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If New Zealand really is “100 % pure”, as the slogan says, then Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty is 100 % fantastic.
A gentle 200km drive from Auckland, it should be one of the country’s top places to visit for overseas tourists as well as North Islanders wanting a bit of sun and a nice beach.
But when I visited, for a weekend in October, the town was practically empty and at times I felt as though I almost had it all to myself.
Tauranga’s centre city is a polished and tidy environment filled with shops and businesses, but its main drag is a foodie’s paradise.
Stretching for more than 1km, The Strand features a wide variety of well-priced and delicious culinary delights, including Thai, Indian, Italian, Japanese and everything in between.
I ate two takeout meals during my stay.
The first was a mouth-watering vegetarian dish at Talk of India on Cameron Road.
I followed that up the next night by dining at Tasty Thai, also on Cameron Road.
Both meals were outstanding, and I’ll definitely visit these two restaurants again when I’m next in town.
During my trip, I stayed in a large private room for two blissful nights at YHA Tauranga, run by manager Amanda Holmes.
The hostel offers superb accommodation for travelers of all stripes at very reasonable prices.
One of the hostel’s big pluses is its location, as it’s a short 10 minute walk to the heart of Tauranga’s downtown area.
Despite being so close to the action, it’s also quiet at night and feels very safe.
Amanda has lived in Tauranga with partner Cam and their two pets for more than a year, and she loves it.
Her list of “must-dos” for visitors includes sampling tasty treats at Bobby’s Fresh Fish Market, spending a night looking for glow worms in the Kaimai Ranges by kayak, and spending a day walking up and around Mount Maunganui.
“It’s got beautiful views and once you’re done you can go for a swim and cool off,” she says.
Amanda says Tauranga is a special place and she loves her job.
“We have a small team that’s dedicated and hardworking, making it an even more enjoyable place to work,” she says.
“We have a pretty cool location with big gardens, which my partner’s recently retired parents now come to help us look after.
“And, of course, living in the sunny Bay of Plenty with its gorgeous warm climate helps a lot.”
The last time I visited Tauranga, more than five years ago, I took the time to nip over to the popular Mount Maunganui, but it didn’t leave anything resembling a lasting impression.
It did this time however, as it is the closest thing I’ve found in New Zealand to what I would call an Australian-type beach.
“The Mount”, as it’s known, would have to be this country’s version of Surfer’s Paradise or the Sunshine Coast.
I went for a couple of long walks along the beach during my holiday, encountering quite a few people jogging or exercising their dog.
It’s true the area has a less than perfect reputation due to how some people act when visiting during the New Year holiday period, but for the rest of the year it’s a perfectly quiet place to visit.
I was somewhat reluctant to leave Tauranga when my stay came to an end, and I can’t wait to return.
It’s moved to the top of my list of places to visit anytime I’m looking for a couple of days out of Auckland.
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