Tauranga, Bay of Plenty

Located on the North Island of New Zealand in Bay of Plenty is Tauranga where you can explore rural landscapes, city sights and stunning coastlines. The area surrounding Bay of Plenty is pictorial countryside, mostly horticultural land used for producing kiwifruit, avocados and boutique vineyards. Mount Maunganui is such a beautiful scenic harbour and picturesque area it is not hard to see why it was voted New Zealand’s best beach for the last three years. The harbour is stunning with an expanse of sparkling turquoise waters, white sands and gentle waves giving the area the reputation of having a laid back, easy going lifestyle. Main Beach, which faces the Pacific Ocean at the foot of Mauao or Mount Maunganui is a top spot for swimming. On the opposite side of Mauao is Pilot Bay,a sheltered, shallow swimming spot. Mauao is the physical focal point and sacred place and at 232 metres above sea level dominates the landscape of Tauranga.

In between Tauranga and Rotorua is Okare Falls, a beautiful spot known for its lakeside and waterfalls. You can take a short bushwalk to the scenic lookout and view the spectacular 7 metre waterfalls and the remains of Rotorua’s first hydro-electric power station, Tutea Caves and Hinemoa’s Steps.  The steps are carved in the rock face and lead to the thundering waterfalls past some caves used by the Maori women and children for shelter in war times. At the viewing platform we saw some rafters descend the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world and plunge into the deep pool below.

We spent our time in Tauranga exploring the area and drove to Te Puke, Maori for ‘the hill’, where we stopped at Kiwi 360 for a chance to get up close to the vines, learn about the amazing health properties of Kiwi fruit and taste the various products from this berry.  Eighty percent of New Zealand’s export Kiwifruit is grown here in the Bay and with 2,000 growers the agricultural industry continues to thrive in the region. This is the combined result of being in close proximity to the Port of Tauranga, the largest port in New Zealand, having a semi tropical climate, the highest number of sunshine hours on the north island and the fertile soils. Next Manuka Honey Shop, a boutique honey business where we could buy the famous anti bacterial Manuka honey products and hear how the giant Kauri tree is portrayed in Maori mythology and the benefits and wisdom that natures’ gift provides.

From here we went on to Rotorua where we visited Government Gardens and stopped at Lakeside Café for lunch. In one of the streets in Rotorua every building on the street is a restaurant so it is nick named ‘Eat Street’. They say travel is a chance to stimulate all the senses and Rotorua is no exception. This area has many geothermal springs, hot bubbling mud pools and is filled with the pungent bouquet of rotten eggs because of the hydrogen sulphide emissions. The mud baths have been used by Maori for generations to ease joint and muscle pain. The sulphur in the waters is known to be great for the skin and to increase blood circulation. I didn’t get the opportunity to try, but can imagine how relaxing it would be soaking in the mud bath, unwinding while admiring the spectacular geothermal landscapes before cooling off in the spring fed waterfall and plunge pool. If you can ignore the aroma you can take a twilight spa, relaxing under the stars until 10pm. The sulphur smell can be invasive and can sneak up on you and in other areas is more like a slap in the face. The locals do seem to get use to the waft, but to the unaware tourist it reeks and not quite what you think of when you hear the term, stimulate your senses with travel, but don’t let that put you off visiting this stunning area.

We had a chance to mingle with the Maori villagers at Whakarewarewa, a Maori living village. Our host explained the full name of the living village is Whakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao and pronounced it fluently. These people have a proud heritage which they share with visitors, hosting and welcoming them into their homes and backyard. After the hongi, a traditional Maori greeting is explained to us we all participate by pressing our nose and forehead, at the same time, to the person we are greeting. This serves the same purpose as a handshake in western culture. Here we had the opportunity to see the famous Haka, complete with chanting, strong hand movements, foot stamping and thigh slapping and learn how they utilise the natural geothermal wanders for cooking and bathing. They use the geothermal vents to steam and cook their food, a traditional Maori Hungi, a meal unlike any other. We saw geysers and mud pools and learnt about the Maori traditions and cultures including the traditional Maori welcome song and dance. The Pukana, or facial expressions are an important part of the highly visual Maori performance emphasising ferocity or passion. For woman, opening the eyes wide and jutting out their tattooed chin. For men, widening the eyes, stretching out their tongue or bearing their teeth. Although these gestures look intimidating the intention is not of aggression but to show strength and depth of emotions and involved an emotional and powerful combination of song, dance and chanting. In the action songs, the lyrics are supported by symbolic hand movements as the performers flutter their hands, a movement called wiri. Wiri symbolises shimmering waters, heat waves or a breeze moving leaves on a tree. These songs can be fun and flirtatious but the most moving was a young girl with a pure and angelic voice who sung Pokarekre Ana, which is New Zealand’s unofficial anthem.

