Scenic, versatile and beautifully understated – if New Zealand is on your travel radar, consider putting the Bay of Plenty on your wish list. It was named by James Cook when he anchored in the country in 1769, and it's a name that still rings true today: anyone who visits will find the great outdoors right upon their doorstep, in the forms of wild swimming holes, surf beaches and hiking trails. The Bay of Plenty offers a lifestyle so well-rounded, you may struggle to say goodbye.
Why should you visit?
New Zealand's North Island is often second to the South when it comes to attracting travellers. For those who do visit the North, it commonly involves a brief city stint in Auckland then upwards to the Bay of Islands, or perhaps trailing down to Matamata’s Hobbiton and onwards to wondrous Lake Taupo. Unlike other pockets of New Zealand, though, the Bay of Plenty hasn’t suffered from overtourism. It’s quite untouched and quintessentially Kiwi, well and truly having kept its soul. As such, it's a more affordable place to travel through.
The Bay of Plenty is geographically convenient too – those on a road trip can easily continue further down to Taupo and Wellington, or head up to Auckland and the exquisite bays further north. So add a couple of days in the bay to your ‘tiki-tour’, as the Kiwis call it.
Mt Maunganui, Tauranga and around – a place to feel alive
Around Tauranga (the Bay of Plenty’s largest city) adventure is easily found. A day can start by plunging into a hidden swimming hole and enjoying a natural shower under a waterfall, and finish sprawled out on a postcard-perfect white sand beach. Or maybe it starts with a detoxifying dip at the Mount Hot Pools and wrapped up with a night-time kayaking session through Lake McLaren and its mesmerising, glowworm-twinkling canyons.
One thing you mustn't leave without doing is hiking up sacred Mt Maunganui – adored by locals, who affectionately refer to it as 'the Mount'. The Mount makes for a backdrop to remember, its perky, lush green form proudly protruding from the turquoise of Tauranga's harbour. Its Māori name, Mauoa, means 'caught by the morning sun', giving a hint, perhaps, of the best time to visit.
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The region’s natural wonders never seem to cease; further inland is New Zealand’s most active geothermal region – Rotorua. Arrival into Rotorua comes with an odd, egg-like smell, a result of the high level of sulphur in the area. Don’t let that deter you; the stench wears off eventually and you'll be left itching to explore. There are hot pools busily bubbling away right in the centre of town, spas you can soak away your worries in, and the Whakarewarewa Forest where it’s all about you, the redwood trees, and the wind.
It’s also a top spot to immerse yourself in traditional Māori culture. A visit to the marae (meeting grounds of Māori communities) could involve learning how to cook a hāngi, food cooked underground using hot stones, and watching some traditional poi dancing.
Explore stunning stretches of coast from Whakatane to Ohope
Mt Maunganui Main Beach’s idyllic white sand, calm swells and wide, undisturbed views of the Pacific Ocean make it a favourite for local tourists. Head further east down the coast and yet more marvels await.
For the explorers out there, taking a day trip out to magnificent White Island is a must-do. Its Māori name, Te Puia o Whakaari, means 'the dramatic volcano' – fitting, as it's the country’s only marine volcano. Boat tours leave from Whakatane daily (about two hours each way), otherwise you can take a helicopter to score some incredible aerial views. Wander the island (avoiding jets of steam as you go) to explore the crater lake, vivid veins of pure sulphur and remnants of the old mine that once operated on the island.
If you need to put your feet up after all the adventuring, unwind at the sleepy seaside town Ohope. Its grand, golden sweep of beach is as perfect for a bit of R&R as it is for surfing. It’s all about the simple life here. Apart from a few cafes and a convenience store, there's nothing but 'baches', the Kiwi term for holiday house.
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If you like to eat and drink, be confident you’re covered
The town of Te Puke boasts a bounty of fresh produce. It’s called the 'kiwifruit capital of New Zealand', with orchards open to the public – Kiwifruit Country being one of the largest. Avocados, feijoas (pineapple guava) and berries also flourish in Te Puke’s fields.
Comvita, one of New Zealand’s largest producers of manuka honey, also has its education centre in Paengaroa, a 10-minute drive out of Te Puke. A tour there reveals what a bee’s life looks like, the health benefits of manuka honey and its journey from hive to jar. Chances are you’ll leave with a greater appreciation of bees than you could ever imagine. A retail section concludes the tour, if you’d like some goodies to take home with you – jars of different grades of honey, bee pollen, propolis (a resin-like substance that bees produce) and an array of honey-based beauty products fill the shelves.
After a tipple? New Zealand is furthering its name on the world stage not only for wine, but for craft beer, too. Stop by Brew in Rotorua to sample some of Croucher Brewing Company’s finest, or The Rising Tide in Mt Maunganui for a range of over 40 beers on tap, with many local microbreweries represented in the ever-changing range.
Visiting fish and chip shops is a must in New Zealand, for they have their own other cuisine entirely. Deep-fried Moro bars dusted in cinnamon sugar is one staple, 'cheesy weezies' are another. Deep-fried chips are sprinkled with shredded cheese, generously doused in tomato sauce and aioli, then wrapped up in butcher’s paper and left to ferment until the time you unwrap them.
For something a little more sophisticated, Tauranga’s town centre hosts a few notable eateries including waterfront fine diner Harbourside, Asian fusion eatery Macau, and contemporary restaurant Somerset Cottage, which flaunts some of the region’s best produce.