You can’t beat beautiful beaches, scenic harbors, chilled out people, and great coffee, especially when they all come together in a package deal. Tauranga + Mt. Maunganui (pronounced mon-ga-NU-ee) is touted as one of the best places in New Zealand to spend the summer because of this killer combo.
After flying into the massive city of Auckland as all backpackers do, I was told repeatedly to “get out” and that “Auckland isn’t the REAL NZ”. So 10 days later I hopped on a bus with some friendsies I’d met in the hostel, and we set out for Tauranga with the promise of discovering the true New Zealand and numerous job opportunities from some working hostels in the area. We stepped off the bus (feeling slightly nauseous from the long, twisty bus ride) and were staring at a beautiful harbor filled with sail boats. It was quiet, and I LOVED IT. Every so often I get hit with the feeling of “belonging” somewhere, and as cheesy as it sounds, this was one of those time. I think I could live here . So, for the last three months I’ve been flatting here and working at a local restaurant.
Tauranga is one of the fast growing cities in New Zealand. The slow paced lifestyle, beautiful harbor, and cute neighborhoods keep attracting people. One of my favorite things to do is try a new café each week, and drink fabulous coffee while using their WiFi. TRAVEL TIP – Save the passwords to the WiFi of all the cafes you go to! After a few weeks you will have a few spots across town that you can park in front and tap in if you need a quick connection. The town has a fairly large city center with everything you need, and the street that runs parallel to the harbor, called The Strand, is filled with trendy, yummy restaurants. My fav place so far is The Phoenix (hit them up on Fridays for their $15 gourmet burgers), and the restaurant I work at is Rye American Kitchen & Spirits (2 for 1 mains before 6:30pm on Thursdays!)
Best Things to Do –
- Wine Tasting at Mills Reef Winery – just a few minutes out of town is a gorgeous winery that offers FREE wine tasting. I went with my mom when she came to NZ to visit, and we got to taste 10 different wines and learned about the specifics of each one. It was fantastic!
- Explore McLaren Falls Park – a state park that has great walking trails, camping sites, a lake to swim in, and if you’re feeling brave, some cliff/bridge jumping
- Salsa Dancing at La Mexica – every Thursday night is free salsa dancing! A quick lesson is at 8:30pm with a few hours of dancing after that. There is also $10 frozen margaritas 😉
- Thrift shopping at Tullulah Two – super cute, trendy clothes for cheap!! I went here on my Bday last week and left with two dresses (new birthday outfit! Whoot whoot!) and two tank top for a grand total of $23.
- Walk The Strand – take a stroll along the waterfront and choose a restaurant to have lunch or dinner at, then continue all the way down to a bridge that doubles as a train track and cross over the harbor. It’s especially cool if you’re are on the bridge when a train comes by!
Mt. Maunganui is a tourist HOT SPOT! Giant cruise ships dock here and all the vacationers invade the town and beach. TRAVEL TIP – almost everyone is hiring extra staff in Dec/Jan to keep up with the increased customer base, so this is the best time to look for a job. The main road is a long line up of hipster style cafes, surf shops, and cute boutiques that you could easily spend a whole afternoon exploring. The main attraction is “The Mount” which after defeating the 40ish minute hike delivers a beautiful 360⁰ few of the town. It will make you sweat so don’t bring your jandals! Depending on which side of The Mount you come down on you will either end up by the wharf or the Main Beach. When I first got here in October the beach was pretty much empty, and now in January it’s impossible to get a parking spot, and the beach is filled with surfers and sun bathers. Last week one of my flatmates and I lounged on the beach, ate lunch, and watched the semi-professional beach volleyball tourney featuring teams from all over the world.
Best Things to Do –
- Hike The Mount THEN hit the beach – It must be in this order or you will never make it up The Mount 😉 There are nice public toilets and drinking fountains and some fun food trucks along the beach front to enjoy.
- Eat!! – Check out Pronto on Tuesdays for their $10 burger special (They are massive and delicious!), Astrolabe for beer and pretty good night life, or grab a coffee and a delicious baked good from the case of some café and sit outside for good people watching. One of my favs is Cafe 88.
- Walk barefoot around town – This is how the locals do it, so skip the shoes and embrace the beach bum life.
- Get the best bread of your life from Flaveur – they make divine organic sourdough. It can be a bit spendy so get there at the beginning of the day for ½ price on the day old stuff before it’s gone. So worth it!!
- Try surfing – there are several companies that park themselves on the beach every day and offer surf lessons and board/wetsuit rental and pretty reasonable prices. Definitely something to try.
Within a few hours of town are some great things to check out!
Head up to THE COROMANDEL and see the postcard-worthy Cathedral Cove. Also, don’t forget about Hot Water Beach! I would recommend grabbing your shovel and heading up here before the summer crowds hit. You will have the beach to yourself and the hot water will be a nice contract to the cooler weather.
ROTORUA has some fun things to take a day trip or two for. For my birthday my friend brought me to do ZORB Rotorua to experience the hamster ball phenomenon, and we had a great time! It’s also fun to walk around the stinky, but scenic Lake Rotorua, known for the bubbling sulfer hot spots lining it, and to check out the Red Wood Forest.
TAUPO is one of the bigger cities around and is centered
around Lake Taupo, which is actually the mouth of an active volcano. So far sailing the lake on The Barbary has been my highlight here. Lastly, definitely head over to the Karangahake Gorge and Gold Mine for a cool trek. Don’t forget your flashlight!
The locals here brag about it being “the best place to spend Summer” and so far it hasn’t disappointed. It took a bit to adjust to the laid back pace, everything closing before 5pm, and the constant wind off the ocean, but all of that just lends to its loveliness and charm. Now I’m off to the beach