These are three of my favourite attractions that I recommend every visitor explore when they arrive at the Bay of Plenty. They are places both locals and travellers enjoy, and great spots to learn more about what makes this part of New Zealand special.
Mount Maunganui (Mauao)
The striking mountain at the eastern entrance of Tauranga harbour is one of New Zealand’s natural icons. From a very young age, New Zealanders are encouraged to be competent and comfortable in the outdoors, and hikes in this beautiful area are a part of most our childhoods. Locals regularly hike the trails winding up the 232 m high mountain; the more adventurous paraglide and rock-climb, while we all enjoy mineral soaks in the geothermal saltwater pools at its base, and sunny days on the beach below.
This area is sacred to the Maori people and features extensively in the mythology of the Ngati Ranginui, Ngai Te Rangi, and Ngati Pukenga tribes.
Mauao is easy to access: just several minutes after embarking off a cruise ship, visitors can be engaged in our history, the blend of Maori and European world views, and in our ethics of care and engagement with the natural environment.
There are many sites that depict different stories of New Zealand; I’ve picked Kiwi 360 as my personal favourite. It tells the story of kiwifruit and it does justice to the 110 years that it has taken to develop the healthiest fruit in the world, and achieve a world leading model of primary industry. Located in Te Puke (the kiwi capital of the world!) it’s not your typical tourist attraction.
Here you can tour the orchards that drive a remarkable industry. Every year, 100 million trays of Kiwifruit are sent from New Zealand to 62 countries across the globe. Kiwi 360 is set up to teach visitors about this remarkable piece of New Zealand industry and the innovative agricultural model behind it. New Zealanders believe very strongly that we should live harmoniously with our environment, so we must grow nurturing food from safe farming practices. We work hard to collaborate, create and look after our local environment – that is why we lead the world in sustainable agricultural production.
The Rainbow Springs / Kiwi Encounter
Maori stories are pivotal to understanding this country. I like to take my guests to specific cultural places to tell these parts of our history – places that are quiet and special and a little bit secret, and are best visited in the company of a local. However, there is one excellent and renowned public facility that does a great job of sharing a piece of this story with visitors, and that is the Rainbow Springs facility in Rotorua.
At first glance, Rainbow Springs doesn’t appear to have anything to do with Maori culture. It’s an ecology centre in a tropical parkland setting where they engage in conservation and breeding programs for endangered New Zealand wildlife, like the kiwi bird. The centre is immensely popular with locals and visitors alike, who love the up-close encounters with kiwis. Some visitors are even lucky enough to witness the baby birds hatching.
But what does this have to do with Maori culture? Well, the centre doesn’t tell the Maori story, it is a part of the Maori story. Kaitiakitanga is a Maori word that means guardianship and protection; it is a way of managing the environment, based on the Māori world view of the interconnectedness of humans and nature.
This environmental conservation is a core tenet of contemporary Maori culture. Owned by Ngai Tahu, a Maori tribe that has invested in the enhancement of environment as part of tourism, Rainbow Springs demonstrates how we can manage the pressures of tourism and maintain the amazing natural features that attract travellers to New Zealand.
And when you start to get hungry...
When it comes time to eat, I always recommend visitors sample our famous fish and chips. A bona fide local tradition, New Zealanders love to pick up fish and chips from the local takeout and enjoy them as part of a picnic lunch on the beach. Freshly caught snapper, terakihi and hoki are the most common types of fish, which we then batter and deep-fry. There are many places claiming to cook “New Zealand’s Best Fish and Chips.” One of my favourites is “Oppies” along the main drag in Rotorua. Grab some hot take-out here and head to the cool shores of Lake Rotorua to enjoy your meal.
One final, night-time adventure
Imagine gliding along still waters at dusk, watching the sun go down and the stars come out. In McLaren Falls Park you can paddle a kayak slowly across Lake McLaren to a rock canyon where a different sort of light emerges: the gentle shine of thousands of glow worms. If you prefer your adventures on land, the park also offers an easy walking trail that takes you to a waterfall and glow worm dell. This is a truly unique New Zealand experience, and just a 15 minute drive from the port at Tauranga.
Thanks for all the great ideas, Doug! Travelers headed to New Zealand in 2014 should consider getting in touch with Doug to learn more about the places he can show you on a private Tauranga tour.