Ten of the best things to do in the Bay of Plenty, NZ
With its plethora of natural attractions, charming regional towns and relaxed coastal vibe, the Bay of Plenty is the perfect spot for a New Zealand bliss out. Tick off these ten top things to do during your visit.
The Bay of Plenty region on the North Island is a popular holiday destination — not only for visitors to New Zealand, but also for New Zealanders themselves.
Named by the explorer Captain James Cook, the region certainly lives up to its title. You will find local wines, fresh seafood, and orchards and farms in abundance. With over 250 kilometres of coastline, there’s also no shortage of marine activities to take part in and beautiful beaches to discover. Extreme sports and leisure activities are equally plentiful. There really is something here for everyone to enjoy.
Here are ten of the best things to do in the Bay of Plenty.
1. Relax in a thermal pool
A soak in a thermal pool is an absolute must for anyone visiting New Zealand and the Bay of Plenty has plenty to choose from. Thermal pools are known for their healing properties due to their mineral content. They have been used for centuries to soothe aching bones and muscles. Waikite Valley offers a number of different pools to enjoy, and an Eco-Trail walk and camping options if you would like to stay overnight. Located just 30 minutes from Rotorua or 45 minutes from Taupō, these hot pools offer great value for money.
2. Wine and dine at a local winery
The region is not that well-known for its wine, but there’s an outstanding winery to visit if you do want to try a local drop. Mills Reef Winery is located just a few minutes’ drive from Tauranga’s city centre. Wine tasting at the cellar door is complimentary, and you’ll definitely be tempted to purchase a bottle or two. There’s an on site restaurant where you can enjoy a delicious meal in gorgeous surroundings. It’s the perfect place to while away a few hours.
3. Experience Māori culture
The Bay of Plenty region is an important centre for Māori culture, and you have to pay a visit to the Mitai Māori Village in Rotorua. The main activity on offer here is the Evening Experience, which you can combine with other local touring options. These include a night-time visit to the Rainbow Springs Nature Park or a drive in a 4WD buggy up to the top of Mount Ngongotaha. Māori culture and history are fascinating, and an experience like this is not to be missed while you are in this part of New Zealand.
A climb to the top of Mauao (Mount Maunganui) should be on everyone’s ‘to do’ list when visiting Tauranga. A 30 to 45-minute climb, for someone of average fitness, will provide you with breathtaking views. If the climb sounds a bit too challenging, then a leisurely walk around the base of Mauao is also a pleasure. Be sure to look for seals on the rocks. They love to bask in the sun. If it’s a cool day, a soak in the Mount Hot Pools is a great way to finish off. On a hot day, you’ll want to pop across the road to Copenhagen Cones and try their popular waffle cone ice cream.
5. Fly high with Skyline Rotorua
There are lots of adventure activities to enjoy in and around Rotorua, and Skyline Rotorua offers something to suit all age groups. Located on the side of Mount Ngongotaha, you can easily spend a whole day here enjoying the views and thrills on offer. These include the gondola ride, the luge, ziplining, mountain biking and the sky swing. There are plenty of dining options, including Stratosfare Restaurant, Market Fair Café and the Volcanic Hills Winery tasting room.
6. Visit a volcanic island
Located 50 kilometres from the coast, you can travel by boat or helicopter and step foot on Whakaari/White Island — New Zealand’s only active volcanic island. The boat tour takes around six hours and includes just over an hour on the island to explore the inner crater. A return helicopter tour takes about 2.5 hours, and also includes an hour or so on the island. If you are lucky you might see dolphins, whales or other marine life en route. To book a tour, check out the official Whakatāne website.
Please note: As a result of the tragic eruption that occurred on White Island in December 2019, there are currently no on-land tours of the island in operation.
7. Take a break in Ohiwa Harbour
A great short break destination that has it all is Ohiwa Harbour. Stay a weekend at the Ohiwa Beach Holiday Park, where you can access the harbour, beach and amazing coastal views! Take a walk up the hill into Onekawa Te Mawhai Regional Park and enjoy the views from the historic Pa sites (Māori hilltop forts) or wait for dark and find your way to the glow-worms. Ohiwa Harbour is a great spot for swimming, kayaking, fishing and just enjoying the ocean and outdoors. It’s also not too far from popular Ohope Beach and great fish and chips at Ohiwa Oyster Farm.
8. Get stuck into a sticky local specialty
New Zealand produces some of the best honey in the world, including Manuka honey (which is renowned for its medicinal properties). Comvita is one of the biggest producers of honey and other bee products in New Zealand. The small rural village of Paengaroa — just 25 minutes’ drive from Tauranga or 40 minutes from Rotorua and Whakatāne — is the home of Comvita. Here you’ll get the full honey experience. There’s a site tour, store and cafe on offer.
9. Chase waterfalls on a river rafting adventure
New Zealand is the global capital of extreme sport and if you’re looking for thrills in the Bay of Plenty region, you can’t beat white water rafting on the grade 5 Kaituna River. This popular activity is enjoyed by thousands of people every year and for good reason. It offers the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world — a drop of seven metres at Tutea Falls. Most make it without flipping, but the occasional raft doesn’t. Don’t worry though— calm waters follow and there’s plenty of time to get back in the boat. However, it’s not an adventure for the faint-hearted!
Hikers will love the Bay of Plenty. Just out of Waihi (under an hour’s drive from Tauranga) the Waitawheta Tramway is a popular walking trail that follows an old tramline through the Waitawheta Gorge. It’s a long but relatively easy walk as there is very little elevation. The 19-kilometre return track is best done over two days with a night spent at the 26-bed Waitawheta Hut. There are informative panels along the way on the history of the trail, and you will find lots of great spots for a swim on a hot summer’s day. There are several river crossings that are done by bridge. The last crossing requires a bit of a detour if you don’t want to get your feet wet.
If you decide to do the walk over two days, finish off the second day with a stop in the Karangahake Gorge. Here you can do some shorter trails (including the popular Windows Walk), and enjoy refreshments in the gorgeous gardens of the Talisman Cafe.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do in the Bay of Plenty? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Cover image: Tourism New Zealand/Fraser Clements. Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Hailing from Aotearoa New Zealand, Karllie Clifton is an avid midlife traveller and blogger who loves an adventure. At the end of 2015, Karllie left her teaching profession, sold her home and became a nomad for the next few years. It sparked a real passion for budget solo travel, which she now loves to inspire others to do. In the last few years alone, Karllie has visited over twenty countries and ticked off more than 50 cities across three continents. She loves the great outdoors — especially hiking and anything to do with the ocean.