevally or gurnard, and then the next you’re out chasing monster kingfish, hapuka, blue nose, swordfish, marlin, yellow fin tuna and mahimahi. And let’s not forget the diving. We have some absolutely stunning rock lines, reef dives, the world-renowned Alderman Islands and Mayor Island Marine reserve on our doorstep. Whangamata locals are spoilt for choice.
1 - Mayor Island
Mayor Island sits dead east of the main beach and is approximately 16nm from the last 5 knot marker to the western side of Mayor. Mayor Island offers a solid variety of fishing whether it’s chasing snapper, going deep for ‘puka or towing lures for marlin in our game season period. Mayor Island has it all.
One of my favourite parts of the island is South East Bay. We enjoy cruising into this bay to anchor up for a quick lunch break. We also use it to get out of rough sea conditions and rethinking a strategy for the day. Now, as this is a conservation park you are not allowed to set foot on the island without permission. If you are interested in landing on the island you are best to speak to the Whangamata Information Centre.
The author with a big Mayor Island kingfish
The island is well known for its excellent fishing for large kingfish and pelagics in the game season. This area has endless options so it pays to ask the local lads what the reports have been to get an idea on where to fish and what techniques have been working. For those that don’t know, Mayor Island has a marine reserve covering the complete northern side of the island, an area around three square nautical miles. The reserve extends one nautical mile out from the island so check your charts to see which part is strictly off-limits for fishing. Diving in this marine reserve is exceptional with over 60 species of fish present in the reserve and depths ranging from 4 to 30 metres.
2 - Alderman Islands
Alderman Islands are another favourite location of mine. The islands are around 17 nautical miles from the last 5 knot marker to the southern side of the islands. On the way to the Aldermans there are multiple inshore reefs that can be checked for fishing sign. There’s the Centre Hole, the Dogga Bank, the 32 Reef (we like to call this one the Pay Packet – the name says it all), the 44 Pin and lastly, Len’s Reef or Len’s Pin. I've forgetten the number of times we’ve decided to head to the Aldies and never got there as these structures have paid dividends on the way out.
Once again the Aldies provide endless options for fishing and diving. World renowned for its amazing visibility, this destination is a place I recommend for the bucket list for all divers.
Kelly Whilbey with a typical Alderman Islands kingi
If you’re fishing, watch out for the XOS kingfish on the Northern Pins, which are positioned around 7nm north of the Aldermans. Monster snapper and kingfish are also present at the islands themselves. A great starting point for fishing these species is Sugar Loaf Reef; two rocks just northwest of the Aldies.
3 - Slipper Island
Situated just 3 kilometres east of the Coromandel Peninsula and 10nm north of Whangamata, this is one great spot to hit for an afternoon’s fishing. Multiple bays offering great shelter from almost any wind direction provides a great day’s fishing. Not only do these bays offer great shelter but there's also the option of overnight stays. What a way to spend the evening surrounded by one of our magnificent islands only a stone's throw from port. Slipper Island really is a destination to be fished or even just gazed at in awe. What makes this island great is that if the forecast takes a dive, it’s only a short ride home.
4 - Dogga Bank
Sitting just 6nm from the Whangamata harbour the Dogga Bank is quite simply awesome. It’s a vast area with two significant structures coming up from 30 metres, to 13 metres and 16 metres respectively. During certain times of the year the area becomes a shimmering mass of oversized kahawai and trevally schools. However, they can prove difficult to catch so be patient.
Sam Chitty caught this beautiful snapper at the Dogga Banks
Kingfish are present here all year round with local divers shooting trophy fish of up to 32kg quite consistently. 20lb snapper are another species found here frequently. Positioning yourself adjacent to the edge of the bank but hanging over sand can pay off rather well. Many other species like John dory are here too, and we have even caught pup hapuka so it really is a pick'n'mix kind of place.
It's not only structure that produces fish here in Whangamata. Some quick info from fellow locals can help with advising where fish are currently sitting. Both the 30 and 50 metre marks can produce great fish. Just about every time we come home from Mayor Island, we will stop at both of these to quickly check the sounder and see what is below. Nine times out of 10 we will come home with a few extra snapper to keep the hapuka or kingfish we managed to nab at Mayor company.
Navigating the Channel and Bar
For those who have never launched at Whangamata, it can be hard to know where exactly to go when exiting the harbour. I would highly recommend not leaving or entering in the dark hours as there are buoys and moored vessels to avoid. Leaving the boat ramp, the channel is well marked with buoys and poles. Applying boat rules and keeping right will see you head towards the peninsula. Once at the end of the dredged channel, turn to starboard and head down between the moored boats. This is all 5 knots right out to the back of the harbour entrance. Once past the Whangamata Wharf you will want to hang left (but still applying the general boating rules) to avoid the bar that sometimes catches a few out. Push through this channel and out to the last 5 knot marker.
Regarding the bar, it’s virtually non-existent. Well, I tend to take it for granted as the entrance is well protected from swell. I think this is one the East Coast’s easiest bars to enter and leave. By the time you get to the last 5 knot marker, you are out the back of all the breaking sets. In saying that, treat all bars with the utmost respect.
Whangamata has exceptional facilities. There’ s a high and low tide boat ramp that is dredged regularly for larger vessels to access the marina. At low tide the shallowest the channel gets is 1.5 metres, so there’s plenty of water. At mid to low tide, it is a sand boat ramp, however this is hard sand and a four-wheel-drive is not essential. At two hours either side of high tide the single dry dock can be used to launch and retrieve boats.
The Whangamata marina
Trailer boat parking is ample with parking all around the boat ramp down to the water's edge. For larger trailer boats, parking can be found just behind the public toilets, which are about 50 metres from the boat ramp. Parking does cost here. A daily parking permit can be purchased for $5 and there is also the option of multiple day and yearly parking permits for $65. Parking can be purchased at Bubba's Fishing and Tackle Store (321 Casement Road) or Z, our only gas station. The boys at Bubba’s have a well stocked shop from fishing and hunting to hiring scooters. The knowledge these boys have is second to none so it pays to ask a few questions.
There is the option to moor your vessel in the new Whangamata Marina. At a cost of $25 per night for vessels up to 10 metres. This option is great for that weekend getaway. For launches over 10.5 metres prices vary depending on launch size, so it's best to contact the Whangamata Marina for more information.
A New World Supermarket is right next door to Bubba's, so all your food and refreshment can be acquired from there. There are two bakeries, open at 4am every morning, on the main street.
After a hard day’s fishing you can enjoy a nice cooked meal and beer at New Zealand's largest game club, the Whangamata Ocean Sports Club.
Whangamata really does have it all when it comes to fishing and simply getting out on the water!