The Bay of Plenty occupies the huge bite between the Coromandel Peninsula and the East Cape, backed by rich farmland famous for its kiwifruit orchards. Its western end centres on the prosperous and fast-growing port city of Tauranga and its beachside neighbour Mount Maunganui. These amorphous settlements essentially form a single small conurbation sprawled around the glittering tentacles of Tauranga Harbour. A combination of warm dry summers and mild winters initially attracted retirees, followed by telecommuters and home-based small businesses.
Both towns have a thriving restaurant and bar scene, and a number of boats help you get out on the water to sail, or swim with dolphins. On land, make for Tauranga’s modern art gallery, or head inland to picnic beside the swimming holes at McLaren Falls or paddle to see glowworms. With all this, it comes as no surprise that the area is a big draw for Kiwi summer holidaymakers.
Heading southeast along the Pacific Coast Highway (SH2), the urban influence wanes, the pace slows and the landscape becomes more rural, with orchards and kiwifruit vines gradually giving way to sheep country. You’ll also find a gradual change in the racial mix, for the eastern Bay of Plenty is mostly Maori country; appropriate since some of the first Maori to reach New Zealand arrived here in their great waka (canoes). In fact, Whakatane is sometimes known as the birthplace of Aotearoa, as the Polynesian navigator Toi te Huatahi first landed here. Whakatane makes a great base for forays to volcanic White Island or the bird reserve of Whale Island. Further east, Opotiki is the gateway to the East Cape and to Gisborne, as well as trips on the remote and scenic Motu River.