Bay of Plenty: sun, sand and a laid-back lifestyle

<em>Tauranga CBD’s vibrant shipping-container shopping complex, Our Place</em>
Tauranga CBD’s vibrant shipping-container shopping complex, Our Place
If your idea of a getaway is beaches and the outdoors, fine food and drink, shopping and chilling, grab your togs and make tracks to the Bay of Plenty.

With 125km of white, sandy coast, the Bay of Plenty is home to the best beaches in New Zealand – and maybe the world! Mt Maunganui’s Main Beach has been ranked #1 by TripAdvisor for six years in a row, with neighbours Pāpāmoa Beach fourth and Pilot Bay eighth.

It’s easy to see why. One day on Main Beach, beneath Mauao (Mt Maunganui), feels like an entire Kiwi summer – beaches, boogie boarding, surfing, ice creams and the blue, blue Pacific Ocean.

A few steps away, the calm waters of Pilot Bay is perfect for swimming, watersports and chilling. Take a blanket, grab fish’n’ chips and gaze at passing yachts and cruise ships.

Fifteen minutes up the road at super-relaxed Pāpāmoa Beach, loads of people fish, picnic, swim, surf and laze but it never feels crowded. North of Tauranga, Waihī Beach is the spot for a classic Kiwi seaside holiday.

Orca in the Tauranga Harbour, credit: Tourism Bay of Plenty

Surf, swim, bike the Bay of Plenty

Doesn’t matter when you visit the Bay, you’ll be drawn to its great outdoors – whether it’s watersports in the “Big Blue Backyard” (aka the Pacific Ocean) or hiking and biking in evergreen countryside.

The Mount buzzes with passionate locals and visitors trying to catch that perfect wave – often, the right point break off Moturiki/Leisure Island. Here, and at other beaches like Waihī, Pāpāmoa and Pukehina, surf schools offer the chance to learn from the pros.

A surfer catches some waves, credit: Rambo Estrada

Just 10km off Whakatāne, Moutohorā/Whale Island is a pest-free oasis that’s home to rare and endangered plants, birds and reptiles. Look out for them as you walk through native bush to dig a soothing pool on its secluded hot-water beach.

Moutohorā is a kayaking, snorkelling and standup paddleboarding paradise, one of many unique opportunities for paddlers here.

Over on the mainland at peaceful Lake McLaren, kayak in moonlight, surrounded by glowworms; at nearby Wairoa River SUP on glassy water past farmland, making friends with curious cattle.

Visitors experience a night time glow worm tour, credit: Tourism Bay of Plenty

Stroll, soak at the Mount

Mt Maunganui also claims the country’s most popular day walks. Mauao stands 232m high and you’ll need to be reasonably fit for the 30-45 minute hike to the summit and views down the coast, over the harbour, north towards Waihī Beach, with the Kaimai Ranges behind. Definitely a selfie moment.

Climb to the top of Mauao, one of New Zealand’s most iconic summits, credit: Katie Cox

The 45-minute “base track” around the mountain is a more leisurely walk from the ocean beach to Pilot Bay (or reverse). You may spot a seal or two sunbathing on the rocks.

Whichever route you take, finish with a soak in the Mount Hot Pools.

Eating, drinking around the Bay of Plenty

The Bay grows enough kiwifruit, avocado and produce to feed a nation or two, so it’s no surprise the region has sprouted amazing eateries.

Astrolabe Brew Bar is the heart of the Mount, with beer taps that do what they say on the label and hearty pub fare. Izakai blends Māori and Japanese cuisine; No. 8 serves modern Asian cooking. Satori Lounge rolls sushi in a fusion of Japanese and South American flavours.

In Tauranga, Halo Restaurant at Trinity Wharf Hotel offers chic dining and sea views; go a step further at Harbourside and enjoy fine dining on an over-water balcony. Among the Strand’s dozens of eateries, Macau’s award-winning Asian fusion is a highlight.

At Waihī Beach the Surf Shack is Kiwiana on a plate. Lonely Planet says its burgers are “possibly the best in New Zealand”.

Night markets in Coronation Park, Mount Maunganui, photo credit: Katie Cox

Chat with the growers and producers at the long-established farmers market at Tauranga Primary School on Saturday mornings. If live music and food trucks are more your thing, head to the Mount’s Coronation Park on summer Friday evenings.

Two major wineries, Leveret and Mills Reef, have recently teamed up to create a winemaking and cellar-door destination at Katikati, 20 minutes north of Tauranga.

Believing that every brewery has a unique Kiwi story to share, Brewbus tours are a fun way to see the sights, get to know local culture and food – and enjoy a drop or two.

The Cider Factorie, in a former avocado packhouse at Te Puna, turns fruit from its orchards into award-winning beverages. Try feijoa apple cider or the reserve range, crafted in the same style as sparkling wine, at the Cidery restaurant or tasting room.

Laidback shopping in the Bay of Plenty

Feel like some retail therapy? The Bay’s laidback vibe is expressed in relaxed and friendly town centres.

Shop local in Tauranga’s walkable CBD, at the region’s largest centre, Bayfair at the Mount, or shiny new Tauranga Crossing and Bethlehem, north of the city.

Waihī and Katikati villages offer a step back into old-style high streets. Local tips: Sunday in Waihi for contemporary homeware from the best local and international designers; JS Ceramics in Te Puna, a small pottery studio marketing its own collections and curating ceramics by overseas artists.

In the Mount’s Mainstreet browse 230 exquisite fashion boutiques or trendy surf shops and eat culinary delights from around the globe. Yep, that definitely includes Kiwi fish’n’ chips.

Tauranga CBD’s vibrant shipping-container shopping complex, Our Place, credit: Erin Cave

Getting there

Air New Zealand offers non-stop flights to Tauranga from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch with connecting flights from regional centres.

With all domestic airfares you can choose seat, seat+bag, flexitime or flexidate fares. Flight time from Auckland 40mins; Wellington 75mins; Christchurch 115mins.

Bookings and more information:

Getting around

You’ll need a vehicle to experience the best of the Bay of Plenty. Book your car rental before you go with Air New Zealand or choose from the options when you land at Tauranga Airport.

For more on the Bay of Plenty, visit


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