A First-Time Guide to Bay of Plenty

Its coastline stretches for 260 kilometres from the Coromandel Peninsula to Cape Runaway, and it plays an incredibly important part in New Zealand history. It is called Te Moana-a-Toi by the Māori people who believe migration canoes that brought Māori settlers landed here. Many years later, James Cook was the first European to sail through and named this spot Bay of Plenty for the abundance of plantations and villages he saw.  

Now, most people visit for the spectacular beaches, nature, and wildlife. In your rental car, Bay of Plenty is four-and-a-quarter hours from Auckland or two-and-a-half hours from Hamilton, and you’ll want to spend at least three days here to enjoy all this picturesque region has to offer. 

Check Out Northern Bay of Plenty 

You might want to base yourself in Tauranga, the largest city in the Bay of Plenty. Its waterfront area, called the Strand, is where everyone comes to have some fun. Here, you’ll discover cafes, bars, restaurants, pubs, and nightclubs, but you’ll want to drag yourself away.

Jump in the rental car and take the 15-minute drive to Mount Maunganui, one of New Zealand’s favourite beaches. You’ll find people kicking back in the sunshine, see surfers catching waves and immediately notice its most prominent landmark. At the end of the beach is an extinct volcano called Mauao/Mount Maunganui. It rises 232 metres out of the water and there are walking tracks to the top. When you get there, you’ll have 360-degree views of the entire span of the Bay of Plenty. 

When you’ve had enough of the beach, make your way to Kaimai Mamaku Conservation Park. Once a place that provided refuge for thousands of species of plants and animals, it was used by Māori as a source of food and medicinal plants. Although it’s been subjected to mining and logging, this is still a spectacular place to explore. There are hundreds of kilometres of walking trails from multi-day tramps to easy loop walks. Give your legs a good stretch on the Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway, which takes about four hours return. It follows the river along the old railway and passes a waterfall and Victoria Battery, the remnants of its mining past.   
What to See in Eastern Bay of Plenty 

you’ve been looking for the place that has the most hours of sunshine every year in New Zealand, you’ve found it.
Whakatāne is an important town in this part of Bay of Plenty and, as a result, there’s a lot going on around here. 

Your first outing should be the Ngā Tapuwae o Toi Trail. It’s a 16-kilometre round trip, but there are plenty of smaller sections that are much easier (and quicker) to tackle. Try the Kōhī Point walk where you’ll see native bush, ancient pā sites and stunning views from the tops of cliffs, hear birds calling and, when the tide is low, stroll along secluded Ōtarawairere Beach. 

Ōpōtiki is thought to be one of the first places Māori people settled in New Zealand. All along the main street you’ll see pieces made by master carvers. Be sure to go for a stroll around Hukutaia Domain, where there’s a 2,500-year-old puriri tree that’s sacred to the local Māori. 

If you want to make the most of your rental car, you can take a leisurely drive along the eastern coast all the way to Waihau Bay and Cape Runaway, exploring small holiday villages as you go. 

Water Adventures in the Bay of Plenty 

Always wanted to swim with dolphins and seals? This is the place to do it. In summer, Diveworks Dolphin & Seal Encounters in Whakatāne offers tours into the warm waters of the Bay of Plenty, where you have the chance to watch and swim with wild dolphins. Then it’s on to a bay on nearby Whale Island, where kekeno/fur seals swim and play with snorkelers.

The half-day Bay Explorer Dolphin & Wildlife Cruise leaves from Tauranga. The captain and crew are passionate and knowledgeable about the Bay of Plenty and its marine environment, and it won’t be long before they start pointing out dolphins, seabirds, penguins, seals, and turtles. You might even see orcas, sharks, or a sunfish. The animals come up close too, so make sure you bring your camera. 

The coastline here is perfect for kayaking. You can hire one and head out on your own adventure or join the team from KG Kayaks who offer guided tours for paddlers of all abilities. The Coastal Adventure is a two-and-a-half-hour tour between Ōhope Beach and Whakatāne, where you might encounter whales, seals, and penguins. Plus, the scenery is stunning. 


When it’s time to go on a Bay of Plenty adventure, hire a rental car to get you there.