The Bay of Plenty was the landing point of several migration canoes that brought Māori settlers from Eastern Polynesia to New Zealand in the 13th century. They named the bay Te Moana-a-Toi (the Sea of Toi) after Toi, an early explorer and ancestor of Māori tribes throughout the North Island. Early Māori settlement in the region gave rise to many of the town and city names used today.
The first European contact occurred over 400 years later when James Cook sailed across the Bay during his circumnavigation of New Zealand in the Endeavour in 1769-70. Cook gave it its current name noting an abundance of natural resources. However, further European contact was scarce in the years afterwards, partly because the harbours lacked the good anchorages and accessible timber of the Bay of Islands and the Hauraki Gulf.
This changed from the early 1830s as Europeans increasingly began to travel to and settle in the region to engage in trade with Māori and partake in missionary activity. This contact then turned to conflict in the 1860s during the New Zealand Wars for Māori sovereignty. As a result, many tribes had their best land confiscated by the government depriving them of economic resources (among other things) while providing land for the expanding European settlement.
Unlike southern New Zealand provinces, the initial settlements in the region struggled though. Poor soil, an excessively mild and moist climate, and an overtly forested geography all prevented large scale sheep farming and by the end of the 19th century populations had dwindled.
However, improvements in the 20th century – the drainage of swamp land, improved communications, and the development of forestry – finally brought a prosperity to the region based on butter, cheese, timber, and kiwifruit exports.
Nature & Wildlife
The Bay of Plenty has a range of natural attractions and – with the region boasting the sunniest climate in the North Island – they can be enjoyed all year-round.
Explore out to sea and discover its offshore islands. Take in the spectacular beaches, harbours, estuaries, and wetlands that hug the coast. Or venture inland to discover alluvial plains and bush-clad ranges.
Some key attractions include:
- Kaiate Falls in Welcome Bay, a beautiful native bush reserve where the river runs through a series of stunning waterfalls;
- Moturiki Island connected to the main beach at Mount Maunganui, host to spectacular shows at its blow hole during easterly swells;
- McLaren Falls, 170 hectares of lake land reserve.
- Mount Maunganuia, an extinct volcano which rises 232 metres from the sea and offers 360 degrees view spanning the entire length of the Bay of Plenty. Similarly impressive is Mount Maunganui’s Main Beach, a beautiful wide white sandy beach with gentle sells and grand views of the Pacific Ocean, suitably crowned the ‘Best Beach in New Zealand’ by TripAdvisor.
While in the Bay of Plenty it’ll be hard to miss the wide variety of birds, insects, animals and plants, many of which are not found anywhere else worldwide. Take the opportunity to learn about current conservation projects aimed at preserving wildlife – or dive into the waters and swim with dolphins and seals while watching whales play in their natural habitat.
Key Towns and Cities
The region can be divided into the western Bay, centred on Tauranga, and the eastern Bay, centred on Whakatane. The regional council’s boundaries also include the Rotorua district, which lies within the Volcanic Plateau region.
Turangua is the largest urban centre in the Bay of Plenty, a sprawling city surrounded by a sparkling harbour. Common activities to engage in range from fishing, sailing, diving, and swimming with dolphins to adventures strolling into the crater of New Zealand’s most active volcano. Or you can indulge yourself at the vibrant ships, boutiques, and blissful day spas. Downtown Tauranga meanwhile is home to several historically significant areas to explore and its lively waterfront precinct hosts numerous cafés, restaurants, pubs and nightclubs.
The town of Whakatane is renowned as the Bay of Plenty’s sunshine capital hub and centre of Maori culture. Great weather exists year-round for you to enjoy its breath-taking landscapes of coastal forests, beautiful beaches, and the vast ocean – or to indulge in the town’s bustling shopping precinct and plenty of eateries sitting on the harbour’s edge. The Kiwi capital of New Zealand, make sure to look out for the precious native birds wandering around while you do so.
Local Māori believe that the explorer Tiwakawaka first discovered New Zealand and settled his people at what is now Whakatane. Taking pride in the town’s rich Māori history today’s locals provide a great number of authentic cultural experiences and sites to enjoy including the Statue of Wairake (The Lady of the Rock), and Mataatua Wharenui, one of New Zealand’s most significant Maori meeting houses.
Rotorua city is located in the inner region of the Bay of Plenty lying on the southern shores of Lake Rotorua providing amazing views. The geography of the area was formed by the Mount Tarawera eruption in 1886, creating all the lakes we admire today. Rotorua has also earned the nickname ‘Sulphur City’ because of the geothermal activity of the area with the geysers (most notably Pohutu Geyser at Whakarewarewa) and boiling mud pools. Meanwhile traditional Maori cultural performances and hangi (steam-cooked banquets) serve to attract as many visitors as the landscape itself.
Tour of the Bay of Plenty
Odyssey Traveller conducts a tour of the Bay of Plenty as part of two small group guided tours. On our 13 day Tour of New Zealand’s North Island we journey from Auckland through the Coromandel Peninsula, then track south through the Bay of Plenty to Tairawhitu (The East Cape) rich in Maori culture and travel experiences. On our 14 day Odyssey Down Under New Zealand Tour we visit Rotorua for a guided tour of Te Puia Thermal Reserve, the centre of Maori culture and a site of incredible geological activity with a landscape filled with boiling hot pools and incredible geysers.
Odyssey Traveller has been serving global travellers since 1983 with educational tours of the history, culture, and architecture of our destinations. Odyssey specialises in offering small group tours, partnering with local guides to provide a relaxed and comfortable pace and atmosphere that sets us apart from larger tour groups. Tours are cost inclusive of all entrances, tipping and majority of meals. For more information, click here.
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