By Sandra Conchie
Top Aussie television travel show Getaway is filming in Tauranga - "the best playground in the world" - using a presenter who knows the place like his own backyard.
When it comes to showcasing Tauranga's charms to millions of Kiwi and Aussie TV viewers, who better than Tauranga's own Erik Thomson.
The Sydney-based actor, who grew up in Tauranga, is the new host of the popular travel show, and this week is in town filming the sights of Bay, including some of his favourite hangouts.
These include Mauao, his favourite fish and chip shop at Fisherman's Wharf, and a popular waterhole on the Wairoa River in the Kaimai Ranges that Mr Thomson and his boyhood mates used to frequent.
The Bay episode, which airs in Australia in three weeks and in New Zealand a week later, also focuses on the Mount's growing reputation as the surf capital of New Zealand. Two other segments are also being filmed this week to feature in later episodes - a helicopter flight into the crater at White Island plus snorkelling, diving and fishing at Mayor Island.
All up, the Bay of Plenty is set to get some fantastic exposure as ,i>Getaway is seen by an average 1.2 million viewers per show and also aired on some international airline flights - a great coup as Australia is the Bay of Plenty's biggest visitor market.
Mr Thomson, 38, who has based himself across the ditch for the past decade and was recently seen by Kiwis in the Aussie drama The Alice, said he jumped at the opportunity to host Getaway.
"I immediately suggested some things to the producers, including that I would love to showcase my hometown, and they agreed. It's a fantastic chance to show off the place that I still call home and I'm so passionate about - a place that was an important part of my childhood."
Scottish-born Mr Thomson - who emigrated to Tauranga in 1974 with his parents Jim and Barbara Thomson, who still live in his childhood home in the Avenues - attended Tauranga Boys' College, where he was head boy in 1984.
"This place has such nostalgic resonances with me, especially Mauao, which I have climbed more times than I can count.
It is the first thing I do whenever I come home. The views from the top are just so breathtakingly beautiful. There are so many positives around here, including the spectacular surf and sunshine. I'm rapt to be able to share it with other Kiwis and millions of Aussies."
He still rates the Bay of Plenty, especially his hometown, as the "best playground in the world".
Proud mother Barbara Thomson said with her son hosting the Bay of Plenty segments of Getaway she was sure it would be far more meaningful experience for television viewers.
Mr Thomson senior agreed.
"I'm sure Erik will do very well presenting the show, particularly as he is so passionate about his hometown - just as we are. We have never regretted coming here to live." Also in town this week is theBetter Homes and Gardens television show from Australia. While digging in the sand banks for pipi, the team is learning about Maori legends. Other media visiting this month are a group from the Aussie travel programme Surfing the Menu and a journalist from ANWB Reizen, the largest magazine in the Netherlands. In March it's the turn of British newspaper The Telegraph, Canadian Outpost magazine and Qantas airlines' Australian Way magazine.<