We also had a demonstration of the fighting skills and a Poi performance. This involves swinging tethered weights in a rhythmical style in unison whilst singing and dancing, beating it against the hand in time with the melody. The sound of the poi being swung is said to imitate the wings of a bird. The poi was traditionally used by men to make their wrist supple in preparation for battle and the use of weaponry. The men had the chance to take part in the Haka and the women swung the poi. I can assure you these ladies make it look really easy, conveying a sense of grace, beauty and charm. All I managed was to look awkward and uncoordinated and almost twist the poi in knots. The locals living here follow in the footsteps of the legacy of their ancestors and have a great philosophy and values.

Our final stop was at the spectacular Hamurana Springs Reserve, the deepest natural fresh water spring on New Zealand’s north island and a picturesque setting for picnics. The spring water comes underground from Mamaku Plateau before pushing through volcanic rock at Hamurana. The spring is 15 metres deep and 280 metres above sea level, producing 4.5 million litres of crystal clear icy purified water per hour and is a constant 10 degrees Celsius, making it an ideal home for Rainbow trout. It is an easy walk, meandering along the track with beautiful scenic views through a grove of redwoods. These trees are native to America and tower overhead casting dappled shade onto the track. Naturally, these are the tallest trees on earth growing up to 100 metres and known to survive 2200 years old. Here, the tallest are only 55 metres as they were only planted in 1919, so have plenty of growing to do. The reserve is also home to many species of birds, including ducks, herons, geese and the endangered dabchick. Visiting these springs was so relaxing with the hues of turquoise, blue and green of the stream lending itself to the feeling of tranquillity and peacefulness.

We found Tauranga and the surrounding areas to be unique, tranquil and picturesque. The Maori village, although very tourist driven was a magical, must see spectacular. Having seen a glimpse into this beautiful area it is no surprise why Captain Cooke impressed by the abundant resources, named the area of Tauranga, Bay of Plenty.

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This post is also part of Friday Postcards at Walking On Travels 

My Travel Monkey

A day in Auckland

When in Auckland recently rain was forecast, so we decided we’d get a $40 ticket and do a circuit on the Hop on/Hop off Explorer Bus to get our bearings and see the sights, whilst remaining warm and dry.   So after a short stroll along Queen Street to the Ferry Building, we boarded our bus and was informed by the driver “rather than complete a circle first, we should visit the attractions as we come to them”.

First stop was Bastion Point Lookout which offers fine views over Hauraki Gulf and Waitemata Harbour but due to the weather we agreed to stay on the bus and check out the next stop.  Stop 2 is Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life and we decided as the bus stopped at the door and the next bus would be by in 30 minutes to get off the bus and check it out.

Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life is promoted as housing the world’s largest penguin colony, biggest species of stingray and only display of Spiny Sea Dragons and New Zealand’s largest collection of sharks and only live jelly fish display. We paid our entry fee of $36  (less a 10% discount from the Explorer bus ticket).  We learned famed New Zealand marine archaeologist Kelly Tarlton created this extraordinary aquarium to share his love of the ocean and its creatures with the world.  As we head for the Antarctic Encounter we came across an Antarctic Snowcat so we stop for photos.  Then we are taken back into time to the coldest place on the earth and a life-sized replica of Scott’s hut.  We share a glimpse of what it was like 100 years ago when South Pole explorer Captain Robert Scott, on his expedition took cans of curried rabbit, slept in reindeer sleeping bags, and even took a Singer sewing machine, printing press, typewriter and a Pianola for entertainment. Maybe a harmonica would have better option.

