Tauranga is the heart of the Bay of Plenty, and sure enough it lives up to the promise of the name. This area has it all - lovely drives, sleepy beaches, surf beaches, a quiet way of life and lively attractions. There is even an active volcano on hand to remind you that this scenic and relaxing part of the world also packs a lot of action. The large natural harbour offers a gateway to world-class deep-water fishing, and while you're out there be sure to keep an eye out for dolphins. They are regular visitors to these parts, and so should you be!
SELF DRIVE HOLIDAYS TAURANGA - ONE DAY IN TAURANGA
The Mount, as Kiwis affectionately call Mount Maunganui, is a lovely relaxed holiday town. It is just a few minutes drive from Tauranga with 200 shops to browse, beaches on hand and a calm pace of life. The Mount itself - Mauao - is a lovely walk. The summit is good for those of moderate fitness and offers lovely 360 degree views over Tauranga Harbour and the Pacific Ocean below. Or perhaps take a loop around the base, a great and undemanding half hour stroll that takes you past beautiful sandy surf beaches, before you get back to enjoy a drink at one of the fifty cafes and restaurants just waiting for your visit.
The Mount is one of the prime surfing spots in the country. There are many breaks on offer for all skill levels, left, right, point, long rides and even New Zealand's one and only artificial break. The Mount Reef is found 250 metres off Tay St, and you'll know it by the wee buoys marking the ends. If you would like to learn to surf there are surf schools for beginners, but if that all sounds a little strenuous the main beaches are patrolled in summer, so are safe for casual swimmers to venture in between the flags.
Tauranga's The Elms Mission House is a beautifully restored link to New Zealand's settler past, and perhaps the greatest late Georgian home left in the country. Inside the house and the freestanding library, life is represented as it was in the 1800s. Gorgeous furnishings and labour intensive pumps, ploughs and wringers hint at how life was grand for some, and hard for others. You can visit the house between 2 and 4 pm, and the elegant gardens are open and free all day. Plentiful parking and close to the centre of town.
With beautiful Art Deco styling, a commanding view of avocado, olive and palm trees growing below and one of the best restaurants in the region, Mills Reef is a must visit. You can check out the tasting rooms, take a tour of the cellars or simply enjoy the twenty acre landscaped grounds. Mills Reef win awards for both their wines and their restaurant so be sure to try them together. Just 5 minutes out of town in Bethlehem.
The Bay of Plenty has a growing and very special attraction - dolphin watching! There are two main types of dolphins to be found - the bottlenose and what is called the common dolphin, but there is nothing common about this experience. Book a tour from one of the many operators - some help you swim with them and some will give you a second trip free if you don't have any luck. That is how confident they are that this journey of four to six hours out to the Northern entrance of Tauranga Harbour is an experience not to be missed.
Half an hour east down State Highway 2 you'll find a large monument to the local specialty, the kiwifruit. Te Puke is known as the kiwifruit capital of the world, and it has the enormous kiwifruit attraction to prove it! This is a great family outing - there is even a Magic World playground for the kids including a castle and dragon maze. Tours take you through the workings of a kiwifruit farm - it is a horticultural theme park complete with beehives (crucial to pollination, you see), kiwifruit tastings and perhaps the best souvenir shop in the region.
The best picnic spots in the Bay of Plenty are to be found 20 minutes north of Tauranga. The McLaren Falls Park packs a lot into its 170 hectares, taking in Lake McLaren and its hydro dam. There are walks to circumnavigate the lake that will take you an hour or so, and the fifteen-minute trek to the falls that the park is named for are recommended. An extra treat for kids is the Marshall's Animal Park, found inside the park. There you can feed and observe animals including eels, ponies and even bison.
Ten minutes north of Tauranga, up State Highway 2, is an attraction that has taken a disused eyesore of a quarry and turned it into a quirky mix of outdoor art, gardens and relic quarry equipment. The park is testament to volunteer power as all efforts have been carried out by locals, from stopping further quarrying through to winning access to the land, restoring, planting and populating with sculptures. If you visit on a Tuesday morning or Thursday afternoon you might even be able to give the volunteers a hand!
This award-winning piece of architecture is in the old Bank of New Zealand building and even has a gallery space that used to be a vault. They present historical, modern and contemporary New Zealand art shows, including some of the best touring shows from the major galleries. Be sure to check their events schedule on the website as this gallery does an excellent job of engaging with the community through art talks and question and answer sessions with artists and experts.
White Island is an active marine volcano, and as perhaps the most accessible example in the world it is a beacon for scientists, thrill-seekers and tourists. Tours run every day except Christmas Day, and are the only way to visit this privately owned reserve. Until the 1930s the island was mined for sulphur, and today the mine ruins are being eroded by the acidic gases that are vented by the volcano. Visitors can view the crater and reflect on the explosions that have regularly occurred over the last 200,000 years to create this mountain, the tip of which is the Island above the sea. This is a full day trip. It takes an hour and a half down State Highway 2 to get to the set-off point at Whakatane, and then six hours there and back. There are no rest areas on the island and you'll spend more than two hours on your feet, so not only do you have to be a bit brave to visit White Island; you have to be a bit fit too!