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Downtown Tauranga | © Ben Cornelius/Flickr
Downtown Tauranga | © Ben Cornelius/Flickr

How To Spend 48 Hours in The Bay of Plenty, New Zealand

Picture of Thalita Alves
Updated: 4 November 2017

The Bay of Plenty region extends along the eastern shores of New Zealand’s North Island. Many people reach it by driving through the Pacific Coast Highway, a route which begins in Auckland and stretches right through to the East Cape and the city of Gisborne. If you’re on a tight schedule, here’s a guide that will showcase some of the area’s finest attractions in a 48-hour span.

Day 1: Tauranga and Surrounds

Tauranga is the most populous city in the Bay of Plenty as well as being New Zealand’s fifth largest. It is quite a popular summer destination because of its white-sand beaches and beautiful waterfront surroundings, among many other attractions.

9 a.m.: A walk around town

A walk around Tauranga’s waterfront is an absolute must; while you’re there, make sure to check out the lovely Hairy Maclary sculptures which were installed to celebrate the area’s most renowned children’s author, Dame Lynley Dodd. Other points of interest downtown include Robbins Park, the Old Post Office Building, and the historic Elms House.

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Downtown Tauranga | © Ben Cornelius/Flickr

11am: Visit the Art Gallery

Tauranga Art Gallery is smaller than some of New Zealand’s more established counterparts, but it has a strong reputation for bringing the highest quality exhibits to the forefront. An ever-changing lineup of local, national and international artworks continue to be displayed in this thriving gallery. As a bonus, admission is free of charge.

Noon: Lunch at Elizabeth Cafe and Larder

Since opening its doors in 2012, Elizabeth Cafe and Larder has become a popular fixture of Tauranga’s cafe scene, even picking up a handful of national awards during its lifetime. With a modern decor and handy central-city location, this is a good place to unwind with some fresh food and to fuel up with a strong cup of coffee before your next adventure.

1 p.m.: Hike up Mt. Maunganui

A short drive from downtown Tauranga will take you to Mt. Maunganui. Hiking up or around its famous namesake summit is definitely something everyone should do at least once. The walk to the top would take someone with moderate fitness approximately 40 minutes to complete; it will reward you with some incredible harbour vistas.

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Mt Maunganui | © wehunts/Flickr

3 p.m.: A mid-afternoon treat

If you’ve worked up an appetite after your hiking fix, head across the street from Mauao for an ice cream. Copenhagen Cones is a local favourite, renowned for its generous gelato portions and freshly made waffle cones. It’s always busy for a reason.

4 p.m.: Unwind at the beach

No visit to the Mount would ever be complete without spending some time at the beach. There’s something for everyone here. Whether you choose to amble by the coastline, settle by the white sands, go for a swim or try your hand at some water sports.

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Mt Maunganui Beach | © Adam Campbell/Flickr

6 p.m.: Wine and dine at Mills Reef

Mills Reef was established by the Preston family in 1989 and has since become one of New Zealand’s finest producers of Bordeaux and Syrah varietals. Its elegant winery and restaurant has been a part of Tauranga’s dining scene since 1995 and enjoys a beautiful Art Deco setting, lovely landscaped grounds plus a diverse menu to please all palates.

9 p.m. to late: Bar-hopping in and around The Strand

If you want to explore a bit of the local nightlife, the downtown strip known as The Strand is where you’ll find Tauranga’s best bars, pubs, and restaurants. Where you end up will depend on what you’re looking for, whether it be live music, some nightclub sounds or a venue with a chilled-out atmosphere.

Mills Reef Wine | © ptrktn/Flickr

Day two: Rotorua

A one-hour drive from Tauranga will take you to your next destination. Rotorua is one of the North Island’s most loved tourist destinations as well as being the second largest city in the Bay of Plenty region.

9 a.m.: En route to Rotorua

There are two different roads from Tauranga to Rotorua, both of which have their own points of interest. If you’re going through State Highway 36 (the quickest route), make sure to check out the peaceful Hamurana Springs. For those travelling via State Highways 2 and 33, the Okere Falls Scenic Reserve is a definite must-visit.

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Hamurana Springs | © ItravelNZ/Flickr

10:30 a.m. – Noon: Exploring the township

Spend the rest of the morning exploring Rotorua’s downtown attractions. Highlights include the beautiful Government Gardens, the picturesque Rotorua Museum and the Ohinemutu Maori Village. The latter is located just a 10-minute walk from downtown and has free admission.

1 p.m.: Lunch at the Capers Cafe

Another Bay of Plenty cafe which has earned national recognition for its food and hospitality. Capers Cafe offers plenty of brunch staples and delicious cabinet food for all tastes and dietary requirements. Included on the menu are gluten free, vegetarian, vegan and even sugar-free options.

Government Gardens, Rotorua | © ItravelNZ/Flickr

2 p.m.: Whakarewarewa Forest

Whakarewarewa Forest is a hiking and cycling hub just five minutes south of downtown Rotorua. You’ll have a vast network of trails, enveloped by lush native plant life and towering California Redwoods trees, to play with. Get above the canopy to enjoy some lovely vistas of the area’s numerous lakes.

4 p.m.: Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Venture a little further out of town to reach the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. Here, you’ll be exposed to a compelling collection of geysers and springs that are known for their interesting colouration as well as their remarkable volcanic history.

6 p.m.: Dinner at the Skyline

Make your way back to town and slightly up north for a gondola ride up Mount Rongtotaha. Once you’ve reached the top, head over to the Stratosfare restaurant for a replenishing nine-course buffet dinner with plenty of scenic views. Locally sourced seafood, meat and produce with a luxurious contemporary flair is this venue’s speciality.

9 p.m.: Late-night pampering at the Polynesian Spa

Why not finish off your busy travel by indulging in a relaxing retreat? The Polynesian Spa is the go-to for getting up close and personal to the town’s finest geothermal offerings. It consists of 28 hot mineral pools, with water sourced from two natural springs, which are open until 11 p.m. every day of the week.

Polynesian Spa, Rotorua | © Holiday Point/Flickr