Auckland 004We exited the hut display and traversed through the “Ice Encounter”, a walkway inside a turning cylinder that can actually make you feel quite disorientated.  Then into the “Antarctic Ice Adventure” where we get a fish eye view of the penguins as they play and swim underwater.   For as uncoordinated as they look on land they are super-fast in the water.  Past this we head for the snow and ice where we find frolicking in the white wilderness a colony of sub-Antarctic King and Gentoo Penguins.  King Penguins grow to almost 1 metre tall and have yellow marking on their head and neck while the smaller Gentoos are easy to spot with the white strip across their heads.  Seeing the penguins up close in their icy domain is pretty amazing and I secretly hope one will dance for me like in Happy Feet, we named him Mumble.  They were so cute Mumble kept following us along the glass walls as we walked around, it was almost like he was smiling at us and coaxing us to take another picture.  There was also a baby King Penguin which was born in January.  He was very fluffy and brown in colour and almost the same size as the parents.  He was so uncoordinated and he kept poking his arm out and almost knocking over the other penguins around him, quite funny to watch.

From here we went through to the jelly fish display where there’s a documentary screening the “Kelly Tarlton’s Story”, what an amazing man and so many achievements.  Along the way there is an interactive quiz trail for junior explorers as they journey through Sea Life.    As Steve settles in to watch the documentary I go back and spend more time mesmerised by the penguins and keep having flashbacks of the movie Happy Feet.  I’m in my element.  Once the documentary finishes we proceed to the “Stingray Bay”, a huge tank that shows off the stingrays at their best. A giant 350,000 litre open topped acrylic tank allowing visitors to see these remarkable winged creatures interact with staff. Try to be there at feeding times as you will get to see some of the antics these ocean flyers get up to, and listen to an informative talk by one of the handlers.  It is almost as if they are having cuddles, smooching up with staff.

The “Stingray Bay” area also incorporates a café, shop and “Touch Pool”. I’m sure the little critters didn’t want me touching them as in the same way I didn’t want them touching me. Photo opportunities for the budding photographer as they have an oversized penguin with face cut-outs where you can pretended to be a penguin, one of the staff members was happy to take our photo.

Before moving on to the “Underwater Experience” we take 5 minutesAuckland 029 to sit down and watch another informative documentary showing the construction of “Sea Life”. We then move to the “Underwater Experience“ by a uniquely designed moving walkway that transports us through clear acrylic tunnels for a firsthand experience of deep-sea life.  Through the tunnels we’re surrounded by two million litres of ocean water and hundreds of awesome sea creatures within it.  We get up close and personal with Bronze Whalers, a two metre wide stingray, other stingrays, sharks, sea turtles and a host of beautifully coloured creatures.

Just as we think there could be no more to see we stumble upon more large tanks with many sea creatures including Moray Eels, magical Seahorses, huge crayfish and some of the world’s most poisonous fish.  In all, Kelly Tarlton’s have over 30 live animal displays, over 80 different species, over 3 million litres of water and produce 4 tonnes of snow created daily.

On the way out you can’t miss the very comprehensive gift shop, a couple of fridge magnets shouldn’t break the bank. Whilst browsing be sure to visit the wonderfully decorated restrooms. Exiting there will be someone spruiking souvenir pictures they took earlier, we have been superimposed onto glaciers and into a deep sea picture. A bit cheesy but a great little package including a DVD with pictures and more information, a must buy. Now we really thought that was it, but no, lovely Lisa is at the exit way conducting the optional exit survey we are happy to complete.

Although when we ended our visit of Kelly Tarlton’s we found the shark bus outside which transports visitors to and from the city centre for free, we continued our journey on the Explorer bus.  On-board we caught a glimpse and heard about the Parnell Rose Gardens, saw the Holy Trinity Cathedral and drove past the Auckland Museum.  The journey continued through the Parnell Village, New Zealand’s oldest suburb famed for its galleries, restaurants and charming boutique style stores and back into Queen Street to the Sky Tower which at 328m is the tallest made-made structure in New Zealand.  Here we ended our bus ride in search of coffee and free Wi-Fi to attend to some emails, check Facebook, etc. We stopped at Esquires for a great coffee and quick snack.   As we enjoyed our coffee we reflect on what was going to be a relatively short visit but end up occupying most of the day. Sure, had the weather been a little better we would have taken in more of the city, but that’s another trip.

Our last day in New Zealand, what a wonderful country allowing us to sample more incredible experiences.

Have you been to Auckland? What did you do there?

Kia ora ~ Lyn & Steve

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