Something like New Zealand’s version of the Sunshine Coast in Australia, Mount Maunganui offers surf, sea and countless sunshine, but with less of a big city vibe. Having spent numerous family holidays there growing up, it is a place I always look forward to visiting, and not just because I worship the sun. It is an extremely vibrant place, full of people in active-wear having their post-Mount climb coffees, surfers and relaxed types sipping a brew in the sun. I have met many a long-term traveller who has used the Mount as a base for their working holiday visa, primarily because of the warmth and beach it offers, without compromising the atmosphere and the benefits of being near a big city.
Being a beach town (although rapidly growing: gone are the beach-side baches, replaced with state of the art condos; the Marine Parade is now considered the 2nd most expensive street in the country (after Auckland of course!)) I would recommend exploring at a leisurely rate. Hire a bike (or walk) and explore the streets, take the time to stroll along the beach and cool off in the ocean once it gets hot. However, it is also a terrific place for a weekend getaway, which is why I’ll explain how you can best spend 48 hours there. But before I begin, there are a few things you ought to know:
- How to get there: it’s a 2 hour drive from Auckland, with buses travelling frequently from Auckland, Hamilton, Rotorua, Taupo and Whakatane. The airport is located about 10 minutes’ drive from the beach, and flights are offered daily from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
- Best time to go: Summer. Obviously. But if you have the flexibility to choose, I would suggest February/March just because the holiday-makers would have cleared out by then, and the good weather tends to stick around. In all cases avoid the week over Christmas and New Year, as I swear half the country flocks to the Mount. The traffic and number of people is infuriating, and enough to induce claustrophobia. (Although, if you do find yourself in the Mount over this time, I will include some tips on less populated places to visit from the Mount).
- Where to stay: the number of high rise apartments is steadily increasing, and while these probably couldn’t get any more convenient, they only cost an arm and a leg. At the other end of the price scale is the campground, located at the foot of Mount Maunganui itself (and comes highly recommended). Obviously if you have a car you can stay anywhere (best value for money would be to stay across the bridge in Tauranga), but if you are restricted to walking you want to get as close to the beach as you can afford.
- What to do: It’s hard to know where to start. I guess the most obvious thing to do when staying in the Mount is to climb the Mount itself. It takes about an hour to do a round trip; and although it’ll definitely get your heart rate up, the views are well worth it. If you are feeling slightly less physically inclined, it takes about 40 minutes to walk around the base. Keep your eyes peeled; it’s not uncommon for orca whales and the like to be spotted near the harbour entrance. Here are some suggestions for other things you can do:
- Swim at Pilot Bay if you want to avoid the surf (great for small children), or if you fancy some paddle boarding. At Main Beach you will find the waves; there is a surf school and hire shop down at Tay Street, or you can just do some good ol’ fashioned boogey boarding.
- If you really want to hit the shops (maybe on a rainy day), Bayfair Plaza is where you should head. A shopping mall with loads of parking, it contains most of New Zealand’s classic chain stores and contains something for everyone. The Mount has more boutique shops; so alternatively you could drop your kids at the cinema and check out what some of these cute little places have to offer.
- Combine adventure with swimming at Waimarino Adventure Park. Located about 15 minutes from Tauranga, there is plenty of things to do out there including swimming, kayaking (even a kayak slide) and a rope course – all based around the Wairoa River.
- Chasin’ waterfalls. There are so many beautiful waterfalls in and around the Bay of Plenty; it’s just a matter of deciding how much commercialism you can handle / how far you want to travel. My pick is the Kaiate Falls which is about 25 minutes drive from the Mount.
- What to eat: Another New Zealand city whose gastronomic scene is evolving at an astounding rate, here is just a short list of a few of the places you could visit:
- Sidetrack: set at the base of the Mount, this spot is perfect as a post-Mount pit-stop. With one of the most delicious cabinets you will ever see, it serves great coffee and its muffins are to die for.
- Café 88: Based on Maunganui Road (number 88 to be exact!) this place would have to be one of the most talked about places in Tauranga. With a lovely court-yard out back, it’s modern, fresh décor and extensive menu gives me choice paralysis every time I go in there.
- Pizza Library: Pizza + Library = say no more! And with the cutest little delivery trucks ever, this place is perfect to grab a casual bite.
- Astrolabe Brew Bar: One of the more popular places to be seen at after dark, I would head along here if you fancy a brew and a boogey. Extremely cool interior, it even hosts vintage markets sometimes.
- The Bach: a new kid on the block, it’s the place to be seen at. Serving delicious food and drink, I would definitely recommend trying it out.
- Where to visit: If you want to escape the Mount for the day I would suggest heading to either Waihi or Ohope (two more beautiful beaches – check out my article on Ohope here). If you want something more adrenaline filled, check out Rotorua. Just as touristy, but without the adrenaline would be a visit to Hobbiton. All are only about an hour away. I think the only reason you would want to escape the Mount is if you unintentionally find yourself there over the New Year period.
SO… Don’t waste any more time and get there ASAP! Let me know if you have any questions about this beautiful town of sunshine.