The name of this region is astonishingly descriptive. Its coastline is a wide, sweeping bay on the east coast of the North Island, and it contains plenty - plenty to do, plenty to see and plenty of experiences just waiting to be had. From long, sandy beaches and serene lakes to boiling mud pools and thermal springs, there is something to delight any visitor who picks up a New Zealand car rental and heads off to explore the Bay of Plenty.
We have put together a highlights reel of this fabulous part of the country for anyone who is planning a trip there. These are the must-see attractions and sights of the Bay - and the must-do activities - but the real magic in any road trip is the friendly small towns, the moments of connection, the scenic glimpses you catch along the way. Those things you’ll have to discover for yourself, so pack up your road trip essentials and get started.
Tauranga and “The Mount”
The sparkling seaside city of Tauranga and its vibrant beach suburb called Mount Maunganui (which is the Gold Coast’s smaller, low-key cousin) are a fantastic place to begin, especially if you have picked up a car rental in Auckland and are making your way south to the Bay of Plenty. We recommend:
● Hiking up Mount Maunganui - It’s around half an hour of hard work, but you’ll be rewarded with fantastic views. Do it early in the morning and then enjoy breakfast at a beachfront cafe.
● Getting out on the water - There are opportunities for Tauranga harbour cruises, dolphin safaris, White Island voyages and more from Tauranga. Get acquainted with the ocean side of the Bay of Plenty before you leave the city!
● Enjoying the pools - Particularly in winter, you might like a dip in the salt water hot pools at the base of the Mount.
● Strolling Papamoa Beach - This long stretch of sand to the southeast of downtown Tauranga is a beach paradise, perfect for those morning walks.
● Grounding yourself at McLaren Falls Park - Just outside of the city, this is 190 hectares of parkland alongside Lake McLaren. In the summer, you might find an open-air concert happening here.
Listed above, White Island is a fascinating place to explore. It lies off the Bay of Plenty coast and is accessible by several boat and heli tour operators. The island is an active volcano and a fascinating landscape of bare rock slopes. You can walk amongst the geothermal steam vents to witness the power of the earth, and dive the clear waters surrounding the island. Keen fisherperson? The area is popular with fishing charters - so you could see White Island and drop a line in, all in a day’s work!
While this small town doesn’t seem like much of a destination, if you make an effort to stop in here, you will certainly enjoy the fruits of your labour. Te Puke is the Kiwifruit Capital of the World, and home to an enormous fibreglass likeness of the small, furry fruits. It’s not just kiwifruit that grows here, either: it is full of orchards, and you can buy avocados, feijoas, apples and more treats plucked straight from their trees or vines. Enjoy the produce of the region and explore Te Puke itself with a stroll along the Te Puke Heritage Walkway.
Outdoor enthusiasts won’t want to miss heading into the Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park, which has historic logging and mining sites with a vast network of walking tracks both long and short. The easy tracks of the scenic Karangahake Gorge are a popular place for visitors to enjoy the park. Take a look at the Department Of Conservation website for more.
The attractions of Rotorua will introduce any visitor to New Zealand’s unique natural and cultural stories, both historical and current. Performances and demonstrations of native Maori arts and culture are available in several places near the city, and there are many geothermal hotspots - often you’ll find the two grouped together! The following are a few popular places to experience the best of Rotorua:
● Whakarewarewa Thermal Village - A place of spectacular geothermal activity including bubbling mud pools and geysers, in conjunction with a Maori village and marae where you can experience the culture and see fantastic performances, and even try a traditional meal.
● Te Puia - A similar attraction to Whakarewarewa, a little more developed and including a Kiwi House where you can see the iconic birds.
● Skyline Skyrides - Take a ride in a gondola up Mt. Ngongotaha for great views and a luge ride back down again.
● Rainbow Springs Nature Park - A lovely landscaped park with fish and other wildlife to look at, including kiwis, New Zealand’s feathered icon.
● The Buried Village - This piece of NZ heritage was a village swamped with ash in the 1886 Mount Tarawera eruption that killed 153 people. Visitors can walk through the excavated ruins of the village.
● Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland - Various geothermal landscapes, a fascinating look at how the earth changes and moves. There is an impressive geyser here, too.
Now you know where to find the main attractions of the beautiful Bay of Plenty, you can plan your journey - and enjoy the unplannable and unpredictable magic moments along the way. To prepare for anything, take a look at our guide to driving in New Zealand. Then, find your New Zealand car hire and begin your Bay of Plenty adventure!