New Zealand’s North Island is a day-tripper’s delight, with spectacular drawcards dotted across the island. Many visitors will base themselves out of Auckland, but the charming harbourside town of Tauranga, New Zealand, in the Bay of Plenty is a picturesque alternative. The serene harbour, impressive port and beautiful beach are all overlooked by the imposing Mount Maunganui (Mauao). What’s more, the best of the North Island is all within easy reach.
1. Fish the Bay of Plenty
Although named the Bay of Plenty by Captain Cook after the lush Maori gardens he observed, the Plenty could also reference the incredible fish stock of the Bay. Kingfish, snapper, terakihi or kahawai (Australian Salmon) abound – all delicious eating fish to take back and have cooked up. Half, full and overnight fishing adventures are available, and you’ll be spoiled for choice of charters. If fishing isn’t your thing, you can still enjoy the offshore waters on one of the many dolphin spotting cruises.
2. Explore the geothermal landscape
The land and waters around Tauranga seethe and breathe, and the incredible geothermal activity of the area has long attracted visitors keen to experience its thermal pools, exploding geysers, mud pools and crater lakes. Less than an hour from Tauranga is the world famous Rotorua and the breathtaking White Island, New Zealand’s only active marine volcano.
Rotorua’s various private parks offer guided or self-guided walks, or (if you’re on a budget) Kuirau Park, New Zealand’s only public geothermal park, features a crater lake, mud pools, hot springs and even thermal foot baths, all to be enjoyed for free. Visit Rotorua has plenty of information, including prices, to help you plan your visit.
White Island lies 49km off the coastline, and the majority of the volcano lies beneath the surface. Guided tours are the only way to see this other-wordly natural spectacle. The 1.5 hour hike to the inner crater past steaming vents and bubbling pools makes you feel like you’re walking on something quite alive. It is an experience not soon forgotten.
3. Splash or surf the beaches
The Bay of Plenty is famed for its beaches, and Mount Maunganui Main Beach is hands-down one of New Zealand’s most popular places for swimming, surfing, boogie boarding and flopping about in the sunshine. Main Beach also offers a stroll to Motuiki (Leisure) Island, which you can reach by a bridge. Look back along the beach, hike to the top, or even cast a line in the heaving swell.
4. Stroll around Tauranga Historic Village
A quickie but a goodie. Head down to 17th Avenue for a touch of history and catch a glimpse of the way things once were. Original and reproduced buildings line the cobbled streets, and house a range of businesses, shops and organisations, keeping the area bustling.
5. Enjoy sundowners on Mauao
Mauao (Mount Maunganui) is a glorious spot to chill out and enjoy the dusk settling over the city and the spectacular Bay beyond. Take your time on the 232m summit – it’s hard work but the views are more than ample reward. Indulge in a twilight picnic before heading back down and strolling around the waterfront. For dinner, book a table at Waterside and lean on the balcony with the harbour waters lapping beneath you.
Accommodation in Tauranga is well priced and easy to come by, but the Comfort Inn Academy is a great choice. Located at the crossroads of two major highways, this hotel is only five minutes from the centre of Tauranga and the atmospheric restaurants, bars and cafes of the harbour. Each room has a large living area, and many rooms have a spa bath. With free Wi-Fi, onsite parking and outdoor pool with Jacuzzi, it’s both comfortable and convenient. If you’re looking for another option, take a look at Quality Suites Huka Falls, located two hours from Tauranga. This hotel has an in-ground swimming pool, tennis courts, on-site chapel, conference rooms and restaurant.
For such a small city, Tauranga boasts some peak big-city attributes. The cruise ship port, excellent food and wine, and the stunning night-time twinkling of the lights on the harbour will easily give reason to stay out for an extra drink or two.
After some more North Island activities? Check out these North Island hikes!