Tours by Locals guide DOUG FARR gives Travelife Magazine the lowdown on one of New Zealand’s most scenic and historical destinations
The Bay of Plenty is an idyllic location that’s a veritable Garden of Eden. It has the widest possible geographical diversity of landscapes, as well as the best climate and living conditions.
There are gardens in every backyard and more organic foods are grown here than anywhere else. As you can imagine, its name, given by Captain James Cook in 1769, fits it perfectly.
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A TASTE OF LOCAL CULTURE
My top three favorite attractions here are Mount Maunganui, Kiwi 360, and the Rainbow Springs.
These are places that both locals and travelers enjoy, and they’re great spots for learning more about what makes this part of New Zealand special.
MOUNT MAUNGANUI (Mauao)
The striking mountain at the eastern entrance of Tauranga harbor is one of New Zealand’s natural icons.
From a very young age, New Zealanders are encouraged to be competent and comfortable in the outdoors, and hikes in this beautiful area are an integral part of most our childhoods.
Locals regularly walk the trails winding up the 232-meter mountain, while the more adventurous paraglide and rock-climb. And we all enjoy soaking in the geothermal saltwater pools at its base, or lazing on the beach below on sunny days.
This area is sacred to the Maori people and it features extensively in the mythology of the Ngati Ranginui, Ngai Te Rangi, and Ngati Pukenga tribes.
PS: Mauao is easy to access. You can get there in just a few minutes, after embarking off a cruise ship. It’s a great place to learn more about our history, the blend of Maori and European world views, and our ethics of care and engagement with the natural environment.
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There are many sites that depict different stories of New Zealand, but Kiwi 360 is my personal favorite.
Located in Te Puke, which is the kiwi capital of the world, it tells the story of the kiwi fruit and does justice to the 110 years that it has taken to develop the healthiest fruit in the world.
It’s not your typical tourist attraction. Here, you can tour the orchards that drive a remarkable industry. Every year, 100 million trays of kiwi fruit are sent from New Zealand to 62 countries across the globe.
Kiwi 360 was set up to teach visitors about this remarkable piece of New Zealand industry and the innovative agricultural model behind it.
New Zealanders believe very strongly that we should live harmoniously with our environment, so we must grow nurturing food from safe farming practices. We work hard to collaborate, create, and look after our local environment – and this is why we lead the world in sustainable agricultural production.
THE RAINBOW SPRINGS
Maori stories are pivotal to understanding New Zealand.
I like to take my guests to specific cultural places that are quiet and special and a little bit secret -- the kind that are best visited in the company of a local.
However, there is one excellent and renowned public facility that does a great job of sharing a piece of our story with visitors, and that is the Rainbow Springs facility in Rotorua.
At first glance, Rainbow Springs doesn’t appear to have anything to do with Maori culture.
It’s an ecology center in a tropical parkland setting which is engaged in conservation and breeding programs for endangered New Zealand wildlife.
The center is immensely popular with locals and visitors alike, who especially love the up-close encounters with the kiwi birds.
Some visitors are even lucky enough to witness the baby birds hatching.
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THE MAORI STORY
But what does this have to do with Maori culture?
Well, the center doesn’t only tell the Maori story; it is a part of the Maori story. Kaitiakitanga is a Maori word that means guardianship and protection; it’s a way of managing the environment, based on the Māori world view of the interconnectedness of humans and nature.
This environmental conservation is a core tenet of contemporary Maori culture.
Owned by Ngai Tahu, a Maori tribe that has invested in the enhancement of environment as part of tourism, Rainbow Springs demonstrates how we can manage the pressures of tourism and maintain the amazing natural features that attract travellers to New Zealand.
I always recommend that visitors sample our famous fish and chips as this is a bonafide local tradition.
New Zealanders love to pick up fish and chips from the local takeout and enjoy them as part of a picnic lunch on the beach. Snapper, terakihi and hoki are the most common types of fish. These are caught fresh and then dipped in batter and deep-fried.
Many places claim to cook “New Zealand’s best fish and chips,” but one of my favorites is “Oppies,” along the main drag in Rotorua.
Grab some hot take-out here and head to the cool shores of Lake Rotorua to enjoy your meal.
ONE FINAL ADVENTURE
Imagine gliding along still waters at dusk, watching the sun go down and the stars coming out.
In McLaren Falls Park you can paddle a kayak slowly across Lake McLaren to a rock canyon where a different sort of light emerges: the gentle shine of thousands of glow worms.
If you prefer your adventures on land, the park also offers an easy walking trail that takes you to a waterfall and glow worm dell.
This is a truly unique New Zealand experience, and just a 15-minute drive from the port at Tauranga.
Doug Farr is a Tours By Locals guide, a sustainable tourism advocate for over 20 years, and passionate New Zealander who lives in the Bay of Plenty.
TOURS BY LOCALS