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