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Articles Blog

Tauranga, New Zealand

Karyn Planett

Beauty and Bounty

Rudyard Kipling, were he alive today, could be heard exclaiming that New Zealand is “the eighth wonder of the world.” He visited this country in 1891 during a lengthy sea voyage, the advice of his very wise doctor. Kipling was not wrong about New Zealand. An author, a respected poet, and an avid world traveler with a keen sense of wanderlust, Kipling knew a good thing when he saw one and he viewed New Zealand as absolutely magical.

Well, the challenge for your visit to Tauranga can all be summed up in the ringing out of the name of a North Island enclave near Tauranga called “Whatawhata.” That’s what you’ll be asking yourself when presented with a list of activities for your short stay.  Whatawhatamigonna do? You’ll need to decide exactly which of the many options will receive your full attention today – a dramatic beach, a blast of vulcan fury, a sip of a fine regional wine, a journey back to a time of conflict, or an introduction to New Zealand’s Maori culture?

The North Island

As easily as one wanders from Disneyland’s Fantasyland to Frontierland, feeling as though he’s literally traveled through time, one can journey between New Zealand’s North Island and South Island. Though both islands are dazzling to the eye, the North Island offers up a panorama of explosive geysers and primeval pools of bubbling mud. All around are fissures in the earth shooting steam clouds into the sky.

It is said that the North Island’s creation is rooted in Maori mythology. Long ago, a powerful son of the gods caught a large fish in the sea. Maui, as this lad was known, ordered his brothers to leave the fish alone. But his brothers defied Maui’s order not to eat the fish he had caught. The fish wriggled and writhed and ultimately escaped to create the jagged landscape that is now New Zealand’s North Island. In the Maori language, the North Island is known as “the fish of Maui” or “Te Ika A Maui.”

A Place Called Tauranga

The town of Tauranga lies perched on the North Island’s eastern coast where the waters of the Bay of Plenty wash ashore. Captain Cook was so impressed with the congenial islanders in this area that it was he who named this spot the Bay Of Plenty. And, with good reason. The mild climate here supports a bountiful agricultural backdrop including large forests used for timber. Though Tauranga is today a busy center for tourism and commerce, it also has a very rich history.

Some 150 years ago, Tauranga was a bustling community that relied on flax trading for much of its income. As with so many fledgling towns, along with merchants and traders came the missionaries to spread the word of God. But no faith could stem the tide of conflict. In 1864, Tauranga experienced some terrible battles during the New Zealand Wars. In fact, a compassionate tale is often told about an incident that occurred during the fierce Battle of Gate Pa. It is said that a British soldier, wounded during a skirmish, cried out for water as he lay on the damp earth wracked with pain. A brave Maori woman named Heni te Kirikamu heard the soldier’s weakening cries. Unable to listen any longer, she silently crept behind enemy lines to fetch water to take to this fallen soldier and four others who lay wounded nearby.

While in Tauranga, you can visit Gate Pa, site of one of the final battles between the British and Maori people or the Missionary House that dates back to 1847.

Further Afield

Rotorua is the highlight for many visitors who experience its bubbling mud pools and steaming thermals. At the Whakarewarewa Thermal Village, geysers fill the air with a mist that mystified early members of the Tuhourangi-Ngati Wahio tribe. Also mystifying is why some people bungee jump, zip along the Kaituna River in jetboats, or raft on the Rangitaiki but they do because this is unmistakably the land of adventure.

Chinese Gooseberries

Nearly 100 years ago, Chinese gooseberries found their way to the Bay of Plenty. Three decades passed before a farmer named Jim MacLoughlin set aside an acre of land for the cultivation of this fruit. But it wasn’t until some 25 years later that that this unique, fuzzy brown fruit became a marketable, exportable commodity. It became known, quite simply, as kiwifruit. And the rest, as they say, is history.

So, while here in sunny Tauranga, you can wander past the historic sights, take in the local color, or sit under a shade tree along The Strand scooping out the flesh of a perfectly-ripened kiwi while reading a Kipling tale. It’s all rather pleasant, one might say.