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5 Spring 2023
A small, North Canterbury, gem of a town, with friendly, welcoming locals, walks, exhibits, cycle rides, shops and free overnighting. Perfect for a couple of nights. Or more.

Small town: Waiau

Miriam Richardson

A small, North Canterbury, gem of a town, with friendly, welcoming locals, walks, exhibits, cycle rides, shops and free overnighting. Perfect for a couple of nights. Or more.

Waiau, in the Hurunui district, is on State Highway 70, the Inland Kaikōura Route, that links Kaikōura with Hanmer Springs and Amberley. It is a short side trip off SH7, the Lewis Pass highway.

Settled in 1860, it is the oldest settlement in the region and the local historical society has created an intriguing range of exhibits to interest and inform, including the original gaol, a shed full of carriages, and museum displays in an old sod cottage and an old church. Plenty to explore, even out-of-hours.

Three sad events hit Waiau in the last 7 years. Waiau was near the epicentre of the 2016 earthquake, suffering considerable damage to buildings and roads. The Waiau Lodge Hotel, red-stickered after the earthquake, burned to the ground in 2021. In 2022 the beautiful local campground was closed, taking the dump station with it.

Where you can stay

The Waiau Tavern offers free overnight stays (including tents), in exchange for you enjoying the tavern’s fare. Dogs are welcome. The parks are in the grassed-over space where the hotel once stood or on hard stand by the tavern. There is a toilet, also used by the tavern patrons, and a water tap, available on request.

To the north of Waiau there is a freedom camping spot in a lay-by beside the Wandle Bridge. Hurunui (weirdly) requires you to arrive after 8pm and leave by 8am.

Mt Lyford Lodge, 22km north, offers powered and unpowered campsites on 3 nights of the week.


The Waiau Tavern serves the 300-odd locals and visitors with drinks, marvellous food (both dine-in and takeaway), a lovely outdoor area, really friendly locals, pool, and overnight parking. The town also has a dairy /cafe, Brenda’s on Lyndon, the well-stocked Waiau Foodmarket, a hardware store and two fuel pumps (one with 24-hour access).

There is free wifi in the township. Look for the sign on the public toilets for instructions. A recycling depot is across the river.

Walking, cycling, swimming, exploring in Waiau

There are two 30 minutes walks, plus there is the Waiau historical trail, a meander with many interest points.

There are 3 bike rides from the township, one 90, two 60 minutes return, a mixture of sealed and gravel surfaces.

Waiau is on the 260km Hurunui Heartland Cycle Ride between Kaikoura and Christchurch.

The swimming pool is open in the warmer months and visitors can get a key to use it.

Waiau is a small town that welcomes visitors, enjoys meeting them, and has things to do and a place to stay. Time your visit to join in, or come along and just enjoy it.

Miriam Richardson



Waiau Tavern:

Cycling in Waiau:

Hurunui Heartland:

The Alpine Pacific Route

Join in with these Waiau events

Events at Waiau

Restore rally 13–15 Oct. A rider event, open to all over 18yrs. Bikes, trikes, all welcome. Fireworks fundraiser.

Waiau pig hunt is on at Labour Weekend (21–23 Oct).A fund raiser for the fire brigade.

Hurunui garden festival 26–29 Oct. Gardens, workshops, events, tours, food.

Waiau fireworks 4 Nov. Fab night out with lots of fun, family entertainment, stalls. Pay with cash.

Amuri A&P show Every March since 1916, in Rotherham, the neighbouring township.

6–7 Apr. For competent riders of off-road motorcycles and ATVs. Set on breathtaking farms. Basic overnight camping. School fundraiser.

The old hotel’s stone fence bounds the camping area. Below, the old hotel entry.


A gem of a town

Click on the gallery for a full size view

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