Lyrical about Tauranga's 'Riviera' image

By Sandra Conchie - with APN

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Tauranga has been described as being as "Riviera as New Zealand gets", according to the latest Lonely Planet travel guide.

The travellers' bible reports Tauranga is not only one of New Zealand's fastest growing cities and the country's busiest port but talks of "its beach-seeking holidaymakers who have seen the old workhorse reborn as a show pony".

"Restaurants, bars line the revamped waterfront, fancy hotels rise high and the once sleepy burbs of Mount Maunganui and Papamoa have woken up to a new prosperity. This is about as Riviera as New Zealand gets."

But in the eyes of the latest guide, Auckland ranks No 1 and 2 on the list of the country's 20 top experiences, followed by Rotorua, ranking ahead of Queenstown and the Bay of Islands.

"It's hard to imagine a more geographically blessed city," the guide says about Auckland.

Sadly despite the comparison with the French Riviera, a tourism hotspot in Europe, Tauranga doesn't feature on the top 20 experiences list.

Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby said it was great the city was receiving such international attention.

"I think we should be pleased that from an environmental perspective we do rate very highly because that is our greatest asset, supported by the built environment." As for the Riviera label, Mr Crosby rated the city far more highly than the French and Spanish destinations.

"They have history of course. We're a very young city still growing. That's a compliment."

The key is for tourism operators around the region, and even the country, to support each other, he said.

"You don't travel from Europe to go to Rotorua and you don't travel from Europe to go to Mount Maunganui. You travel from Europe to see New Zealand."

Tauranga MP Simon Bridges agreed.

"I think we may not be seen as a touristy place but in terms of where to live we're not under 20, we've got to be in the top two or three."

He said traditionally Tauranga had not been seen as a tourist destination but this was changing as the Lonely Planet comments reflected.

But Rotorua, one of the most visited tourist spots in the North Island, has copped some criticism in the latest guide.

Some locals have accused the city of resting on its laurels and socially lagging behind "more progressive" places such as Tauranga and Taupo.

A criticism Rotorua's mayor Kevin Winters rejects, saying it appeared the publishers were unaware of a range of new attractions and tourism-product upgrades that had taken place.

"Rotorua is definitely not resting on its laurels," Mr Winters said.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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