Harbour 10 km west of the mouth of the Waioeka River. It is the second largest tidal estuary on the Bay of Plenty after Tauranga Harbour. Also known historically as Te Moana-a-Tairongo, it abuts the lands of both Ngāti Awa and Te Whakatōhea tribes.
The harbour has for centuries been a rich source of seafood for the people of Ngāti Awa, Te Whakatōhea and Ngāi Tūhoe, and is referred to as ‘the food basket of the peoples’.
An ancient waiata
A signboard at Ōhiwa displays this song:
E noho ana ki te koko ki Ōhiwa
Whakarongo rua aku taringa ki te tai o tua o Kanewa
E aki ana mai ki uta ra
Ki te whānau a Tairongo.
As I sit on the beach at Ōhiwa
I listen to the waves beating over the sandbar at Kanewa
Against the foreshore
The home of my ancestor Tairongo.
The harbour and sand spits at its entrance have significant ecological value. The area is ranked as an outstanding site of special wildlife interest. It is a breeding and wintering habitat for birds, especially international and internal migratory species. The most notable is the kūaka (godwit), but there are others, including lesser knots and turnstones.
Reserves around the harbour are important nesting sites for the New Zealand dotterel, variable oystercatcher and banded dotterel. In addition the harbour is an important spawning area for marine fish species, and supports valuable shellfish fisheries.
The small settlement of Ōhiwa on the eastern shore was once a port but is now mostly a holiday and retirement settlement.
Settlement on a safe beach 6 km east of Whakatāne. It became a popular resort for holidaymakers in the mid-20th century. More recently it has become home to a permanent population and has expanded east along the coast towards the Ōhiwa Harbour entrance. In 2013 the population was 2,847.