BAY OF PLENTY
Maori first settled here around the 13th Century when three waka (canoe) that formed part of the original migration from East Polynesia (Hawaiki) to Aotearoa (New Zealand) landed along the Bay of Plenty’s shores. These original inhabitants gave names to many of our towns, rivers and landmarks. Tauranga means ‘safe anchorage’ or ‘resting place’. While our iconic mountain, Mauao, means ‘caught by the dawn’. This refers to the Maori legend where a love-sick mountain was dragged from the inland hills down towards the sea so he could drown himself. But the sun rose before he could do so, and the mountain was frozen in place at the entrance to Tauranga Harbour where it remains standing today. More than 400 years passed before the Bay of Plenty was given its European name by Captain James Cook who circumnavigated New Zealand in 1769. Cook was impressed by the abundant resources he saw on both land and sea – so christened it Bay of Plenty. Blessed with sunshine and sand, the bay stretches from Waihi Beach in the west to Opotiki in the east, with the holiday hubs of Tauranga, Mt Maunganui and Whakatane in between.
The Bay of Plenty region is home to spectacular beaches, juicy kiwifruit and offshore from Whakatane is New Zealand's only active marine volcano, Whakaari (White Island). Most of this geological giant lies underneath the water but the top 321m sticks out above the ocean, forming a circular island that’s approximately 2km wide. Relax onboard a luxury launch or experience the thrill of a short helicopter ride out to White Island where you’ll spend up to two hours exploring the inner crater on foot and learning about its geological history. Gas masks and hard hats are provided, as this active volcano is still very much alive. Its seismic activity is closely monitored although the island is usually on an alert level rating of 1 or 2 on a scale from 0 to 5.
Around Tauranga are hectares of orchards and gardens producing everything from kiwifruit and citrus fruit to avocados. Add to this bounty the local wines and the plentiful fresh seafood and you just know that this is a place where you will dine well.
Mount Maunganui, a short distance from Tauranga, has spectacular beaches, which are a magnet for surfers all year round and voted New Zealand's best by TripAdvisor. For the adventurous, there’s skydiving and for those keener on terra firma, blo-karting (small land yachts) will blow the cobwebs away. And overlooking it all towers the mountain itself – Mauao. It will take you around 45 minutes to circumnavigate Mauao’s 3.4km-long base track. This is New Zealand’s most popular walk, with expansive ocean views, majestic pohutukawa trees, peaceful beach inlets and numerous places where you can stop and admire the view. The wide, well-maintained pathway is suitable for strollers and you can finish your walk off with an ice-cream on the beach afterwards or a soak in the Mt Maunganui Hot Salt Water Pools. Of course you’ll find the best views right at the top. There are several tracks to Mauao’s summit where you can enjoy breathtaking 360° views along the entire Bay of Plenty coastline, and out across the harbour to Tauranga and the Kaimai Range beyond.