Waikanae is a small town on New Zealand's Kapiti Coast. The name is a Māori word meaning "waters" (wai) "of the yellow-eyed mullet".
The township lies about 60 kilometres north of Wellington: New Zealand's capital city; between Paraparaumu, eight kilometres to the southwest, and Otaki, 15 kilometres to the northeast.
The Tararua Range provides shelter for Waikanae from the south and east, as does Kapiti Island from the west. The area accordingly escapes the heavy winds and storms of the neighboring Cook Strait region. The shallow depths of Waikanae Beach produces a higher water temperature than the steeper coastlines of Wellington harbour to the south. The prevailing wind blows from the north-west, which drives rain-clouds inland to the ranges and results in high rainfalls during the winter and spring.
Waikanae is backed by the heavily forested 330-hectare Hemi Matenga Reserve covering a range overlooking the township. Rising to 514 metres above sea level, the forest comprises one of the most extensive areas of kohekohe woodland left in New Zealand. The reserve is named after its former owner; Hemi Matenga Waipunahau of the Ngati Toa. It is traversed by several walking tracks and forms an extension of the Tararua Range.
Archaeological and ethnographical research suggests that Waikanae may have been first inhabited by the Waitaha moa-hunters as early as a thousand years ago. Successive waves of settlement by the Ngati Apa, Rangitane and Muaupoko tribal groups ensured that the area continues to have major historic and mythological significance for the Māori people of New Zealand.