Long weekends are coming our way and there's no better place to be than in the sunny Bay of Plenty.
Last year's Covid-19 restrictions and uncertainty saw the usual popular public events we love so much either cancelled or postponed.
However, there's still plenty to see and do on Auckland Anniversary and Waitangi weekends in the Bay of Plenty - and you don't need a lot of money to have a great time.
There are beaches of world envy, scenic walks, waterfalls, parks and reserves, tourist and adventure attractions, art, shopping centres and markets galore.
Here are a few ideas for what to do in the Bay during those long weekends — some free and some that cost — enjoy your time off.
The Bay of Plenty is a haven for foodies. If eating is your thing — you can dedicate entire days to it.
Grab some friends and get a food crawl under way. There are restaurants and cafes peppered throughout the region. Rotorua has its fabulous outdoor, covered Eat Streat area, Mount Maunganui has specialist ice cream parlours, intimate restaurants, cafes and friendly bars offering up affordable, scrummy pub grub.
Tauranga has its picturesque waterfront Strand area with multiple restaurants to pick from and every major shopping complex has its own food hall. Tauranga is also home to one of the best fish and chip shops in the country, Bobby's Fresh Fish Market.
A day at the beach ... or lake
Right on our doorstep is one of the top 25 beaches in the world — Mount Main Beach — also New Zealand's best beach according to Trip Advisor.
Apart from its beauty, it's often the beach of choice for swimmers, surfers and summer sport such as volleyball and surf lifesaving events. Close by Leisure Island is an interesting reserve to explore. It has variously been a Māori pā, a quarry, a marine aquarium and a water tourist attraction fondly remembered by the locals.
A stone's throw away is Omanu Beach (between Mount Maunganui and Pāpāmoa), popular with less foot traffic and offering great surf and swimming. Pāpāmoa Beach is the third coastal paradise — also popular for swimmers, surfers and fishing — with the added advantage of being in the laidback suburb of Pāpāmoa.
Take your pick of breathtaking lakes in the Rotorua district for all water sports and campsite gems including at Lake Rotoiti, Tarawera, Rotomā, Ōkāreka, Ōkaro, Rerewhakaaitu, Rotoehu, Ōkataina, Rotomahana, Tikitapu and then there's Lake Rotorua itself.
Shop till you drop
Gone are the days when you had to head off to the big metropolis to get your shopping fix. The Bay of Plenty is a shopping mecca.
Mount Mainstreet's downtown shopping area is unlike anywhere else in Tauranga or the Mount — it's a bustling haven for diners, pub-goers, shoppers and beachgoers as well.
The appealing shopping and dining street and surrounding streets are hugely popular for locals and cruise ship visitors with boutique shops, alfresco atmosphere, local eateries and restaurants and bars that are buzzing night and day. Mount Mainstreet and surrounds often have events and markets close by at Coronation Park and Mount Main Beach is a stone's throw away.
There are shopping complexes and malls in just about all areas. If you're here to spend or just window shopping, check out one of the following:
Mount Maunganui: Mount Mainstreet, Bayfair Shopping Center and HomeZone Owens Place
Pāpāmoa: Papamoa Plaza and Fashion Island
Avenues: Fraser Cove
The Lakes: Tauranga Crossing
City centre: Tauranga Downtown
Greerton: Greerton shopping centre
Bethlehem: Bethlehem Town Centre
Rotorua: Rotorua Central
Parks and reserves
Bay of Plenty parks, reserves and walking areas offer something for everyone. There are parks with kids in mind (such as Tauranga's Memorial Park and Kulim Park) and parks for avid walkers (Ferguson, Yatton Park, Te Puna Quarry Park and McLaren Falls). McLaren Falls is one of our most spacious parks at 190 hectares alongside Lake McLaren. Scenic walks which include cascading waterfalls are at McLaren Falls, Kaiate Falls, Whataroa Falls and Okere Falls. Other parks and reserves are perfect for family picnics and outings.
Rotorua is home to some of the most picturesque areas in the North Island — sometimes with the bonus of geothermal activity — check out the regal Government Gardens, Paradise Valley Springs Wildlife Park, Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland (temporarily closed for renovations) and Kuirau Park.
Okere Falls track is a short and easy walk across bushland. Glow worms can be seen at night and rafters are out during the day.
Papamoa Hills Cultural Heritage Regional Park is a trek not for the faint-of-heart to a summit 224 metres above sea level, offering visitors the best views right across the Bay.
Locals love going "up the Mount" and Mauao is always teeming with fitness fans clambering up the stairs while taking in views and scenery. Mauao means "caught in the light of the day", referring to the Māori legend of the mountain spurned by his true love who took to the ocean to end his pain. Mauao is 232m high and has several tracks to get to the summit — some easier than others — and the climb to the top can take around 45 minutes. The base track is also hugely popular for a low-impact, scenic leisurely walk.
Mount Drury adjacent to the Main Beach is a fun place for families to explore.
Art, history and culture
Tauranga's art scene is evolving and Tauranga District Council has created an app to explore art locations across Tauranga, Mount Maunganui and Pāpāmoa which includes public art, art galleries, markets, Tauranga Art Gallery, local sculptures, artist studios and art hubs such as The Incubator.
Tauranga now has some impressive murals spray-painted onto buildings in the downtown area by well-known street artists.
Other historic and cultural places of interest include The Elms, The Historic Village, Brain Watkins House, Classic Flyers and Western Bay of Plenty Museum.
Rotorua also has an art trail from Kuirau Park along to Government Gardens and around Sulphur Point, with many stops along the way.
The Arts Village is a home for arts and cultural groups and art classes are available.
Rotorua has guided tours of Whakarewarewa's Māori Village, the Pink and White Terraces, Buried Village of Te Wairoa, Rotorua Settlers and Steam Museum and Bibleworld Museum and Discovery Centre.
Thrills and spills
Rotorua has a great mix of adrenaline-fuelled activities to keep the adventurous happy, as well as chilled-out attractions.
Motion Entertainment is a new indoor multi-entertainment family complex under the same roof. It includes 10 pin bowling, virtual reality experiences, laser tag, a "dark ride", mini-golf, trampoline park, Chipmunks as well as themed puzzle-solving room.
Rotorua Canopy Tours is an extensive treetop ziplining experience. Longstanding tourist attraction Rainbow Fairy Springs has a focus on getting up close and personal to wildlife.
Skyline Rotorua includes a relaxing gondola ride up Mount Ngongotaha and the luge experience down. There's also ziplining, a sky swing and mountain biking tracks.
Mountain biking is legendary in Rotorua and the Redwoods forest has well-marked tracks throughout its 150 kilometres of trails.
Tauranga has an aerial obstacle course Adrenalin Forest Bay of Plenty, Waimarino Adventure Park featuring kayak hire, climbing walls, the blob and a kayak slide, Escape Rooms for problem-solvers, Marshalls Animal Park, laser tag, paintball and there are plenty of kids' adventure/play centres.
Mount Maunganui and Pāpāmoa have Baywave, Rocktopia, The Aviator Experience, V8 Trike Tours and The Cave Papamoa.
There are numerous more businesses offering sky diving, helicopter rides, trikes, harbour cruises, dolphin and whale cruises, escape rooms, hot pools, kayaking, snorkelling tours, surf schools and hire bikes throughout the entire area.
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