by Sue Hoffart
On horseback at low tide, Little Waihi is a necklace of rustic waterfront baches and homes. The two-street coastal village is strung between green cliffs and estuary, hugging the waterway so tightly that a wee girl can dangle a fishing line from her back yard. The child stares out at us, this line of riders galloping and splashing across the mudflats and tidal creeks.
I grin at the pink-clad figure, wondering how I’ve been stupid enough to live in Tauranga – just 40 minutes up the coast – for so long without seeing this place from this perspective. Fishermen and shellfish gatherers are the only other people we encounter on a trek encompassing coastal farmland, estuary and a stretch of deserted, rocky shoreline facing volcanic White Island. I’m no rider, but even I can’t resist urging my steed into a gallop – or is it a canter? – for the sheer joy of racing along an empty golden beach on a tranquil Sunday morning.
This weekend, I’m a tourist in my own town. It’s easy to become blasé about living in a place where other people pay to holiday. We Tauranga-ians are accustomed to the stunned mullet expressions worn by visiting cruise ship passengers and summer holidaymakers who ogle the unsullied beaches that stretch away from Mauao, the extinct volcanic cone that guards our harbour entrance. They marvel at the grow-anything climate that sustains vast avocado and kiwifruit orchards, vineyards, mountains of citrus, even a vanilla plantation. We take it for granted that some of them will stay on to ensure our city is continually ranked among the fastest-growing regions in New Zealand.
So I’m on an appreciation tour, visiting old favourites and new-to-me local treasures. I sweep through the farmers market early on Saturday morning and wind down with a lazy, salty afternoon soak in hot pools that offer prime views of parapenters dancing on air currents around Mauao. In between, I hunt down the best beachfront café at Mount Maunganui and collect my jaw after viewing part of New Zealand’s largest private military memorabilia collection in a shed behind the aviation museum. ??By the weekend’s close, I’m replete and slightly saddle-sore, with an even longer mental list of ‘must-do’ activities for out-of-town guests. And for me. These include:
Stay over the water at Sebel Trinity Wharf Tauranga (from $214 for a waterfront suite),T: 07 577 8700, W: www.mirvachotels.com/sebel-trinity-wharf-tauranga). Don’t miss their weekly “French Friday” nights for canapés, bubbles and live music.
In the heart of downtown Tauranga, Hotel on Devonport offers handy, contemporary accommodation and some rooms with harbour peeks. (From $140/night.) T: 07 578 2668, W: www.hotelondevonport.net.nz
Ridge Country Retreat has a day spa as well as luxurious accommodation and great dining (from $650/double including breakfast). T: 07 542 1301, W: www.rcr.co.nz
See www.bayofplentynz.com for a full list of apartment-style and other accommodation.
Favourite Bloke’s Stuff
Send him off to the lively displays of aviation and military memorabilia, at Classic Flyers (T: 07 572 4000, W: www.classicflyersnz.com) and adjacent Adventure Aviation (T: 07 574 3737, W: www.adventureaviation.co.nz). Ride in a M.A.S.H helicopter or a biplane and ask about other rides available to paid-up club members.
Blokart Heaven (T: 0800 4 blokart, W: www.blokartheaven.co.nz), where the international craze began, offers a race track and blokart rentals, as well as army-style laser tag and laser claybird shooting. ??Or book a luxurious charter fishing trip or a surfing lesson with one of the surf schools at Mount Maunganui (Tauranga i-site visitor centre T: 07 578 8103, W: www.bayofplentynz.com).
National Jazz Festival – New Zealand’s largest, held each Easter, W: www.jazz.org.nz
Tauranga Arts Festival – held biennially, starting October 20 next year W: www.taurangafestival.co.nz
Tauranga’s Garden and Artfest will unfurl in November 8-14 this year. W: www.gardenandartfest.co.nz
Favourite Outdoorsy Adventures
Briar’s Horse Trek is well-run, with wonderful seaside scenery. T: 07 533 2582, W: www.briarshorsetrek.co.nz, from $70 for 1.5 hrs.
Sup wine beside a lake, then kayak through a glorious glow worm grotto at night with Waimarino.com (From $120pp, T: 07 576 4233, W: www.waimarino.com).
Te Puna Quarry Park (Quarry Road, Te Puna, signposted from SH 2, W: www.quarrypark.org.nz) is a quirky, attractive public park, strewn with sculpture and created from a disused quarry.
Hike up through pine forest to an open ridge and coastal views that make Papamoa Hills Regional Park, a favourite with locals (Poplar Lane, Papamoa, signposted off SH2, W: www.envbop.govt.nz/Parks/Papamoa-Hills.asp). Pa sites are scattered over the hilltops that overlook the coast and surrounding orchards and farmland. And, of course, hike to the summit or stroll around Mauao, at Mount Maunganui.
?Favourite Arty Stops
The Cargo Shed (open weekends, 5 Dive Crescent, Tauranga) for art and crafty one-off souvenirs. Check out the contemporary designware at the Tonic stall.
The three-year-old Tauranga Art Gallery sits on the corner of Wharf and Willow Streets in downtown Tauranga (T: 07 578 7933, W: www.artgallery.org.nz, open 10.00am – 4.30pm daily – closed Christmas Day) and offers free admission.
For information about artists, galleries, events and festivals, visit the Creative Tauranga office at 112 Willow Street, T: 07 928 5270, W: www.creativetauranga.org.nz
Book a massage or a private pool at Mount Maunganui Hot Saltwater Pools, at the base of Mauao (T: 07 575 0868 – open daily, from $9.50/adult, less for locals).
Favourite Food Destinations
Need a view with your meal? Book a balcony seat at Harbourside Restaurant, which juts over the water in a former yacht club building in downtown Tauranga. (Open 7 days, T: 07 571 0520, W: www.harboursidetauranga.co.nz).
For casual daytime dining beside the water, Deckchair café is another great option at the action-packed base of Mauao (T: 07 572 0942).
Otherwise, book a table at romantic Somerset Cottage. Tucked out of town and two decades old, this is still a favourite with discerning diners. (T: 07 576 6889, W: www.somersetcottage.co.nz).
For an extraordinary array of Italian-Mediterranean specialty foods, visit Bel Mondo (T: 07 579 0968, www.belmondo.co.nz).
Culinary Council sports a deli and a jaw-dropping range of kitchenware (T: 578 2023, W: www.culinarycouncil.co.nz).
On Saturday morning, Tauranga Farmers Market is a must for smoked salmon and smoked cheese, artisan breads, cheesecakes, wicked macadamia toffee, olive oils and oodles more (www.taurangafarmersmarket.co.nz).
Local Brands We Brag About
Heilala Vanilla beans, extract, paste and sugar using made from vanilla grown in Tauranga and Samoa. W: www.heilalavanilla.co.nz
Tangy Gusto apple syrup. W: www.stams.co.nz
Mills Reef winery has a restaurant and tasting room (T: 07 576 8800, www.millsreef.co.nz)
Morton Estate also has a cellar door (T: 07 552 0795, W: www.mortonestatewines.co.nz).
Comvita exports honey products including quality skincare and medical products. Try the ginger honey ice cream at their excellent visitor centre (T: 0800 493 782, W: www.comvita.co.nz).
Urban streetwear brand RPM is designed in Mt Maunganui (www.rpm.co.nz).