With its stunning coastal highways that lead to white sandy beaches, instantly recognisable Mount Maunganui and a buzzing café scene, the Bay of Plenty is an iconic New Zealand holiday destination. Even as the temperature drops and the days get shorter, the good vibes here will keep you going.
With dozens of well-managed campgrounds, and 46 designated freedom camping sites, this sub-tropical region is the perfect place to explore by campervan this autumn.
Thanks to its rich volcanic soil and an extensive 125 kilometres of beautiful coastline, the Bay of Plenty was named for its produce and kai moana. Now, it’s just as well known for its talented artisan producers as well as its stunning scenery.
March is a month of seasonal change boasting some of the year’s warmest days as summer slides into autumn. April and May have average temperatures of 18-19 degrees Celsius, so locals know to grab a light jacket when heading out the door.
With earlier sunsets, evening activities like kayaking to see glowworms and lazy soaks in hot pools under the stars become more appealing while daytime walks in the park are picture postcard perfect with trees turning a riot of colour of red, orange and yellow.
Braziers ensure outside dining continues with most cafes and restaurants providing blankets on request and because we’re the Bay, our surf lessons continue. While exploring the region by campervan, make sure you grab some treats from a bakery and park up next to a beach to enjoy a cuppa.
What was once a sleepy rural community on a peninsula jutting into the harbour on the northern outskirts of Tauranga, Ōmokoroa is now a popular suburb for young families. It’s close to a variety of activities and attractions. Locals and travellers alike love its safe beach, great fishing spots, fantastic new cycle track, and calm waters for canoeing, boating and kayaking.
With three thermal hot pools and a large outdoor covered dining area, Ōmokoroa Kiwi Holiday Park is a wee gem that provides accommodation to suit all budgets. There’s plenty of choice ranging from camp sites, caravan and motorhome sites, top quality motel units and cabins, all surrounded by beautiful gardens. The holiday park is across the road from a supermarket, café, takeaway stores and health providers and is just minutes from the calm family friendly beach and playground with a fantastic skate park and sports field in the other direction.
The recently completed Ōmokoroa Cycle Trail is a gentle pedal along some of the bay’s most scenic coastline. It runs 19 kilometres from Ōmokoroa to Wairoa River. It’s a must-do not only for visitors, but also for locals with local historic Pā sites including Ongarahu, at Plummers Point. It is considered one of the most well-preserved defensive fortifications in the country and offers a sweeping view that takes in Ōmokoroa, Matakana, Rangiwaea and Motuhoa Islands and right across to Mount Maunganui.
An e-bike tour run by Te Ara Tourism is the best way to get the most out of the cycle trail. Owner and tour guide Paula Beilby is proudly Tauranga born and has returned to her ancestral lands of the Te Pirirākau hapū after years overseas to recount the local history and Māori legends. Paula’s small, bespoke tours can be tailored to each guest’s interests. Her tour ends at The Cider Factorie, an award winning micro-cidery located in Te Puna. The Cider Factorie has been crafting ciders since 2012 and has a variety on tap to create your own tasting paddle selection. The kitchen is open Wednesday to Sunday from 11am till 4pm turning local ingredients into an impressive small plate menu that complements the range of ciders. You will also find a selection of local wines, craft beers and non-alcoholic drinks.
With the name Tauranga translating as “sheltered waters”, the city wraps around a scenic harbour so has become renowned for its aquatic activities as much as its abundant seafood. It was settled by Māori late in the 13th century, because it provided a pleasant climate, fertile land and a calm harbour. Visitors interested in the early settler’s history will enjoy a tour of the battle site at Gate Pā and the Elms Mission Station, an 1847 Georgian-style home. An easy drive over the harbour bridge takes you to Mount Maunganui, a beach town with hot saltwater pools (right beside one of the Bay’s most popular campgrounds) at the foot of the region’s instantly recognisable extinct volcano. The 45-minute walk to the top of Mauao is popular at sunrise and sunset and offers the reward of stunning panoramic views north to Waihī Beach and south along the coast to the eastern Bay.
