Stranded in paradise
There are worse places to get stuck than the Bay of Plenty. That’s what I was telling myself, stranded and alone at Tauranga Airport on a Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t the Bay’s fault – it was too foggy to fly into Wellington with the next flight in 24 hours.
I had just spent three days in the Bay, soaking in the sun and the people’s easy way of life. Everyone was relaxed and enjoying the summer they were robbed of last year.
My first taste of the Bay was a year earlier, when the Rena struck Astrolabe Reef, taking a disastrous toll on the environment, economy, tourism and local morale.
But the Rena is now just a ‘‘blip on the horizon’’, as one local put it. Nearly out of sight, nearly out of mind. People want to move on – and people want to move in.
A friend drove down from Auckland to join me for the weekend and was considering moving down by the end of it.
Two other friends are also considering the move. One showed me photos of a 1600-square-metre house in Papamoa she and her husband could afford a deposit on. The same money would buy her a small two-to-three bedroom house on Auckland’s fringes.
I arrived on a Friday afternoon in early December, picked up a rental car and started navigating my way through fresh streets, most leading to empty plots of land waiting for new homes. is a land of contrasts – where pockets of the past meet sub-developments of the future; where good ol’ Kiwi summer styles meets modern-day.
Homes are contemporary, streets spacious and everything seems brand new. But then you go around the corner, and there’s a tiny brightly-coloured quintessential 50s Kiwi bachs bach, the type Kiwis identify with the quintessential New Zealand summer.
Children scooter up and down the footpath or run across the street from one home to the other, the corner dairy sells the milk bars my parents ate when they were little and men cook fish on a beach fire, just metres from where their dinner was caught.
The Bay is a relaxing sunny place It that stretches from Lottin Point in the east to the southern end of Waihi Beach in the west. The region includes Rotorua as well as Taupo, but most think of the coast when they think of the Bay. Steeped in rich Maori history, it was named by James Cook, who marvelled at the region’s abundant resources. After all, it encapsulates Rotorua’s thermal experience; Tauranga’s booming business centre and port, Mount Maunganui’s beauty and Papamoa’s growing popularity.
The same elements that attract new homeowners draw in the tourists – many who glide in on cruises, or escape Auckland and Hamilton for a few days or weeks over summer. Tourists either just relax on the beach, shop and frequent cafes or explore more adventurous offerings, such as a boat trip out to White Island or a climb to the top of the Mount.
I was drinking wine on Papamoa Beach one night and blokarting less than 12 hours later. Blokarting – a go-kart with a sail – originated in the Bay in the late 90s and is now a world-wide activity with its own international competition. Made in a workshop in Papamoa, it’s the track out front where the fun happens. There are no electrics – just raw wind power, guided by your own co-ordination.
A night at Casa Del Mare, a stunning bed and breakfast in Papamoa, provided the good night’s sleep and scrumptious start to a busy day. Another night at Oceanside Resort was great for its central location to the Mount and friendly hospitality, and lunch and wine tasting at Mills Reef in Tauranga was delicious, but none of these took me out of my comfort zone.
But one activity on my itinerary made my stomach drop. I thought I was up for a leisurely scenic flight over the Bay but when I re-read my itinerary I realised I was scheduled to go on an aerobatic flight in a 1961 Russian military aircraft. I’m still not sure if it was a blessing or a curse that it was too windy to fly.
Despite this Double X Aviation’s Peter and Brenda Meadows showed me the planes and footage of a few flights. The change from fear to delight on passengers’ faces and the amazing view from above made me envious, since I had to remain on the ground. Their friendly down-to-earth hospitality was echoed throughout the Bay and I realised another night here was a blessing. I got to spy on little bunny rabbits bouncing around my cabin at the Mount Maunganui Beachside Holiday Park and ate fish and chips on the beach, before spending the next morning sipping coffee, enviously watching the locals.
I wondered what life would be like if I called the Bay home. It seems too good to be true that it would feel like being on holiday all the time but, according to the locals, that’s exactly the case.
The writer travelled courtesy of Bay of Plenty Tourism.
TOP TEN THINGS TO DO IN THE BAY OF PLENTY
Conquer the Mount
A popular walking spot for a reason, the leisurely walk around the base of the Mount offers stunning views and is suitable for wheelchairs and strollers. The base walk takes about 45 minutes but those looking for a challenge can venture to the top of the summit, about a 40 minute hike to the 232 metre peak. This walk and others in the Bay of Plenty region can be found here.
Scenic and adventurous flights
Take in the Bay from the air, or have a go at flying the plane yourself. If that sounds too timid then you could try sky diving or an aerobatic flight in a 50-year-old Russian military aircraft.
Visit White Island
Take a day trip to White Island either on a boat or scenic flight and explore New Zealand’s most active volcano. The volcano, about 50 kilometres off the Bay of Plenty coast, was particularly active last year but didn’t scare all the tourists away. Tick two things off your bucket list by also going for a dive next to the volcano to encounter underwater steam vents and an array of fish.
A piece of nature
If getting back to nature is what you crave, then take some time out to swim with the dolphins, horse ride through the bush or take in the extraordinary sight of glow worms from a kayak.
A bit of adventure
You don’t have to leave the Bay to get your adrenaline pumping – just sign up for one of the many adventurous activities on offer. You might be tempted by a high speed jet boat ride down the Kaituna River or whitewater rafting in Rotorua.
Waimarino Adventure Park provides fun for the whole family, while Blokart Heaven offers a unique driving experience – just make sure there’s enough wind to keep your kart going but not too much that it veers off track.
Dining and shopping
Indulge in some shopping in central Tauranga, where popular cafes and restaurants line the waterfront. Take a stroll around the shops and eateries at the Mount or explore Papamoa’s new shopping mecca, Fashion Island. If dinner at a restaurant doesn’t tempt you then pick up some Turkish cuisine, fish and chips or pizza and head down to the beach – you might even have it all to yourself.
Lunch at one of the many cafes or restaurants, a stroll along the beach or a swim in the ocean may be just the trick to help you relax, but if you’re looking for some pampering, then there’s plenty in the Bay of Plenty to help get you into a tranquil state. The visitor centre at Comvita, a business which comes from humble roots and is founded on natural health care, will provide an insight into the goodness of bees while an array of salons and health retreats will help soothe the body and mind.
A cultural experience
Get a taste of the Bay’s unique culture by taking in the art, architecture and scenery on offer. Tours frequent the Village on 17th - a collection of original and replica buildings – the Tauranga Art Gallery and the Elms Historic Mission House and Gardens. Or get a true Marae experience at Maatua, Te Manuka Tutahi at Whakatane.
Plan your trip around an event
Whether it’s a triathlon, a temporary ice skating rink or a seafood festival you’re after, there are events year-round to keep in mind when organising a trip to the Bay. Athletes are already starting to gear up for the next Tinman Triathlon in December, while locals and tourists are making the most of a Winter Wonderland in Summer by spending their evenings at a temporary ice skating rink .
Touring the Bay by road – in style
Go on a road trip around the Bay in style by jumping on the back – or being at the wheel – of a Harley Davidson, or take a quieter, slower ride around by hiring a Dutch bicycle.
- © Fairfax NZ News