31 best things to do in the central North Island
Dominated by the enormous Lake Taupō and a trio of volcanoes including Mount Ruapehu, the Central Plateau is sporting a plethora of natural ...
Separated by a glistening harbour, Tauranga and Mount Maunganui offer an idyllic lifestyle in a region bathed in sunshine. Tauranga Harbour is a popular stopover for cruise ships, and it’s also the departure point for cruises and fishing charters. On the other side of the harbour, the isthmus of Mount Maunganui is named for the hill that rises dramatically from the coast – known to Maori as ‘Mauao’.
Aside from beachside Tauranga and Mount Maunganui, the western Bay of Plenty is bursting with other interesting destinations to explore. Katikati Those approaching from Auckland or The Coromandel will pass through the ‘mural town’ of Katikati. A popular stop along the Pacific Coast Highway, Katikati has more than 40 murals adorning buildings along the main street. Waihi Beach Further west, at the base of the Coromandel Peninsula, Waihi Beach is a popular getaway boasting excellent surf and a famous little hotel that’s a popular stop for touring Kiwi bands during the summer months. McLaren Falls Park This 170-hectare park offers walking trails, kayaking and trout fishing, and is the starting point for rafting trips on the Wairoa River. Offering some of New Zealand’s best white water, the Wairoa starts with Grade 2 cascades and builds to thundering Grade 5 rapids. Whakatane & White Island The eastern Bay of Plenty is a place of endless white-sand beaches bordered by red-flowering Potutukawa trees in summer. The main centre of the region, Whakatane, enjoys a setting that abounds with breath-taking natural landscapes, including the iconic sight of White Island (Whakaari), an active volcano just 50 kilometres offshore. The town has a laid-back ambience and plenty of restaurants and bars. Just over the hill is the beach resort of Ohope. Inland is an expanse of rugged native forest protected in Te Urewera and Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tāne Conservation Park.
Get out on the Bay itself and enjoy a cruise or watersports, explore the active volcano White Island or discover the quirky offerings available on shore. The Bay of Plenty offers some amazing beach life, in all senses of the word. In Tauranga head out with Dolphin Seafaris and swim with some new friends, hit up Elements Watersports to try sailing or windsurfing, or visit kayak adventure park Waimarino. Hibiscus Surf School in Mount Maunganui will have you riding waves like a pro, while you can also pick up some moves at Salt Spray Surf School at Ohope Beach. For a heritage experience visit The Elms Te Papa Tauranga. White Island (Whakaari) is New Zealand’s most active volcano and has erupted periodically throughout the past few decades. Located just 50 kilometres offshore from Whakatane, it is easily accessible, but for safety’s sake must only be visited as part of a guided tour. Travel by air or boat – or go diving to see the volcano’s underwater structure. From the air, the sulphur-green crater lake wreathed in steam is an otherworldly sight. Helicopters are even able to land, allowing visitors the opportunity to walk on an active volcano. Kahu NZ at Whakatane Airport can get you in the air; otherwise, the other way of getting close to White Island is by boat – as an added bonus, visitors may also have the opportunity to spot dolphins or try their hand at fishing. Talk to White Island Tours in Whakatane. White Island is also a one-of-a-kind dive site. Like an iceberg, much of the volcano’s structure is underwater and the waters around the island are crystal-clear and home to a wide variety of marine life. Diveworks Charters in Whakatane can get you there.
With everything from quirky cafés and great coffee to local watering holes and casual to fine dining, there’s something for all tastes in the Bay of Plenty. Tauranga and Mount Maunganui offer a sophisticated café and dining scene. Try Deckchair for coffee or a light bite. For a quiet pint or wine, try Rosie O’Grady’s. Restaurants worth your time include Astrolabe, Harbourside and Latitude 37. In Whakatane, head to The Bakehouse Café for good coffee in the east, Ohiwa Oyster Farm for fresh seafood takeaways, or Poppy’s Café for a full repast.
Rooms with views abound in the Bay of Plenty. In Tauranga and Mount Maunganui, try City Suites Tauranga or Cutters Cove. For a more economical option try Harbourside City Backpackers, Pacific Coast Lodge & Backpackers or Papamoa Beach Resort. Over in Whakatane, Ohope Beach Top 10 Holiday Park, The Windsor, and White Island Rendezvous are good providers of a range of different accommodation options.
Tauranga Airport, in Mount Maunganui, has direct flights to Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, along with a few smaller North Island destinations. The nearest international airports are in Rotorua and Hamilton, both of which offer trans-Tasman flights. Auckland International Airport is the closest full-service international airport. Access by road from Auckland is via the Pacific Coast Highway (2 hours, 55 minutes). Tauranga is 1 hour from Rotorua. Coaches provide regular services around the region. Find out more at Tauranga i–SITE, 95 Willow Street, or Whakatane i–SITE at the corner of Quay Street and Kakaharoa Drive.