After spending more than two years in the South Island, I returned to the North recently with a sense of fear and trepidation. So many more people, so much more traffic - what if I couldn’t stand it anymore? I’ll be honest - at first, I couldn’t.
But, soon, I began to relish the opportunity to reacquaint myself with the part of New Zealand that had previously been home for more than half my life. Back when we lived in the Bay of Plenty, Tauranga had been a place we went for dentist’s appointments. But now that we were back in the area for a week or two, we were determined to spend our time doing far more exciting things.
Newdicks Beach, 30 minutes from Tauranga is so secluded that many who live in the region don’t even know it exists. Access is via a privately owned gravel road. The landowner’s fee is $5 per camper van or $8 for a motorhome but it’s well worth it for the surf, the scenery and the peace.
Alternatively, you can walk down the pretty, winding road for free. Once you arrive, you are greeted by a vast expanse of pure white sand surrounded by cliffs. It’s completely raw and untouched, and it’s possible to spend the day here enjoying the solitude, far from the madding crowd.
There are no amenities, so take whatever you need and leave only tyre tracks. Only a few minutes down the road is another wee treasure, Little Waihi. Just over the hill from Māketu, it is a peaceful paradise loved by fishing enthusiasts and families. We parked up by the jetty before enjoying a bite to eat and a leisurely stroll along the sand.
But if you want to stay longer, there is no excuse not to park up. The Bledisloe Holiday Park is surrounded by water and you can camp right on the beach front. With estuary fishing, surfcasting or shellfish-digging all on your doorstep, you may not want to leave for days.
Rock of ages
While Mount Maunganui may be at the other end of the scale when it comes to sheer volumes of people, it is no less beautiful. Climbing the summit had been on my bucket list for years and I couldn’t get there fast enough.
At about 2.5 million years old, Mauao is still gorgeous for her age and, despite being the type of couple who normally runs a mile from crowds, we couldn’t help but get caught up in the merry throng of people out in the sunshine wanting to conquer The Mount.
Maybe it’s all the hiking we’ve been doing since we lost our beloved dog, Minnie, but I was pleasantly surprised to find the steep, uphill climb was nowhere near as bad as I’d feared. No doubt it helps that climbers are treated to spectacular coastal and wildlife views from the first step.
We saw baby seals basking on the rocks, birds feeding their babies high in the trees, boats coming and going on the still, glassy ocean, Matakana Island, and beautiful, brightly coloured flora wherever we looked. But there was one thing I missed.
I was so busy appreciating the splendid show Mother Nature was putting on for us, I completely neglected to read the sign that said there were not one, but two walks. Not only can you walk 232m above sea level to the top of the mountain, you can also walk 3.4km around the base of it. Only one thing for it; I had to drag Gareth back there the next day and do that one as well.
A hiker's paradise
As if climbing one mountain wasn’t enough, the Pāpāmoa Hills summit is even higher. The 135ha Pāpāmoa Hills Regional Park looks out across miles of grassy plains, over to Mount Maunganui and way beyond, far out across the ocean. The ascent to the top is steep but the track is well-maintained and once there, you have no shortage of other options to extend your hike.
Wander at your leisure across ancient Māori pās and archaeological sites, through thousands of native plantings and thriving birdlife and amble along various routes, from bush tracks to farmland. While you can get to the summit and back down again in 90 minutes at a good pace, we were in no desire to leave in a hurry and spent half the day roaming contentedly.
A local wonderland
One of the most popular places in Tauranga in which to spend time is undoubtedly McLaren Falls Park, and with good reason. Just 10 minutes out of town, it really has something for everyone, and for all ages. The 190ha park is perfect for camping, fishing, kayaking, walking, picnics and barbecues and much more.
We went mid-week, when it is much quieter, and walked around the lake, busy with friendly water birds, before going off to explore some of the other tracks. Besides the impressive waterfall at the entrance to the park, there is also another large and pretty waterfall nestled in the forest.
All the tracks are well-maintained, and parts of the waterfall track are also accessible for wheelchairs and mobility scooters. As an added bonus, if you happen to be camping or visiting in the evening, you might see glow worms. It is a wonderful local asset, and it is no surprise many people are in no hurry to leave when you can stay up to three nights for $10 per night for adults.
While booking isn’t required, it is recommended you book a spot in advance, as parking is on a ‘first come, first served’ basis. It is astonishing to think we had been missing out on these fantastic experiences and spectacles all these years. There is so much more to discover in the Tauranga area. We look forward to returning again next year and exploring even more.
Don’t leave home before you’ve seen the country
Daylight saving is here and the Bay of Plenty has beauty to behold. Here are a few tips to heed before exploring.
No dogs are allowed on Maoau, Pilot Bay Beach, or Main Beach. It only takes about 45 minutes to walk to the summit. But it can be thirsty work on a hot day. Be sure to wear sunscreen and a hat and take water with you.
Dogs are permitted here. The access road is open in summer from 6am until 6.30pm. You are required to pay at the kiosk at the entrance to the gravel road, which is usually manned. There are no lifeguards, so take care when in the water.
The Pāpāmoa Hills Regional Park is open daily from 6:30am until 9pm in summer. This is a working farm so no dogs are permitted. Most tracks are well-formed but good walking shoes are recommended, especially on descent, even when dry. Take water with you, as like us, you may find you stay longer than planned.
Park The park is open from 7:30am to 7:30pm during daylight saving. There is heaps to do and see, including an animal park. About 300 sheep roam the grassed areas, so dogs are not permitted.