Tauranga’s iconic Fernland Spa not only offers thermal mineral springs and private hot pools tucked into a quiet pocket of native bush but also a lovely campground just five minutes’ drive from the CBD. It’s free to relax in 100% pure soda, crystal clear non-chlorinated mineral water when you book accommodation. The park offers powered or non-powered camp sites, covered picnic areas, gas BBQs for hire, clean ablution and kitchen facilities, hot showers and unlimited wifi. If you’re looking for a break from the camper, the park has a unique hexagonal cabin that sleeps two adults.
Grab a bike or take a walk through Kopurererua Valley. The reserve is one of Australasia’s largest urban wetlands, yet few people know it even exists! Wide, flat family-friendly tracks crisscross a stream via wooden bridges and although the expressway is nearby, the path feels secluded and far from civilisation. More than 300,000 native plants have been planted to restore the eco-system and create this 300ha oasis. Historically, the Kopurererua Valley Reserve was home to Ngai Tamarawaho and there are numerous cultural and archaeological sites of importance, including Puketoromiro Pa, that can be seen along the route. The cycleway weaves its way from The Lakes in Tauriko to the Historic Village on 17th Ave, before skirting the Waikareao Estuary and continuing to Sulphur Point in central Tauranga.
Expect to spend hours of fun as a family at Waimarino Adventure Park on the banks of the Wairoa River. Take your togs, barbeque supplies or picnic and make a day of it either on the water or off. Hire a kayak, peddalo or paddleboard to explore the tranquil river or get the adrenaline going with ‘The Blob’ inflatable pillow to get catapulted into the water. The park also runs evening glowworm tours at McLaren Falls Park and has activities for all ages like the rock wall, slip and slide, beach volleyball and low ropes course.
What was once sprawling farmland is now the largest and one of the fastest growing suburbs of Tauranga. Papamoa is a popular holiday destination with kilometres of uninterrupted beach and a thriving café culture. Retail is also a major drawcard with two shopping centres just minutes walk from the beach. Regular markets are also an attraction for visitors with walkers have the tough choice of beach or hills for their daily dose of foot stomping.
Fall asleep and wake up to the sound of the waves at Tasman Holiday Parks – Papamoa Beach. This absolute beachfront property offers a range of accommodation options from modern basic cabins, self-contained holiday units and garden villas to luxury beachfront villas and spa villas as well as motorhome, tent and caravan sites available on or near the beachfront as well as throughout the landscaped grounds. Papamoa is the perfect location for swimming, surfing, fishing, boogie boarding with the kids and strolling along miles of white sand beach. It’s handily located within walking distance to a range of cafes, restaurants, a shopping mall and supermarkets.
The Papamoa Hills Regional Park is a hiker’s paradise and a popular morning or evening fitness destination for locals. Challenge yourself to reach the 224-metre-high summit to enjoy breath-taking views across to Mount Maunganui to the north, with White Island and Mt Edgecumbe visible in the east and south. It’ll take you about 45-minutes to complete this steep walk from the car park to the trig station.
Seven Māori pā sites can be found in these hills, and the terracing the early inhabitants created can quite clearly be seen. The regional park was formed in 2003 to help protect the site’s cultural heritage (which may date back as far as 1650AD or even earlier) and there are over 2,000 archaeological features for you to explore.
It’s one of Papamoa’s newest restaurants and it’s getting rave reviews. Lantern has a southeast Asian inspired menu created by young rising star chef, William Dang at the helm in the kitchen. It’s just a few blocks back from the beach and features a beautifully designed tropical garden with seating options outside or in. Popular dishes include Tiger Prawn Toast and Cured Kingfish. If you want to learn more about the area, Travel Ed hosts experiences in the Bay of Plenty that bring people together through Māori culture from coastal exploration to art and history tours. Activities offered vary from hangi making to ancestral mountain hikes, waka paddling to marae stays, and kapa haka to traditional Māori games.